Arkansas teacher found unique way to teach about freedom

Thursday, Nov. 11, was Veterans Day, of course, and you can read and see Rockdale’s tributes to our veterans throughout this issue of The Reporter.


Veterans Day and Memorial Day are just two of the year’s 365 days, of course, and sometimes it seems no one thinks too much about American veterans during the other 363.

Five years ago a remarkable teacher in Arkansas taught her classes a lesson about veterans and freedom and she did it on the first day of school, not on one of the “red, white and blue” holidays.

When students reported to social studies teacher Martha Cothren’s classroom for the first day of classes in 2005 at Little Rock Robinson High School they were shocked to find it contained no desks. The students sat on the floor.

Of course they wanted to know what was going on. “You won’t get desks until you earn them,” she said. The students had always had desks and had never “earned” them before. How do you earn something you’ve always had and never really thought about?

First period was over and second period class came in. Same thing. Third period, fourth period. After lunch television crews showed up to film this crazy teacher.

Last period class came in. And Cothren said: “No one really thinks about earning what you’ve always had. Some things are so important you can’t ever really earn them. Someone has already done it for you.”

She opened the door where 27 American military veterans stood, each one bearing a desk. They silently filed into the classroom and each set down a desk.

“You haven’t earned these,” she told the students. “You can’t. But you have them, thanks to these men and women.” The desks, of course, were symbolic of freedom.

The next year Martha Cothren, the daughter of a World War II POW, was named teacher of the year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.—M.B.

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2010-11-18 digital edition

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