I want to share the story of a remarkable teacher who taught her students an unforgettable lesson. On the first day of school back in 2005, a social studies teacher named Martha Cothren gave her classes at Robinson High School in Little Rock, Ark., something to think about.
With the permission of the superintendent, principal and building supervisor, Ms. Cothren removed all the desks from her classroom. Her first-hour students asked where their desks were. She told them, “You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.”
They ventured guesses including their grades or their behavior. Wrong answers, she said.
As each successive class came in, they all found a room devoid of seating. By early afternoon, word had spread and television news crews had arrived at the building to report on this crazy teacher.
The final period students came to class and found a place to sit on the floor. Ms. Cothren simply explained, “Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.”
She then opened the door to her classroom. Twenty-seven United States veterans, all in uniform, walked into her classroom, each carrying a desk. They placed the desks neatly in rows, and then lined up along the wall. By the time the last veteran had set the last desk in place, the kids started to understand – maybe for the first time in their young lives – how the right to sit at those desks had been won.
Ms. Cothren explained: “You didn’t earn the right to sit at those desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. Now, it’s up to you to sit in them. It’s your responsibility to learn, to be good students. They paid the price so you could have the freedom to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so you have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.”
Would it surprise you to learn that Martha Cothren was named the 2006 Arkansas Teacher of the Year?
This lesson extends far beyond the classroom. We have the freedom to choose where we work, where we live, how we spend our free time – all because someone fought for our freedom. We owe our veterans an enormous debt of gratitude.
Consider these words from Rev. Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC, a WWII veteran: “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffins are draped by the flag, who allow the protester to burn the flag.”
So we take time to honor those men and women who have sacrificed years of their lives, or their very lives, in order that we can continue to enjoy freedoms unmatched anywhere else in the world.
To my way of thinking, every day should be thank a veteran day. We cannot begin to understand their contributions to our way of life. So we shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to show our gratitude and respect. And if you have the capacity, hire a vet!
Veterans Day is a significant American holiday. It is so important that you’ll never have to search for it on the calendar – it happens every year on November 11. I hope you take the time to thank a vet that day. With nearly 22 million living veterans, you shouldn’t have to look very far.
Their sacrifices matter, as President Ronald Reagan noted: “Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world, but the Marines don’t have that problem.” I’m sure he included all branches of the armed forces in his sentiments.
Martha Cothren’s students received an extraordinary gift that day in 2005. What a wonderful illustration of the difference those veterans made in the lives of her students.
Mackay’s Moral: To all those who have offered their service: We salute you
By Harvey Mackay