Earn Your Desk…


I just got this email from my Mom, and it really touched a nerve. I thought I would share it with you.

 Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, did something not to be forgotten.  On the first day of school, with permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she took all of the desks out of the classroom. 
The kids came into first period, they walked in, there were no desks. They obviously looked around and said, “Ms. Cothren, where’s our desk?”
She 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?” they questioned.
“No,” she told them,  “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. By early afternoon television news crews had gathered in Ms. Cothren’s class to find out about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of the classroom.
The last period of the day, Martha Cothren gathered her class. They were at this time sitting on the floor around the sides of the room, and she began to address her students, “Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that sit in this classroom ordinarily.” 
She paused to let her words sink in, then, as she continued to look around the classroom she said, “Now I’m going to tell you.”

Martha Cothren 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. And they placed those school desks in rows, and then they stood along the wall. And by the time they had finished placing those desks, those kids for the first time I think perhaps in their lives understood how they earned those desks.

Martha 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, and don’t ever forget it.”

What is even cooler, this is a true story.

Posted April 19, 2007 by
heroes | 24 comments

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  • Comments

    24 Responses to “Earn Your Desk…”

    1. Janet on April 19th, 2007 7:33 pm

      Thank you … what a wonderful lesson learned … a wonderful lesson learned which each of those students will remember for a lifetime.

      Janet aka Tamikosmom

    2. Patti on April 19th, 2007 8:21 pm

      Obviously, there are countless things that we may feel
      entitled to, that came by the blood of those who fight
      for our liberty. How refreshing to be reminded of yet,

      Thank you.

    3. joe bear on April 19th, 2007 8:34 pm

      So true,So true.We often forget,the price of freedom.

    4. Sam on April 19th, 2007 9:07 pm

      It is to bad this example is not being done all through our schools in the USA.

      It might have even set an example for the shooter at Virginia Tech. JMHO

      SM Sam

    5. mayan_moons on April 19th, 2007 9:25 pm

      That is a great story and i agree that every student should be told and the earlier the better!

    6. december_star on April 19th, 2007 11:00 pm

      My kids should be so lucky to have a teacher like this. This country needs more like her. Not only smart but brave.

    7. justice4nat on April 19th, 2007 11:56 pm

      What a wonderful teacher. Those students are very lucky to have someone like her teaching them – not only the 3 R’s – but much more

    8. LilPuma on April 20th, 2007 12:31 am

      What a great teacher. I am glad we are reminded, maybe not often enough, of how fortunate we are. So many people in so many countries don’t even dream of things we take for granted.

      If I complain about a long line to vote, I want to be reminded of people who risked their lives to vote in Iraq. If I complain about a slow moving school bus, I want to be reminded of The Taliban not allowing girls to go to school. If I complain about not having any microwave popcorn, I want to be reminded that people actually ARE starving to death in this world. And if I complain about my government, I want to be reminded of the chaos and war and genocide in Sudan.

      God Bless America and all US soldiers who have given us those things we take for granted. Those same US soldiers who ensure that I can still complain about my government.

    9. Bodo on April 20th, 2007 1:59 am

      Well that’s a very cute story. But even as one who spent nearly 25 years on active duty in the U.S. Army, because a soldier’s combat pay is not taxed and because most soldiers, those in an enlisted pay grade E-4 or lower, don’t earn enough to be burdened with much of a tax liability, I would not hesitate to point out to those children that it is hard-working American civilians shouldering the heaviest tax burden who paid for their desks. If it were true that it is our men and women in the military who paid for their desks and education, then it would not be true that the money spent on the education per child in Mississippi is less than half that spent per child in some states much smaller, like Connecticut and New Jersey. I take pride in the fact that our soldiers are guardians of our freedom and way of life and I think our children would better understand and appreciate that if the school desks our citizen taxpayers paid for are used more for academic studies and less for laying guilt trips on the children. How can a child focus on learning when he or she has been told that soldiers died for the desk they study on?

    10. vicki on April 20th, 2007 7:15 am

      #9- there is always one in every crowd…Thanks SM for the story.. We need more teachers like this. Kids only feel guilty when they have done something wrong. They probably felt COMPASSION and HONOR to be able to sit at these desks…..DUH!!!

    11. Mike on April 20th, 2007 7:28 am

      I think you missed the point Bodo….their not talking about money or taxes.

      And they probably focus and appreciate their education more if they know the real price it costs other then dollars.

    12. flippy on April 20th, 2007 9:31 am

      The class being taught was in Military History (a bit more specific than saying Social Studies).

      Also, the teacher in question had (has?) unconventional yet successfull methods of drawing her students into the subject matter.

      This is only one great example of what a teacher thinking “out of the box” can do if given the support of the administration.

    13. Freebrid on April 20th, 2007 10:06 am

      #9 the message I believe is the soldiers got us our freedoms so we can go to school and learn, to be who & all you be. Some countrys tell you when, what, where to do everything, I’m gald I live in a country where if I would to go out side and just lay on the ground and look at the sky I can do so. God Bless America and that school teacher for her actions!

    14. nurturer on April 20th, 2007 11:21 am

      #9 – Would the kids have desks if the Taliban or Al-queda were running the show?

      Get it?

    15. Bodo on April 20th, 2007 12:28 pm

      I get it folks. I have not missed the point. I know what the point is but the point I am trying to make is that a teacher’s job is to educate, not indoctrinate. The teacher has a discipline, a skill, either in reading, math, science, history, social studies, geography, etc., and it is the teacher’s job to focus on that skill and pass it on to the children while taking care to resist passing on subliminal influences in the teacher’s own political values, attitudes and partisan ideology. Young people will be subjected to those influences all too soon in life, certainly in college. The point I am making is that indoctrinating children is the privilege of their parents, not their school teachers. And if a teacher cannot resist transmitting subliminal influences on our children like that in this story, I think that teacher could better our military by enlisting and pursuing a career in recruiting. A teacher’s classroom is not the place to recruit, it is a place to teach children academics and social skills.

    16. Scared Monkeys on April 20th, 2007 2:39 pm


      She teach’s a course in World War II . He focus was to get the students to remember that the soldiers that were fighting for our rights also are living breathing men and woman of honor, not theoretical figures.

      Today’s society wants to discount the role of the soldier as personification of the sacrifice is frowned upon by most, especially in the academic sector.

      And if you are worried about indoctrination of the children, first get rid of earth day and the volumes of tripe on global warming that the kids come home with. Then we can talk.

      I would rather the children get to learn the sacrifice of a soldier’s service to his country than almost any other “viewpoint” out there. Even the most anti-American liberal will say they support the troops.


    17. Bodo on April 20th, 2007 7:23 pm


      I understand. And I know that even some liberals support our troops and I understand how strongly you feel that children “get to learn the sacrifice of a soldier’s service to his country.” But I just do not subscribe to the notion that the classrooms of public schools is the appropriate place to do that.

      As an ex-soldier myself with many years of service served with honor to the oath I have taken on many occasions of re-enlistment, an oath I can cite from memory, not only did I swear to obey the orders of the president of the United States, the officers appointed over me and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but I also, first and foremost, swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

      Most professional soldiers understand that oath with great clarity and accept the fact that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, specifically, the free exercise clause which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” means that we must also defend and honor the rights of those citizens whose religious beliefs causes them to conscientiously oppose war and military service. Those citizens also have children in our public schools and have a right to oppose, which is reasonable to honor, teachers who bring soldiers into the classroom of a public school for the purpose indoctrinating children into supporting war and military service.

      I am sure that most professional soldiers will say that they subscribe with great conviction to the oath they took, and those who understand that oath with greatest clarity will say that it is wrong to bring soldiers into a public school classroom for the specific purpose of indoctrinating the children into supporting war and military service, as wrong as it would be to bring a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, a Muslim cleric or a Protestant minister into a public school classroom for the purpose of indoctrinating the children into supporting religion or a specific branch thereof.

      And I think most professional soldiers, at least a great many of old friends I served with, will also say that they dread the thought of the age and time when this nation treated conscientious objectors (because of their belief and religious training) like criminals. That just absolutely goes against the grain of an old soldier’s allegiance to the Constitution.

    18. Glaswegian on April 21st, 2007 3:32 am

      Bodo..are you reeeealy sure you served in the military? Do you think it is appropriate that in schools and colleges in this country the students are “indoctrinated” to believe that soldiers are murderers? Whether you agree or not, you did completely miss the point of the story. Oh…if you were in the military…why aren’t you in the small group of Americans who understand that soldiers pay taxes too? You can dispute and diminish how much they pay, but they do pay. My husband served in the military for 28 years half of that time enlisted the rest as an officer (Mustang). We paid plenty of taxes — and we have no children, does that mean I get back what we paid in school taxes??? Your point was not important to what was being discussed, it was important to you to make that point and diminsh the value of the military in our country — the all-volunteer military.


    19. Bodo on April 21st, 2007 4:06 pm

      #18 Glaswegian

      Yes! I’m sure I “reeeealy” served in the military. I enlisted 2 months out of High School and turned my 18th birthday in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood in 1965, and I thought sure my enlistment would result in immediate deployment to Vietnam after BT and AIT but it did not. I retired in August 1989 after serving most of my duty in ADA, Signal and Ordnance battalions of the 32nd AADCOM in Germany. I served stateside at Ft. Bliss, Ft. ORD, Ft. Carson and Ft. Riley, as well as Ft. Richardson in Alaska. I also served a tour of duty in Korea with the 501 MI and 1st Signal Brigades.

      I served. But I have a feeling that in your opinion you probably would not count me as having “reeeealy” served because my military service did not include combat duty, such as in Vietnam and Grenada during my years of service. I hear that from time-to-time from people who lived under the threat of a nuclear attack on our nation during the Cold War years. But that’s okay, I understand why they don’t count the Cold War as combat duty. The Cold War Nike Hercules and Patriot systems combat group soldiers of the Army Air Defense Artillery, who were at all times at peak readiness for combat and manned lonely, isolated missile battery outposts on the front line defense of our nation and Europe, did not serve combat duty during my years of service. They prevented it! “If it flies, it dies” was our motto and the Soviet Union dared not test the skill and readiness of our nation’s 32nd AADCOM Air Defense Artillery battalions. So if you consider my military service as not “reeeealy” serving because I have no duty tours in battlefield combat, that’s okay. I’m proud of that. I stood at peak readiness in the NATO gap at the front-line threat of nuclear attack and, as did thousands of ADA soldiers during the Cold War years, did my job well.

    20. Mortella on April 21st, 2007 4:23 pm

      OK, Bodo, let’s make it even more simple so that perhaps you can even understand through your agenda lens.

      The soldiers make it possible for the parents and other taxpayers to be allowed to buy the desks.

      There! Simple enough?

      Every right, privilege and DUTY that we have, we have because of our military. That is simply a fact. And you surely don’t speak for any of the current or ex-military that I know and that would include a very large number. Perhaps you would have preferred a visit from Senator Patty Murry to tell the kids what a great man Osama Bin Laden was and how he did good things that the U.S. did not do.

      The NEA (teachers union) has one of the biggest agenda driven motives in the country and every bit of it is pure leftist. They seek tax exemption yet endorse candidates when others are not allowed to do such things. Good for this teacher to have the courage to go against that grain for a change.

    21. Bodo on April 21st, 2007 7:42 pm

      #20 Mortella

      Thank you for making it “even more simple” so that even I can understand. But agenda? Why pray tell do you allege I have an agenda? I have an opinion, not an agenda. And that, as simply as I am able to say it so that even you can understand, is that public school teachers should pass on to the children their academic skills in math, science, reading, social studies, history, geography and such, and omit passing on to the children their own political values, partisan ideologies and personal attitudes concerning war and military service. To influence the children with respect to such things is the privilege of parents. Not public school teachers! Sounds as though you and some others here would allow military indoctrination of school children such as the Soviets do, where pre-conscription training is compulsory in schools. But in this nation, our public schools is not the appropriate place to influence the attitude of children with respect to war and military service, in a time of conscription (aka draft) or no conscription.

      And thank you, but I am quite aware of the evils of the new curriculum the NEA is bringing into the public school classrooms. If you have the notion that I have such an agenda, then you are way off the goddamned mark and have read the complete reverse into my opinion. Don’t do that. It’s not nice to do that.

      I have stated clearly that it is my opinion that public school teachers should teach academics, specifically the old curriculum academics of reading, math, science, history, social studies, geography and such and leave the goddamned personal attitude concerning war, military service, partisan values and ideology baggage outside the classrooms… both LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE. Get it? It has nothing to with any political bias you might imagine I have. I have no agenda and, fact is, I have no strong political bias. I served 5 presidents during my military years, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan and I served, without political bias, every one of them the same as every other of them. I have no goddamned agenda as you allege, nor a strong political leaning, liberal, conservative or otherwise.

    22. Glaswegian on April 22nd, 2007 6:58 pm

      Bodo..obviously you do have issues about something with the military. Serving in the military is serving in the military — and you basically contradicted yourself. You seem to think not serving in Vietnam or whatever meets criteria for not being considered as served. I don’t know anyone who is around the military who feels that way. First of all, yes, my husband had “Vietnam duty” on a ship, he was in the Navy. Most of us don’t consider that “going” to Vietnam. The Seebees, the riverboats, pilots, etc. had are considered as serving, the rest are considered as “backing up the troops,” i.e. the Army and Marines.

      You say you don’t pay taxes in a combat zone, true, but you said you were not in combat, so you paid taxes — right? Did you pay school taxes? School taxes are paid whether you are in combat or not if you own a home (in most states anyway).

      You are getting yourself angry and frustrated, and I might add, a little sarcastic, but the only one who make it look like you have an agenda is you. There are plenty of people on this site for and against the war, etc., this was an article (which, incidentally I don’t think is a true story, but haven’t checked on snopes yet) about RESPECT. That’s all. You are the one who seems to have an axe to grind with the military and frankly, respect for all is what we are supposed to be reaching our children. Why would you think that teaching someone to respect another male, female, black, white, Asian, or Hispanic because they have VOLUNTEERED to serve our country? Why do you seem to think that the next step is Communism? So, I didn’t mean you didn’t “reeeealy” service because of your type of service, I mean I think you are lying.

    23. Bodo on April 23rd, 2007 8:34 am


      I think it’s time I abandon this argument and the hope that I might find some agreement with my opinion on this topic here. There clearly is none. But that’s okay. I don’t even mind being knocked around a bit by those here who disagree with me, because they are disagreeing based on their patriotic convictions and support for our military, though I am greatly disappointed that the motivation behind my opinion on this issue has been so wrongly construed that it has caused those here who disagree to question my patriotic convictions and support for our military men and women. I think I might even find some at my American Legion post who would disagree, though I am sure my decorations and ribbons and eight hash marks would cause any of them who did disagree to think twice before questioning my patriotic convictions and support for the men and women in our Armed Forces.

      But before I silence my argument on this topic I will respond to your allegation that I have “issues about something with the military” by saying that I doubt that there is anyone who loves and misses the rewards and personal satisfaction of serving in the military more than a retired veteran. My issue is not with the military, my issue is with a matter of militarizing the attitude of children by employing a tactic that would probably only be appropriate in a private middle school military academy.

    24. Lucy Causton on September 4th, 2008 9:41 am

      Switzerland has a long history of neutrality, it has not been at war since 1815, yet they have desks in Swiss schools. I therefore conclude that Martha Cothren was talking utter B.S.

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