A FREEDOM LESSON TO REMEMBER

A3November 11th is Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries—Veterans Day in the United States. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is observed, not just to reflect on the time in 1918 when armistice was signed to end the First World War, but to honor sacrifices made by so many military personnel—ensuring the survival of democracy. This story from a little classroom teaches you an eye-opening lesson about freedom that you’ll never forget.

A1Martha Cothren is a social studies teacher at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. On the first day of school in September of 2005, Ms. Cothren did something to be remembered. With permission from the principal and school superintendent, she removed all the desks in her classroom.

When the first-period kids entered the room, they were shocked to find no desks.

“Ms. Cothren, where’s 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 answered, “Well, maybe it’s our grades.”

“No,” she said.

“Maybe it’s our behavior.”

She told them, “No, it’s not even your behavior.”

A2And so, they came and went. The first period. Second period. Third period. Still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon a television news crew gathered to report about this crazy school teacher who’d taken all the desks out of her room.

The day’s final period arrived and, as puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom, Martha Cothren said, “Throughout the day, no one’s been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I’m going to tell you.”

Martha Cothren went over and opened her classroom door.

A6Twenty-seven Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom—each carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the desks in rows, then walked over and stood against the wall. By the time the last soldier placed the final desk, those kids started to understand—perhaps for the first time in their lives—just how the right to sit at their 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. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have. 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.”

I think Martha Cothren taught us all a lesson about freedom in that Little Rock classroom. And I think her lesson needs to be shared.

A13Over my six decades of enjoying freedom, I’ve attended every Remembrance Day ceremony as far back as I can remember—two of those decades marching in the parade wearing the red serge uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

But I didn’t earn the freedom to march in my police uniform. That was earned by people like my father, Alan Rodgers, a World War Two air-gunner who served in a Lancaster bomber crew flying over Nazi Germany, and my mother, Lillian (Wegenast) Rodgers, who proudly served in an equally-important uniform as a Royal Canadian Air Force air traffic controller.

Alan JumpAnd today, I proudly watch as my twenty-five-year-old son (yes, also Alan Rodgers) marches in the uniform of the Canadian Army, with his earned paratrooper jump wings.

I proudly wore a peace officer uniform for a lot of years, but what I did in helping to maintain local law and order was nothing—absolutely nothing—compared to what Veterans of the Great War, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan did for our society.

And now we have ISIL/ISIS to face. Selfishly, I hope my son never has to use the skills he’s been taught. Alan’s skills are to employ the harsh tools of war needed to protect our freedom.

Freedom is not free. It’s earned at a tremendous cost. Many paid the ultimate price to give us freedom—like the freedom Martha Cothren had to educate her kids in that desk-less classroom.

Lest we forget.

9 thoughts on “A FREEDOM LESSON TO REMEMBER

  1. Sandy Coelho

    Garry,
    Thank you for sharing the story of Martha Cothern and your personal story. I too, hope your son will never see combat. These brave veterans gave so much, so their countrymen/women would enjoy the freedoms we have today. This is a wonderful lesson for all, and for a younger generation who have grown up far removed from the toll wars takes.
    We should not forget to thank those who have put their lives on the line for us, and thank the generations like your son, who’ve heard the stories, seen the photos, and still choose to defend our rights and freedoms – this is the best of selflessness and true courage.
    I intend to pass this along to family and friends, and have my children read this post.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      Hey Sandy! When I found this story I knew it had to be shared, especially seeing that Remembrance Day is this week. Alan has been in the military nearly nine years now. He joined the Army Reserves at 16 and is now a Master Corporal with the regular forces at Wainright, Alberta. Thankfully, he missed the Afghanistan conflict and I just hope the ISIS mess doesn’t involve him. But I have tremendous confidence in how well trained our soldiers are. Thanks for sharing this with your family and friends!

      Reply
  2. Sue Coletta

    Wow. What a teacher. That story gave me goose bumps. Too bad all kids don’t get to learn such a powerful lesson. There mustn’t have been a dry eye in the place. Personally, I never pass a veteran by without saying thank you, and each and every one is usually stunned when I do. How sad.

    Reply
    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      It’s a really moving story, Sue. It’s been shared for some time, but this was the first I heard of it. I also checked into it verified that it is a true story. There should be more teachers like Ms. Cothren… and more people like you that show due respect to veterans!

      Reply

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