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Teacher Martha Cothren Teaches Valuable Lesson

Little Rock teacher Martha Cothren uses some unorthodox teaching methods in her social studies classroom at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. But she gets her message across.

On the first day of school in September 2005, with permission of the school superintendent, the principal, and the building supervisor, she had all of the desks taken out of the classroom.

When the kids walked in for first period, there were no desks. They looked around and asked, “Where are our desks?”

The teacher 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?”

She told them, “No, 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, same.

By early afternoon television news crews had gathered in the class to find out about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of the classroom. The last period of the day, the instructor gathered her class.

They were sitting on the floor around the sides of the room. She said, “Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that sit in this classroom ordinarily. Now I’m going to show you how and why you have the right to sit in this class.”

She 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.

They placed those school desks in rows, and then they stood along the wall. By the time they had finished placing the desks, those kids, perhaps for the first time in their lives, understood how they got the right to sit at those desks. FREEDOM!

Their teacher 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. Don’t ever forget it.”