The Missing Desk Mystery

This true story was referenced at the 2008 Republican National Convention:

Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom.

When the first period students entered the room, they discovered that there were no desks. Looking around, confused, they asked, “Ms. Cothren, where’re our desks?”

She replied, “You can’t have a desk until you tell me what you have done to earn the right to sit at a desk.”

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, the first period, second period, third period with still no desks in the classroom. By early afternoon, television news crews had started gathering in Ms. Cothren’s classroom to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom, Martha Cothren said, ‘Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he/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.’

At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven U.S. veterans, all in uniforms, walked into the classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, then, they would walk over and stand alongside the wall.

By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place, those students started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.

Martha said, ‘You didn’t earn the right to sit at these 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 is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.’

Ms. Cothran, the daughter of a World War II POW, has veterans visit her classroom regularly to help teach the history of WWII and the Vietnam War. Her class doesn’t have a textbook (she is writing one of her own); instead, she uses less typical methods to impart knowledge of these events to her students. Part of what she intends to impress on her students is an appreciation for members of our armed forces.

Cothran and her students have sent numerous care packages to Iraq and Afghanistan. The students also write letters to soldiers. In 2006, the VFW named Martha Cothran their “Teacher of the Year”.

What a teacher and what a lesson for us all!

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