Saturday, September 13, 2014

Teachers, Guns, and Toilets

I live in the Salt Lake County. I used to live in Macomb County, Michigan. In my 36 years there, I can not think of an instance where anything there made national news.

However, here in Salt Lake County, every few months something a few minutes from my home seems to be plastered all over CNN. Sometimes good, more often bad, and occasionally just plain moronic.

This week was a particular facepalm for me because it involved a teacher. In fact, it is disturbing how many stories come out about Utah teachers behaving badly.  My theory on why Utah gets the high distribution of dimwitted teachers is this: Utah has THE lowest per pupil spending in America. We are even lower than the territory of Puerto Rico. In addition, we also have a legislature that is completely hostile to teachers. So combine low pay with often less than quality working conditions... and the pool of applicants gets thin.  We have some amazing teachers, I work with some of the best, but Utah also scrapes the bottom of the barrel to fill classrooms. As such, you would be hard pressed to find in other states the kind of bizarre behavior you occasionally find here in Utah.

Utah is a Right-Wing reactionary state.  Back when the Sandy Hook situation went down, our legislature decided that teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in school. So with 3 hours of instruction, and a couple hundred dollars spent at Walmart, a teacher could now have their six shooter join them in class time with the kiddies.

Why three hours of class time is simply not sufficient should be apparent... but again, we are a Right-Wing state and ideology often trumps reality. Let me step into another context to demonstrate. I am presently helping my 16 year old daughter learn to drive. I had forgotten that driving is actually a very complex venture. Watching my daughter try to multitask all of the varied inputs brings a fresh perspective. As a new driver, she over-reacts and under-reacts. She needs me there to help her multi-task, interpret the inputs, tell her when to turn, slow down, speed up, etc. If I were to let her drive now without guidance, she would most likely be in a fender-bender or worse within the week. She is wicked clever and sharp as a tack - she does not lack intelligence or capability. She just needs supervised experience in these early stages.

Think of that in reference to guns. I bet if I talked to a cop or a person in the armed services, they would describe to me the myriad of hours spent on becoming proficient with a gun. Training upon training. Compare that to three hours of community classwork, afterwhich you get to carry a concealed weapon. Like the new driver, someone new with a gun is going to be a hazard to everyone around them. Why do we think allowing such a person to carry a gun in school is a good idea?

I am sure our CCW teacher, who made national news this week, carried her gun with good intentions. Pumped up with NRA slogans like, "The only thing that stops a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun!" she probably day-dreamed of saving all of her students from the bad guy.

Instead, she blew apart a toilet when going to the bathroom, and was sent to the hospital with porcelain fragments. What happened to her was pure math... and as a school teacher she should have known this. It was always statistically much more likely that she would shoot herself, a child, or some other bystander than take out a bad guy.

Math happens.

There is a great scene in the movie Glory where Matthew Broderick's character is commanding the first black soldiers in the Civil War. The men and their Sergeant are commending themselves at what good shots they are with their guns. Broderick demonstrates that being a good shot has nothing to do with combat. He pulls aside one of the men and tells him to reload his weapon. As the soldier attempts to re-load, Broderick screams at him to load and fire faster, while firing a pistol repeatedly near the soldier's ear. The man's hands shake so violently, he can no longer hold his weapon. (Scoot ahead to one minute thirty three seconds).



It is political childishness and conceit that allows Utah to think that anyone without police or military training should be allowed to carry a gun in our schools.

Friday, September 05, 2014

My Son Turns 13!

Today, my son turns 13.  He has looked 13 for a number of months now. Within this past year he has made the shift from boy to what I have termed "Man-Boy". Jacob has surpassed his sister in height and is equal with his mother. I am sure that within the next year or so, he will be the tallest of us all.

A Costco has opened just down the road from us, and its timing is perfect.  Jake is an avid runner and swimmer, burning more calories in a day than I do in a week. His ability to pack away food is reaching bulk buying proportions.

I remember the day he was born. Kathryn was taken by C-section, but Jake was coming out El Natural. The delivery room was packed. Mary Lee was a beloved NICU nurse at the hospital and the whole floor was a buzz about Jake's arrival. The assistants to the the doctor delivering were doctors themselves and plenty of the nurses were finding reasons to be in the room as well... there was hardly any space for me. Rarely has there been a child who had so many medical staff present to assure a safe delivery.

Unlike the rest of our family, Jake is pure Utah. We moved across the country when he was only two.

Cute as a bug, and being a polite toddler made him well loved in our circles. Jake has always liked structure and routine, and he pays attention when an instruction is given. When the Sunday school teacher told the kids to sing loud during this song, he did.  He pretty much drowned out the other 30 kids. Two little girls behind him tried to get him to lower the volume ... but Jake was having none of that. His director had given him instructions and he followed them for the rest of the song.  :)

video

Jake is the jack of all trades.  He is an academic who enjoys reading, science, and math.  He also enjoys his share of sports, primarily running and swimming.  His down time is spent on video games.

Jake has been in a number of shows.  This year he starts theater class at ELA, so it will be fun to see him working on stage again.

I am sure there is no surprise when a father says he takes pride in his son... but, not only does that seem cliche for me to say in reference to Jacob, it woefully understates what I feel in regards to him.

Awe might sound like hyperbole... but it is more accurate. I often sit back in wonder.... how does a kid his age behave so responsibly? Carry himself so well? Be so empathetic of others? He seems to have acquired character and life skills prior to his teen years that I have just started getting the hang of in my 40s. :)

So here is to my son Jake - Happy Birthday! I look forward to the decisions you will make and the life you will create in the years to come. I know it's going to be incredible!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Calling All Old Palm Pilots


During spring cleaning around the Hackman household yesterday, I came across an old Sony Clie of mine which runs the Palm OS. I charged it up, and it still works... but what do I do with this ancient thing?

As with many items around the house I am about to get rid of, I ask myself "Can I use this in my classroom?"  The answer? "Darn-Tootin I can!" It is the perfect classroom electronic. There are still a myriad of Palm apps that I can use in the classroom, and this thing CAN'T get on the internet. The only programs available to students are what I put on it. :)

The more I thought about it, I realized I could use Palm Pilots as part of my centers rotations. Students could use the Palm Pilots to practice math, spelling, and reading. They can use them to track data. This is starting to have a lot of possibilities.

Here is where you come in dear reader. If you are like me, there is a decent chance that you, a friend, a family member, a co-worker, etc... have an old Palm Pilot, Sony Clie, Handspring (anything running PalmOS) stuffed in a junk drawer at home gathering dust. Look around, ask around, then ship any found here to Utah. Rather than having that Palm Pilot spend even more years gathering dust, re-purpose it!

Would you, could you put them in box?
Send them, send them with their docks?
Happy, happy, will my students be!
Send them, send them 1-2-3!

In addition to Palm Pilots, I can make use of outdated e-readers, digital cameras, tablets... Most school districts won't take them because they don't want to support them... but I am my own IT guy. :)

UPDATE***  Also, if anyone archived their Palm apps, I would love a copy of your freeware.  Finding Palm apps has proven to be more difficult than I anticipated.... the web is littered with broken Palm app links.
Drop me an email at mrhackman@hotmail.com, and I will get you the info to send it to my school.  Thank You!


A little Palm trivia. I have owned about 7 different Palm devices (prior to that I had used 3 different Windows CE clamshells - anyone remember Philips Velo?) I attended monthly Palm user group meetings and my first smartphone was the Palm Centro. I was so proficient with a Palm that occasionally while writing on the chalkboard in my classroom, I would accidentally slip into Graffiti... and my students would laugh.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: Calvary


I am listening to the soundtrack for Calvary as I write this. There are few movies for which I enjoy the soundtrack as much as this one. It is haunting, moving, and beautiful.

The movie, for me, was a mixed bag.  It stars Brendan Gleeson as a Catholic priest who maintains a parish on a costal town in Ireland. Gleeson's performance was magnificent.

Calvary sets up the tension early. The opening scene is in a confessional. The confessor informs the priest that it his intention to kill him at the end of the week. The confessor explains the sexual abuse that was done to him by a priest as a child. He has no desire to kill a bad priest.  He wants to end the life of a good and innocent priest so he may take from the church as the church took from him. He gives the priest the week to put his affairs in order.

Gleeson's priest, rather than protecting himself or going to the police, goes on about his priestly duties. We spend the week with him as he interacts with his parishioners and walks with his visiting, suicidal, daughter. We learn that the priest entered the order as an older man, following the death of his wife.

All of this takes place in beautiful settings. The film work is wonderful. The dialogue is engaging. The music is exceptional.

But Calvary has a substantial weak spot.

The townspeople and his parishioners. They were all just... well, awful.  By that I mean that none of the characters had likeable qualities. They were all broken people... but they were broken without any depth. There was nothing there with which to empathize. For all of the fullness of Gleeson's priest, those he dealt with were caricatures.

This is a painful movie.  I was not satisfied, but it made me think... and I am still pondering. 

Go see it... but once will probably be enough.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Glenn Beck Had A Close Brush With Reality

I tuned in to Glenn Beck the other morning on my way to work. I like to occasionally check in to see what topics the conspiracy end of America are frothing over.

On this particular morning, Glenn and his posse were discussing the death of Robin Williams. More specifically, they were having a conversation, laced with incredulity, over all of the folks who believe celebrity deaths come in threes. They stood in awe of people who maintain a belief, though no statistical realities back such a claim, that some cosmic force fates celebrity deaths to occur in sets of the magic number 3.

Glenn went on (here I paraphrase) "These people get all excited when the deaths come in a three and they announce 'SEE! SEE'!!!' but if it is a two, or a one, they are silent. All of the non-threes never make them reflect back that the "3" they are thinking of was just chance happenstance."

I laughed out loud, wondering if Glenn and his cohorts just MIGHT connect the dots. But no, this was not to be the morning.

Glenn and his buddies had a near-reality experience..... but it didn't stick.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Because That Is How Leprechauns Work

My first year of teaching was in a K/1 classroom. For St. Patrick's day, my teaching partner and I painted little green footprints in paths about the room. The children came in, excited that a Leprechaun had visited us. They ran about the room, inspecting the footprints... and then the serious discussions began. Why had a Leprechaun visited us? Did he leave anything? Did he take anything?

Was there REALLY a Leprechaun?

The more orthodox Leprechaun believers quickly jumped on that moment of doubt, explaining that the footprints were a CLEAR indication that a Leprechaun had been through here - the footprints were small AND green after-all.

"But why," one of the younger ones queried, "do the footprints stop over here and then continue over there?"

"Simple," said one of the older ones, taking on an authoritative tone. "The Leprechaun jumped from this point here and landed over there!" His finger traced an imaginary arc from launching point to landing point. He then turned to face the other children, folded his arms, and announced:

"Because that is how Leprechauns work!" _______________________________________________________

Everyday on Facebook, or in blogs, or in real life, I hear people make authoritative claims about various supernatural topics. Like my student, they take on an authoritative tone and begin to explain what God is like, or what will happen after we die, or how prayer functions, etc. Though they have no particular proof of any of their claims, and though their statements tend to contradict the claims of others.... or even reality itself.... They nevertheless, with all of the bravado of my first grader, will fold their arms, look you in the eye and announce:

"Because that is how the supernatural works!"

Monday, August 04, 2014

Halo, American Education, and my son The Terminator

My son is a killing machine.

Most fathers come to this realization after just a few minutes of facing off against their sons in a video game.

I used to be good at video games... admittedly, my video games were made of square blocks, and getting better meant developing more intricate routines as the game moved faster and faster.

I sat down with Jake the other day to play Halo. I am not new to the game. I completed Halo and Halo 2 on the original Xbox. I have played multiple games WITH Jake on the Xbox 360.

But on this day, I thought we should try facing off against each other.

It was a travesty.

For me.

The only survival maneuver I seemed to have available - was keeping away from my son. Within moments of his spotting me, I was terminated.

In an effort to even the playing field, we limited the weapons he could use, and he could not come after me until I had secured some big weapons.

This changed nothing.

Finally, we settled on my having every weapon... he could have a pistol.

For a while, this lengthened the amount of time I would live... but in the end, he wasted me. I could have a Scorpion Battle Tank... and he would take me out with his pistol.

When he slaughtered me enough for one day, he put down his controller and said, "Thanks Dad... I have gotten really good with a pistol today!"

So often in American educational circles, it is assumed that if teachers just taught better, or faster, or more, we could level the playing field of the variance of scores. If student A is scoring better than student B, or if the students of city A or country A are scoring better than the students of city B or country B - there must be some way to tinker our teaching delivery to get more equality. Maybe if we just give student B more...

But understand, my problem with Jacob continually handing my behind to me had NOTHING to do with my knowledge. No amount of instruction was going to change my ability to compete with my son. In the end, no amount of tinkering with the game itself was going to change my ability to compete with my son.

The reason my son beat me today, and would beat me tomorrow and the next day, is because he has had more time on task. He has spent hours, days, weeks, and years on these games that... at this point of my life, I am never going to match.

Sometimes, the reason one student outscores another is nothing more than time on task.
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