Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering The Great Desk Caper

In order not to offend the vewy delicate sensibilities of my fellow Americans, I waited until after Memorial Day to post this. 

It was a year or two ago one of my uncles sent me a chain email about honoring veterans. The story and its moral goes something like this [lifted from which designates the story as true]…

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?" And 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."

And 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. 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 says, "Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that sit in this classroom ordinarily." 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."

Even though I am a veteran – I’m a fucking Renaissance man like that – when I first read this story I laughed pretty hard. I could just imagine myself as a student in that class chiming in – because I’m a dick like that – “Sooooo, because these guys killed people in other countries, some of whom the U.S. are friends with now, I’m expected to be a good student? Isn’t the point of fighting for freedom to give people the option of not giving a shit if someone fought for their freedom?” As a veteran, I have on occasion been slightly offended by people not seeming to care that I fought for their liberties, but then again, that’s exactly one of the liberties they should have precisely because of my service in the military. Moreover, imagine this story taking place in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia or some such. You’d better be a good little Nazi youth officer! These men are out there killing Jews so that you don’t have to earn your desks! Just because so one fights for ideas that you share or benefit from doesn’t mean you should thank them.

Don’t get me wrong (too late) I support standing up for and defending some (very few) ideas but I’m not sure killing is the best way to show that support. (Meanwhile, I am all for defending one’s self with deadly force when one is aggressed.) It’s quite arguable that dropping nukes on Hiroshima AND Nagasaki was necessary and if a strong case can be made for not dropping at least one of those bombs, American veterans of that war are on the hook for the murder of civilians. Oh, that’s right, most soldiers just take orders. Hmm, that didn’t work for the Nazi’s after they lost WWII, did it? But I guess since America always wins we’re just supposed to say, “Team America! Fuck yeah!”

I regard what the teacher did as a waste of the student’s time. If what she wanted to do was instill a sense of respect for veterans in the children, she should have had them campaign the government to show some respect for their veterans’ lives by asking the government not to slash veteran benefits. You think the Average Joe doesn’t show enough respect for veterans? The Average Joe has nothing on the U.S. government that sends mostly-the-poor off to war. Without body armor.

Fortunately, I am a veteran and I can say these things without repercussion since I’ve earned free speech for myself. And just for the record, I sat on the floor and wrote this.

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