Little Rock teacher Martha Cothren uses some unorthodox teaching methods in her social studies classroom at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. But she gets her message across.
On the first day of school in September 2005, with permission of the school superintendent, the principal, and the building supervisor, she had all of the desks taken out of the classroom.
When the kids walked in for first period, there were no desks. They looked around and asked, “Where are our desks?”
The teacher said, “You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn them.”
They thought, “Well, maybe it’s our grades.”
“No,” she said.
“Maybe it’s our behavior?”
She told them, “No, it’s not even your behavior.”
And so they came and went in the first period. Still no desks in the classroom. Second period, same thing. Third period, same.
By early afternoon television news crews had gathered in the class to find out about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of the classroom. The last period of the day, the instructor gathered her class.
They were sitting on the floor around the sides of the room. She said, “Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that sit in this classroom ordinarily. Now I’m going to show you how and why you have the right to sit in this class.”
She went over to the door of her classroom and opened it, and as she did 27 U.S. veterans, wearing their uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk.
They placed those school desks in rows, and then they stood along the wall. By the time they had finished placing the desks, those kids, perhaps for the first time in their lives, understood how they got the right to sit at those desks. FREEDOM!
Their teacher said, “You don’t have to earn those desks. These guys did it for you. They put them out there for you, but it’s up to you to sit here responsibly, to learn, to be good students and good citizens, because they paid a price for you to have that desk. Don’t ever forget it.”
According to Snopes and TruthorFiction, the text above, which I received by e-mail, has been widely circulated in the US since 2006 and it is truthful.
The e-mail was drawn from former Arkansas Governor (and Republican Presidential hopeful) Mike Huckabee’s 2 March 2007 address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC.
Also included in Governor Huckabee’s remarks, but not in the e-mail:
“My friend, I think sometimes we forget that the freedoms that we have are freedoms not because of celebrities. The freedoms are because of ordinary people who did extraordinary things, who loved this country more than life itself, and who not only earned a school desk for a kid at the Robinson High School in Little Rock, but who earned a seat for you and me to enjoy this great land we call home, this wonderful nation that we better love enough to protect and preserve with the kind of conservative, solid values and principles that made us a great nation.
“We live in the Land of the Free because of the brave.”
Barbara Mikkelson, who researches and writes much of the material on Snopes, contacted Martha Cothren to verify the story. Here’s her report:
“The room was indeed devoid of desks, with the missing furniture borne in at the end of the day by a group of veterans. Each vet carried a desk and set it down, as the teacher gave her lesson on the cost of things taken for granted and the debt owed to those in the forces.
I talked to Martha Cothren about that day and also about her military history class. This daughter of a World War II POW regularly has veterans visit her classroom— it’s one of the ways she teaches her course on the history of World War II and the Vietnam War.
Her class doesn’t yet have a textbook (she is busy writing one), so she uses less typical methods of imparting knowledge about those events to her students. Part and parcel of what she teaches is an appreciation for members of the armed forces.
In May 2005, she and her class organized a Vietnam Veterans Recognition Week, including an official “Thank You Ceremony” held in the Joe T. Robinson High School auditorium. Veterans from World War II and the Korean War also attended, as did people from all walks of life, to honor those who had served. During that week, students videotaped veterans as they recounted their war memories, thus preserving their stories for later generations.
Cothren and her students have sent numerous care packages to U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also write letters to soldiers in those theaters, sending off 1,200 missives in 2005-2006.
In 2006 the Veterans of Foreign Wars named Martha Cothren their “Teacher of the Year.”
– Barbara Mikkelson”
If you would like to send Martha a thank you note, I’m sure she would appreciate it.
Joe T. Robinson High School
21501 Hwy 10
Little Rock, AR 72223
Respectfully submitted by SilenceDogood2010 this Thirteenth Day of December in the Year of our Lord, Two Thousand Eleven.
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