Untying the Knots – NOW SHE IS A TEACHER!
Here's a story I found posted on a friends page on Facebook. I felt it presented things in a somewhat simplistic manner. I believe children ought to be taught to questions their teachers and see the complexity and contradictions within that which at first sight seems so simple and straight forward.
Below it I have published my response.
In September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a History 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 in her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.
'Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?'
'Ms. Cothren, where are 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. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school 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 desk-less classroom. Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has 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 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 uniform, 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. 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.'
By the way, this is a true story. And this teacher was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year for the State of Arkansas in 2006. She is the daughter of a WWII POW.
Okay… so let's try to unpack what Martha Cothren is asking and/or saying.
I'm not sure I could have answered her question without first knowing what it was that she was driving at — so I would assume that the kids couldn't possibly have understood how she was expecting them to answer this question or, in fact, what the question was.
But then, her answer, at the end of the day, seems to contradict her initial question — how did you earn the right? According to her way of seeing things they didn't earn the right, they were given it by these soldiers… so her question was a trick one at best… and at worst it was totally confusing. I'm not sure what lesson they learned by having to wait all day for their desks. I mean, was she saying that they can only earn the right to sit at a desk by joining the military? Surely she can't mean that. They're just kids, after all. And if she's saying that: if not for these soldiers the kids wouldn't have the desks, I feel I must take issue with that assumption as it seems guided more by sentimentality and a romantic ideal of the patriotic and virtuous warrior, than a strict adherence to reason and reality.
With all due respect to the poor young men who went abroad and got their legs and arms blown off, or came back home with serious cases of PTSD, and for whom I have the greatest sympathy – might I add – but I'm not at all sure that a case can be made that without them these kids would not have their desks.
I don't think even the people who initially supported the invasion of Iraq, think that it was a useful war or one that protected America in any way. It was instigated by a cadre of hawks in the White House lying to the American public about WMDs which never materialized, and are widely accepted now to have never existed but in the minds of those who were seeking excuses for making huge sums of money for their corporate masters — Dick Cheney and Halliburton e.g… at whatever cost of death or injury to the young men of this country. At this point even the invasion of Afghanistan is seen by most historians to have created more trouble and more anti-American sentiment worldwide than any good that it might have done. However, the arms dealers and purveyors of military technology did very well by it, thank you very much. Perhaps it is they who should thank these young men for their sacrifice.
Certainly the Vietnam war is totally condemned by both the right and the left by now. At least since Robert McNamara, in his autobiography, admitted that he and LBJ simply made up the Gulf of Tonkin attack in order to get us into that war.
Ms. Cothren might say that WWII (in which her father was a POW) was a noble war, and I might agree. But would it have ever come to the American mainland and affected school children here? No way of knowing. Certainly many kids in Europe (or Hawaii) might have cause to thank the American G.I. of the time for their school desks, but perhaps not these young men, as they were not even a twinkle in their grandparents eyes at the time. And then again, I assume that the Japanese and the Germans also supply their school children with desks.
This leaves us with Granada? Panama? Hmmm… The anti communist Central/South American "domino theory" of the Reagan years never did come to pass, wherein hordes of Cubans and Russians come marching across the border "Red Dawn"style (presumably dragging illegal Mexican farm laborers in their wake) and take away our kids' school desks… despite how the movie showed it. Strange considering how many Latin American countries have gone socialist in the intervening years.
Now, as to whether every soldier is a hero… is a debatable point. When I was a kid, every soldier didn't come back from war automatically a hero— just the ones who had done something heroic. Another huge generalization we often hear, is that everyone who signs up to serve in the military is brave and patriotic. There are probably an infinite number of reason as to why someone would want to join up. Putting oneself in danger is likely not a biggie — ask the proud mother of any young recruit. Of course many young men and women simply signed up for the U.S. Army National Guard (one weekend a month, 2 weeks a year —their recruiting slogan) and then ended up in the middle of the desert for 2 or 3 or even 4 tours. Not what they had been counting on! A high percentage of young people in the military come from very poor backgrounds, and join up simply because there are no other jobs available in their neighborhoods, and they are promised free college educations and other benefits. I have seen interviews with many of these kids who felt that the military tricked them into combat situations, and then never delivered on its promises.
I do feel that this country owes those boys a lot. I think anyone who has the slightest patriotism would insist that they be much better taken care of by the V.A. when they come home unable to fit into society, unable to get a job, because of physical or mental ailments which the average person cannot understand. But instead, they are kept waiting for treatment or therapy, sometimes for over a year before they can get to see a doctor or a hospital bed. The rate of recent veteran suicides is absolutely alarming, as compared with the general public. And many of them are still in their mid twenties — most of us were still kids at that age, and it is a difficult age to be forced to sort out such huge and insurmountable problems without help from this society. A society, indeed, which thought nothing about putting them in harm's way in the first place, so that a few billionaires could profit by manipulating our ignorance, our mistrust and fear of the dark skinned "heathen" we do not know.
Such is the way of the top one percent, that historically they have always manipulated the poor to act against their own benefits. It is not a new thing. It has always been so, and this is why I am always amazed that time and time again we fall for such fraudulent patriotism, and never learn to see through this trick of the rich and powerful. And we never learn to keep our young men safe at home where they belong. They do not need to be deified, these young warriors, they do not need to be romanticized and turned into heroes for the next generation to emulate. They need to be helped, and healed and nurtured back into a constructive and peaceful society. And we need to teach the school kids that war is an abomination which should only be entered into when all else has failed (the words of General Douglas MacArthur). It is not patriotic to help the rich get richer on the backs of the poor. The rich do not send their sons to the front by a very significant percentage.
Instead Martha Cothren might consider going into the temples of power and money, in Manhattan and Chicago and Houston and … wherever — and take her troop of young soldiers to remove the desks of the bankers, and money traders, and weapons builders, and oil barons, and clothing manufacturers… and ask them what gives them the right to plunder the worlds resources, to extract cheap labor from poverty stricken foreigners whilst depriving the workers at home from those same jobs, and only give them back when they have admitted it is our troops they need to thank, who travel the dangerous highways of the world, unwittingly furthering the cause – not necessarily of justice and freedom – but of capital.