Friday, August 29, 2014

What Teaching Means to Me


Every fall and spring there comes a day where I stand in front of a few hundred students spread out over several different classes and try to figure out what to say.  I always make sure I do a few things for the first day of class.  First, dress for success.  Second, I make sure I have my flash drive.  Third, I make sure I am standing in front of the right class.  (Yes, I went in and started teaching someone else's class one time.  Makes me wonder where that professor was.....)  All of that comes easily enough.  The words are what I struggle with.  The first day of class is like a first date.  It may be good.  It may be bad.  But no matter what, it will be awkward.

Each semester I get to meet some interesting people.  I have students from all over the world.  They range in age from high school dual credit students to people in their 60s pursuing a degree that they always wanted.  I have students attending college on scholarships, either academic or athletic.  I also have students who earned their free college education the hard way by serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Students come in all colors and creeds with beliefs as varied as their backgrounds.  It is my job to reach all of them.

Let's face it.  A US History survey course is as interesting to some people as a root canal.  Unlike a dentist, I try to make my class as painless as possible.  I don't expect my students to leave my class wanting to major in history.  In fact, I hope they don't as I want them to find jobs that pay well!  I live for those moments when I have a student tell me that they hated history before my class and though they don't like it, they appreciate it more after listening to me beat my gums for a semester.

I enjoy watching my students transform from nervous to confident over the course of the semester.  I witness engagements, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, sickness, and joy.  I have a ring side seat to the lives of my students which are more action packed than you might think!  Students confide in me and I also have to play the part of confessor, parent, and confidant.  The college doesn't pay me for that part of the job.  In fact, they probably discourage it.  But it goes with the territory.

I don't see teaching as a way to change the world.  I don't see it as a way to fulfill some lifelong ambition.  No, I see it as a way to help people which is exactly what I did as a firefighter and police officer.  I'll never get a full time job at a community college.  I get that.  I'm too unconventional.  My students like me and it isn't because I'm easy.  That doesn't sit well with some of "the suits".  I am too informal.  I have tattoos.  I speak my mind.  I go against the grain.  I do things the way I think they need to be done.  We talk about sports. And relationships. And trauma.  And I fight like hell if I think my students are being treated unfairly.  All of that rubs people the wrong way.  Whatever.  I don't do this for the paycheck or for the benefit of anyone other than my students.

In the course of a semester, we laugh and cry together as a class.  We talk about history but we also talk about life.  You see, I don't teach history.  I teach students.  They are more important than the subject itself and I think that too many faculty get caught up in their respective disciplines and see students as something of a nuisance.  I imagine them saying "This would be a great place to work if it weren't for the students!" I haven't spent my whole life in the Ivory Tower.  I worked the streets and I learned what is really important in life.  So a few years back when a person who's name I do not know accused me of being unprofessional because he/she overheard me talking about a football game in the hallway with a former student, I laughed it off and felt sympathy for the students in that professor's class.  There is a person who has no desire to get to know their students as individuals rather than nameless faces.

This week, I got started on a new semester with new faces and new challenges.  Here's hoping for a good one.  My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who makes no apologies for who I am or how I teach.  I'm no Jaime Escalante or Freedom Writer or Dangerous Minds lady.  I just do the best I can and hope it is enough.  Doing what is right by my students is a Holy Obligation to me and I hold it just as sacred as I did the oath I took as a police officer.    

The Half A$$ Historian, dressed for success!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The More Things Change


Do you ever wonder what a professor goes through before a new semester starts?  Well then, read no further.  In an effort to be more multi-disciplinary and all that crap, I am changing things up this semester.  While my actual class will still be pretty much the same, I am changing the requirements up a bit.  With all Intro US History courses, there is a big, thick, expensive, and boring textbook that no one ever reads.  I understand that and there is nothing I can do about it.  So in an effort to incorporate something interesting that people actually will read, I am adding the above pictured novels.  The one on the left is for my 1302 courses and the one on the right is for my 1301 course.

There will be two quizzes on the aforementioned novels and a writing assignment linked to them as well.  I think that if my students actually give the books a chance they may actually like them.  It typically takes me a week to prepare for a fall or spring semester.  I have to not only get my class materials ready (syllabus, schedule, etc) but I also have to upload it onto Blackboard.  Then I have to get my online courses set up too.  It is a lot more work than it sounds like.  And I get paid for none of it.  One of the downsides to being a lowly adjunct is that we only get paid for the time that we are in front of the class and not for prep time, grading, etc.  I am teaching nine courses this fall for three different schools.  In addition to this I am taking my second graduate course during the first eight weeks and third during the second eight weeks.  It is going to be a busy fall.

I always get butterflies on the first day of class, just as I did when I was a student.  I put a lot of pressure on myself and I feel an almost holy obligation to my students.  Some semesters I do really well and others, like this summer, I am off my game a little bit.  I hope I can recoup my mojo going into the fall.  A lot of that depends on how my back holds up and what my pain levels are.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who may not get a lot of sleep tonight.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The NFL's Revolving Door


I will start out by asking you a trivia question.  Which NFL franchises are the only two original teams remaining?  (The answer is at the end of the post, but no skipping ahead)

I remember the Baltimore Colts.  Then they moved to Indianapolis and became the Indianapolis Colts only to have the Cleveland Browns move to Baltimore and become the Ravens.  But don't confuse them with the current incarnation of the Cleveland Browns!  And then, of course, we have the Cleveland Rams who moved to Los Angeles and became the Los Angeles Rams only to move to St. Louis to replace the St. Louis Cardinals who moved to Arizona.  What fun!  And let's not forget the Dallas Texans who moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs!  Sorry Houston Texans fans, your team's name isn't original.

In 35 years, much has changed in the NFL.  A few posts ago I wrote about the game that put the NFL on the map and helped it start to replace baseball as the most popular sport in the country.  One thing that concerns me about young fans is that they have no concept of where the game came from.  It is like if it didn't happen in their lifetime then they don't know care to know anything about it.  I never saw Dick Butkis make a single tackle.  He was long since retired when I was born, but I still know he is perhaps the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game.  We are fast losing that connection with the sport's past and that is a sad thing.

So let's travel back in time to 1920, the NFL's first season.  Though to be accurate, it wasn't called the NFL yet.  At the time it was called the American Professional Football Association (APFA).  There were 14 teams and, as noted above, only two of them are still in existence today.  There was no fixed schedule that year.  Teams just sort of made it up as they went along which led to some teams playing more games than others!  This is a far cry from the scheduling system that exists today.  Nor were their games confined to just other "professional teams".  Some played against factory teams like the Wheeling Stogies!  The Rochester Jeffersons even played a game against the Knights of Columbus team from Utica!

As they played no official schedule, they also kept no official standings.  When the owners and league officials met in the Spring of 1921, they awarded the Akron Pros the championship as they had the only undefeated season.  Both the Decatur Staleys and the Buffalo All-Americans ended with one loss apiece and demanded a co-championship with Akron as they both played more games, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.  Even back then the NFL was full of controversy!  That, at least, hasn't changed.  But at least they were allowed to tackle back then!  These days I think the quarterbacks and wide receivers should wear pink tutus since the NFL doesn't seem to want tackling to be part of the game anymore.  Sadly now it is all about television ratings and the league wants high scoring games like you have in arena football, hence all the extra penalties they have added for doing the things that you were once taught to do.

So which two teams are the only original ones remaining?  Well, the Decatur Staleys moved to Chicago and became the Chicago Staleys and then later the Chicago Bears. (Da Bears!)  The Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis and became the St. Louis Cardinals only move to Phoenix and become the Phoenix Cardinals.  Now, they are the Arizona Cardinals.  Some think the Green Bay Packers are an original team, but they did not join the league until the second season in 1921.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian and proud member of Who Dat Nation!  Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat Dem Saints!  (To be honest, with their defense, probably a lot of teams this season!)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reflections of the Way Life Use To Be


Today is the Half A$$ Historian's birthday.  I say this not to fish for birthday wishes or presents. (I can accept cash or check.  I'm not set up to take credit cards.)  The past year has been a difficult one for me.  One year ago this week I handed in my badge for good and set out to do something......I'm not even sure what.  Life with chronic pain is difficult, more difficult than I let on to those around me.  There are plenty of people I see on a day to day basis who don't even know the true extent of what is happening in my lower back.  It is made more difficult when it's arrival unexpectedly brings an end to a career that you love.  Once you leave law enforcement, you are tossed aside and forgotten by most of those you once worked with and considered a brother or a sister.  Most, but by no means all.  So it has been a year of changes for me, some for the better and some, unfortunately for the worse.

I am 36 years old today.  Many of you consider that young and I guess it really is in the grand scheme of things, but not when you lower back resembles what you would expect to find in an eighty year old.  They say it isn't how old you are it is how old you feel.  I dearly hope that isn't true as I feel every one of those eighty years.  When I let my guard down, it makes me wonder how I will feel when I actually am eighty but odds are I won't make it long enough to find out.

I have been fortunate enough to do quite a bit in my life related to historical pursuits.  I have walked the ground where Pickett's men charged into immortality at Gettysburg.  I have seen the spot where Andrew Jackson gave the British an ass kicking they will never forget outside New Orleans.  (Though I have ancestors who fought in that battle on the other side!)  My redhead and I stood side by side in the Peach Orchard at Shiloh, perhaps the most hallowed of Civil War sites in this country where a century and a half ago our ancestors' regiments faced each other on that very spot.  Mine drove hers from the field in disarray, of course.

As a young single man with no girlfriend and no prospects of one either, I jumped in my truck on a whim and drove all night to get to Vicksburg.  I spent a couple of days there and got a private tour of the battlefield with the retired mayor.  Later, I returned there on my honeymoon with my first wife.  (Probably not the most romantic place to go and maybe the reason for the ex part?)  I returned again with my redhead just a few years ago and we toured the battlefield with no reverse gear in her transmission!  Countless times I have wandered the battlefield of San Jacinto where Texas gained independence from Mexico both alone and with groups of students.  I have paced the decks of the once mighty Battleship Texas who's fourteen inch guns shelled the French coast on June 6th, 1944.

But there was so much else I wanted to do.  So many more places I wanted to go.  Prior to the appearance of my health condition, my wife and I were considering a trip to Russia to visit some sites from the Great Patriotic War. (Their term for World War 2.)  I would like to see the beaches of Normandy in person along with the Ardennes Forest, site of the Battle of the Bulge.  I've always been drawn to the Little Big Horn battlefield and desperately wanted to visit some day.  But these sites will only exist on television and in pictures as I will never see them in person.  My condition leaves me unable to sit down for more than about ten minutes at a time and even a thirty minute car trip can be agony on my worst days and very painful on my best days.

It is tempting, Dear Readers, to focus on everything that I can't do and everything that I have lost.  I try to stay grounded in the present and one thing that I can say for sure, I wouldn't trade any of the experiences that I have had for anything.  If someone said that they could give me my health back but it would erase the memories of where all I have been and the sites that I have seen, I'd probably say no and kick them in the nuts.  (If they had any, of course.)

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.

My redhead and I with the San Jacinto Monument in the background.
What would Freud say!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Great Bada$$es of History


This past May I wrote a short piece on the Great Jackasses of History.  In case you missed that one, you may find it here.  Today, I look at a$$es of a different kind (and no, you perverts, not the kind you are hoping to find).  Badasses.  The Urban Dictionary, which is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, defines a badass as "an ultra cool mo-fo."  While I do not take issue with that definition, it leaves out an important part of the term.  I prefer to go with Merriam-Webster on this one.  They define a badass as a person of "formidable strength or skill."  That version is more suited for our purposes here.

I can already see your hands raising in objection!  Who are you, a Half A$$ to judge who is and who is not a badass.  Well, Dear Readers, I once had a student describe me as "one bada$$ mo-fo!"  So as you can see, I think I am more than qualified to pontificate on such as subject.  So read on.  And no peeking until the end or else Chuck Norris will go all Walker Texas Ranger on you.

5. Queen Boudica:  Ever heard of Xena Warrior Princess?  I admit, I watched the show religiously while I was in college.  I even had a Xena action figure which is, among other things, probably why I didn't date that much.  Move over Xena.  Celtic Queen Boudica is a bigger badass than you!  Celts tended to treat women with a little more respect than many other ancient tribes.  However, Boudica ran afoul of the Romans.  Her daughters were raped while she was forced to watch.  While this was going on, the Romans were also flogging her.  There is one thing you should never, never do.  Piss off a redhead.  She raised an army and led a revolt against Roman rule in Britain and even waxed a couple of Roman units in battle.  Legend has it that she rode into battle in a chariot with her daughters on both sides of her.  Alas, ultimately might prevailed and she was defeated.  No one knows the exact site of her death.  Nor do we really know how she died.  Some say she fell in battle.  Others say she killed herself to avoid being taken prisoner and tortured to death by the Romans.  I say maybe there is another option.  She didn't die but was simply taken up to Heaven by the gods.  But for a brief moment in time, a redheaded woman made the whole of the Roman Empire tremble in fear.  For that, I award her the fifth spot on my list.  Did I mention that I like redheads?

4. King Leonidas of Sparta:  In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that the movie 300 was the most godawful movie I have ever seen. (Other than Titanic, but that goes without saying)  After the movie came out, everyone was all "Go Sparta!" and I found it rather amusing, given how little those people knew about Spartan life.  However, none of that takes away from the badassery of King Leonidas.  He and his troops remained behind to cover the retreat of the Greek Army in the face of an overwhelming Persian force.  Prior to the campaign, the Oracle said that either Sparta would be destroyed or their king would die.  Choosing to remain on a battlefield in the face of certain death makes you a bada$$.  I just wish the movie would have been a little better.

3. Stonewall Jackson: While waiting for the Civil War to begin where he could display his feats of badassery, Thomas J. Jackson was a bit of an odd duck.  Whilst teaching at the Virginia Military Institute, he earned the nickname Tom Fool from his students based on his absent minded professor persona.  (I know a little about that myself.)  But then came war and the opportunity for Jackson to demonstrate what he was really made of!  First of all, he stood like a stone wall at First Manassas, thus earning his nickname.  (After he was struck in the hand by a spent musket ball which broke his finger!)  During the Valley Campaign, his troops march over 600 miles in 50 days and defeated five different armies which combined to equal four times as many men as he commanded.  He dazzled the Yankees at Second Manassas and his flank march at Chancellorsville is legendary.  Alas, his badass conduct came to end when he was accidentally shot by one of his own men.  How'd you like to be descended from that guy!  Jackson had his arm amputated but pneumonia set in and he passed on to Valhalla.  

2.  Hannibal:  No Clarice.  Not Hannibal Lectar.  I mean Hannibal, son of Barca.  This guy crossed the freaking Alps with elephants!  You can't get much more badass than that!  During the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, Hannibal decided to take the fighting to the Roman homeland.  A wise choice perhaps.  Setting out from Spain with a massive force including war elephants, which had to be really freaking scary, he battled his way to the Alps.  To a normal person, elephants and a mountain range do not a pleasant journey make.  Ah, but Hannibal was a badass!  This was no obstacle for him!  Boldly he set out to cross the Alps and did, though I imagine he lost a lot of elephants (and soldiers) along the way.  Once he arrived in Italy, he beat the living crap out of the Romans at Cannae, thus perfecting the double envelopment that generals have sought to accomplish ever since.  His troops slaughtered something like 70,000 Romans and lost ten percent of that themselves.  Way to go Hannibal!  That will pay the Romans back for inventing Latin.  And did I mention, he crossed the Alps with freaking elephants!

And now (insert drum roll).........for my pick for the Biggest Badass in History.................

1.  George S. Patton, Jr.  Any guy who carries ivory handled revolvers on a twentieth century battlefield is an eternal badass.  Prior to establishing his reputation as one of, if not the, greatest battlefield commander in American History, Patton competed in the Olympic Games!  While serving on the US/Mexican border during the Pancho Villa crisis, Patton and a couple of his men surprised some of Villa's henchmen.  Patton put rounds in all three of them though it is not known if any of his were the fatal shots.  Still, putting three rounds in people who are shooting at you is pretty badass.  He commanded tanks after the US entered the First World War.  At one point, as his tanks moved towards a German held village, he freaking walked in front of them to inspire his troops!  Later, he rode on top of one to do the same thing.  Given such courage, it should come as no surprise that he suffered a wound, yet stayed on the field and continued to command.  

His World War Two exploits are legendary and are the subject of a movie, so I won't belabor that here.  However, I will say that Patton and the men of his Third Army pulled off one gigantic feat of badassery during the move to the relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.  I would take my helmet off to them all except I am not wearing one and Patton frowned on not wearing your helmet.  

I know some of you may take issue with my list and have your own to mention.  That is fine.  This is Murica and we are all free to have our own opinions, largely due to badasses like General Patton!  There are a few who came close to being included here, but I only had five spots available.  Sorry if I left out one of your favorite people. 

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Game That Made the NFL

In 1958, the NFL was no where near the mega sport that it is now.  College football reigned supreme, especially in the South where there was a lack of NFL teams.  This was two years before Lamar Hunt created the rival AFL that would one day merge to give us the modern NFL.  Baseball still ruled as America's pastime having surpassed boxing for our most popular sport by the late 1920s.  All it took was one game to capture the imaginations of the country, and damn, what a game.

NBC carried it live throughout the country though, for some reason it was blacked out in New York City!  An estimated 45 million people watched the New York Giants battle it out with the Baltimore Colts.  (For you new football fans, I'll try to explain briefly.  The Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis and became the Indianapolis Colts.  Then the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens.  Then Cleveland got a new team also called the Browns!)  

Both teams stumbled through the first half which ended with the Colts up 14-3.  It looked like they would cruise to an easy victory in the second half.  But the Giants had other plans.  They stormed back and took the lead late in the game.  While up by 3 points with two minutes left on the clock, the Giants punted the ball and the Colts took over deep in their own territory.  Unfortunately for the Giants, the ball was now in the hands of the great Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever sling the old pigskin around the gridiron.  The Giants defense, led by famed linebacker Sam Huff, forced a 3rd and 11.  Unitas completed a pass and then followed it up with a few more.  With seconds left on the clock, the Colts kicked a field goal to tie the game and force overtime.

And therein lies the problem!  No NFL playoff game had ever been decided by overtime, much less the championship game!  The captains met at mid-field for the toss, just like they had at the beginning of the game.  The Giants won the toss and received the ball, but could do nothing with it.  They punted and the Colts took over.  Again, Unitas put on a football clinic as he drove 80 yards in 13 plays.  The Colts faced a third down on the Giants one yard line.  They called a simple play, really, the old fullback dive.  Alan Ameche took the ball and plunged across the goal line as camera bulbs flashed.  The image (seen at the top of the post) is one of the most iconic photographs of any NFL game.  Ever. 

The NFL had arrived.  The merger of football and television was as significant as the merger between baseball and the radio.  Though it took time, the NFL would take over as America's dominant sport.  The 1958 NFL Championship Game would go down in history as the "greatest game ever played".

Sadly, knowledge of the history of the game is lacking among the younger generation of fans.  By that I mean the fans in their twenties and younger.  I grew up watching the likes of Walter Payton, Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, and Lawrence Taylor.  Mention those names to a lot of young fans and they just give you a blank look.  They have no idea of the long history of the game, just as many of the current NFL players have no respect for the game.  Every time a player performs an elaborate choreographed touchdown dance, they are showing disrespect for the game.  So to are those who taunt their opponents.  My personal favorite are the players who dance after sacking the quarterback when their team is losing by 20 points.  Hey dumbass, spend more time tackling and less dancing and maybe you'd be in the lead!  They get paid to make sacks.  I don't dance every time a I grade a paper, or, when I was a cop, I didn't dance after making an arrest.  Though at times I may have wanted to!

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who only has one thing left to say: WHO DAT SAY DEY GONNA BEAT DEM SAINTS!