Someone sent me the details of this story eight years ago. I did my due diligence in checking it out thoroughly because it seemed too good to be true. It is both true and good, and I thought you should know.
After securing permission from the school superintendent and the principal, the high school classroom teacher who taught military history removed all the desks in her classroom, so when the first period students showed up, they discovered there was no place to sit. “Where are our desks?” they asked. The teacher replied, “You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.”
Some of the students thought that perhaps it involved earning good grades, but that was wrong. Others assumed it was their attentiveness or behavior, but those answers were not correct either. So the classes came and went throughout the day — first period, second period, third, and still there were no desks in the classroom whatsoever. Students now were more than confused, they were annoyed, and called their parents to tell them what was going on. Parents responded as they often do without checking all the facts, by immediately calling authorities and the media. A couple of radio stations and television crews gathered to find out why this teacher had taken all the desks out of her room.
When the final period of the day came with students still sitting on the floor, the teacher 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 will tell you.”
At this point, she went to the door of her classroom and opened it to 27 uniformed veterans. As the men and women walked into the classroom, they were each carrying a school desk. The vets proceeded one by one to carefully place them in rows, and then they walked over and stood against the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place, the teacher 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 own education and interrupting their careers and family lives so you could have the freedoms you have. No one charged you for your desk because these veterans already bought them for you with their service. Now it’s time for you to sit in them. It’s now your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to become good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.”
This event happened 15 years ago in Arkansas, the teacher the daughter of a World War II prisoner of war. The Veterans of Foreign Wars named her Teacher of the Year, and chances are, after 15 years, the event has been largely forgotten other than by the teacher, the veterans she engaged, and the students who are now well into adulthood and hopefully retelling the story to their children.
In four days it will be Veterans Day. We just had the two-state parade yesterday. It’s over now. A number of local businesses are having sales “in honor of our veterans,” but those sales will end soon, and it will be on to the next thing. Many restaurants are offering a complimentary meal or a free appetizer or dessert as a gesture of thanks to those who served. A wonderful show of generosity and recognition, but it too is temporary, and once the meal is eaten, the retail deal is won, and the day is over, we tend to forge on. To Thanksgiving and the holidays and other things. But when our veterans were serving this country they often didn’t know what day was a holiday, other than they might have been served a special meal. Yet on the battlefields, that didn’t happen. C-rations were C-rations, regardless of the day.
So perhaps we shouldn’t let our recognition and thanks be so easily dismissed on Veterans Day. Perhaps it’s time to tell the Arkansas teacher’s story to your children, and when you do, remind them that they’re free to tell the story and to tell it in English or their language of choice.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 20 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at email@example.com or 401-539-7762.