Myth Blaster: Martha Cothren and the Lesson to Her Students

Joan Bartelson sent this via email as a true story …

A lesson that should be taught in all schools . . . . and colleges.
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 the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks out of her classroom.
When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.
‘Ms. Cothren, where’re our desks?’

She replied, ‘You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you 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, 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 deskless 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 (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk.  The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall.  By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids 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.’
By the way, this is a true story

Myth Blaster Verdict

The sender of this email stated that Snopes had checked this out – and they certainly did:

it is refreshing to encounter a tale that reports the facts with little (if any) embellishment. … It recounts events from the first day of classes in Fall 2005 for students enrolled in Martha Cothren’s military history class at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. 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. … This daughter of a World War II POW regularly has veterans visit her classroom … 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. … 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. … In 2006 the Veterans of Foreign Wars named Martha Cothren their “Teacher of the Year.”

Indeed, as Snopes reported, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee referenced this story at the 2008 Republican National Convention in his Veterans’ presentation speech as well.
Truth or Fiction also covers this story that circulates via the chain email circuit.
Barbara MikkelsonSnopes, is correct – it is refreshing to see something truthful circulating the chain email circuit in cyberspace.

2 comments on “Myth Blaster: Martha Cothren and the Lesson to Her Students

  1. Jim Baxter says:

    Carl V. "Sam" Lamb and I served side-by-side as rifle-squad leaders Fox Company, "Chesty" Puller's 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division. He wrote a book about our experiences in the Korean conflict, 1950-1951. He included my remarks about an incident in which one of our people threatened to punch-out a fellow squad-leader who had black skin. + + + THE LAST PARADEby Carl V. Lamb Page 296 (1951) James Fletcher Baxter Sam and I had a lot in common. We both resisted evil. After Igot out of the hospital, 'Big Jim' Causey told of driving alongin his police cruiser and hitting a black man in his head with his pistol. He thought it was funny how the guy sprawledinto the street. When he made this comment we were in a card game. I didn't say anything, but then he said he was going tokick the ____ out of Joe Goggins and I had heard enough. I said, "If you're going to try that, you'll have to go through me to get to him. I'm willing to give my life for a countrythat values each individual. If that isn't true, I don't want to fight for that country – but, it is true, so I'm not going to let you rob me of the very good reason I may lose my life tomorrow or next week. If you attack him, you attack me. I may lose, but I guarantee I will make it very expensive for you to get to him. Let me know what you decide." He got up from our card game and said, "I'll have to think about it." I said, "Let me know. I'll be here." He came back a little later and said, "You're right. I was wrong." I thanked him for his manliness. Joe Goggins came to me later and thanked me. He had wet eyes. + + + (7/16/10)Shortly after the above event, Causey was sent home on amedical emergency for a family member. On the way, hemade a stop at a Naval medical facility stateside and ran intomy brother, Sgt. Howard "Barney" Baxter, 5th Marines, with Chosen Reservoir frost-bitten feet. My brother said Causey told him what had happened, and that it had "changed his life forever." Never again would he do "the collective thing" of raceabuse. He saw the value of each individual, regardless of race, station, or gender. He even forgave himself and became a worthy and honorable U.S. Marine. Jim BaxterSgt. USMCWWII & Korean Warsemper fidelispointman/follower of The Lion of Judah

  2. J. Baxter:Well said, Marine …Semper Fi

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