When the children arrived at Ms. Cothren’s class on the first day of school a few years back, they were surprised to see not a single desk in the entire classroom. (With permission from the superintendent, she had them removed.)
“Ms. Cothren, where are the desks?” the children asked.
“You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn it,” she answered.
Kids tried out various answers.
“Our behavior?” one suggested.
“No, it is not your behavior that earned you the right to sit at a desk,” Ms. Cothren said.
“Our grades?” another tried.
Throughout the day, the same scene repeated itself. Children puzzled over why they had no desks, but no one could answer Ms. Cothren’s question. Local news crews gathered, wondering what this crazy teacher was doing.
Finally, in the last period of the day, Ms. Cothren told her students that throughout the entire day, no one had really understood how they earned the desks that ordinarily sat in the classroom. “Now I’m going to tell you,” she said.
She opened the classroom door. In walked an armed forces veteran in full uniform carrying a desk. He set it down and stood against the wall. Another veteran carried in a second desk, set it down, and stood against the wall.
In all, 27 uniformed veterans filled up the classroom with 27 desks.
“You don’t have to earn these desks,” Ms. Cothren told the students. “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.”
A lesson for all of us on Memorial Day.