More Joyrides by Dennis Payton Knight
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More Joyrides by Dennis Payton Knight

First Footers for the New Year

by Dennis Payton Knight on 11/17/15

Is your larder stocked?  Is your wallet full?  Are your bills paid? Those rules about welcoming in the new year are all new to me. I learned about them on, the folks who usually dispel myths and political nonsense, so of course this information must all be true.

I learned that at midnight on New Year’s Eve, one should open all the doors to let the old year escape unimpeded, because it must be out of there before the new year can come in, and, when it does, you should also make all the noise possible. Horns and noisemakers are not just for welcoming the new year, they are for scaring away evil spirits. And be extra loud because you left the doors open, you dummy.

The first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influence the whole year ahead. The“First Footer” should be dark haired, good looking and come bearing gifts, maybe coins, bread, or salt. Blonde and redheaded first footers are unlucky, and female first footers, according to Snopes, “should be shooed away before they bring disaster down on the household. Aim a gun at them if you have to.”  Even otherwise qualified males must not be flat footed or cross eyed, and their eyebrows must not meet in the middle.

After it strikes midnight, no one should leave the premises until the first footer arrives, because the first step across the threshold must be headed in, not out. Upon arrival, the first footer should knock properly, be let in ceremoniously, greet those present, drop off his tokens of good luck, make his way through, and leave by a different door.

Snopes says on the first day of the year absolutely nothing should leave your house, not even garbage. If you have food to take when calling on someone, sneak it out to the car the day before.

Be sure to check the weather when you awaken on New Year's. If the wind blows from the south, there will be a year of fine weather and prosperous times. If from the north, it will be a year of bad weather.Wind blowing from the east brings famine and calamities. Strangest of all, if the wind blows from the west, the year will witness plentiful supplies of milk and fish but will also see the death of a very important person. If there's no wind at all, a joyful and prosperous year may be expected.

It is unlucky to eat chicken or turkey the first day, or you’ll be scratching in the dirt all year for your dinner. Southerners eat black eyed peas to attract good luck and financial fortune, Japanese eat rice cakes, and Mexicans pop a grape for each stroke of midnight.

So I’ve stocked my larder with all the approved things. I have noisemakers, Guy Lombardo is standing by on Pandora, and I’ll be taking out no garbage. Happy New Year.

A Parable of Expectations

by Dennis Payton Knight on 11/08/15

This is the parable of Millie Martin, a teacher. She has taught elementary grades for decades in Colorado and she holds a master’s degree. It is all she has ever expected to be, inspired to go into education by her second grade teacher.

Mostly Millie’s students come in bright and eager to learn every day, but some come hungrier for food and too often hungry for real parenting. Sometimes a child will begin a new school year in her classroom only to be pulled out weeks later because her family had to move. For that same reason, she will often gain new students in the middle of the year.

Millie recognizes those and other family problems as what many children live through, but she approaches every day as an opportunity to do her best for each of them. Her core guiding principle is that any child will rise to what is expected, and without that conviction she might as well have gone into accounting or chemistry. In other words, she’s just your average school teacher.

Earlier in her career, she collaborated with her colleagues to find new and better ways to teach children and measure their progress, moving away from methods that framed kids within a static norm. She worked enthusiastically on this with other committed teachers and administrators, even parents. Knowing they were asking for disappointment, they nevertheless set high goals and expectations.

Parents, teachers and school leaders all over the country agreed that developing a culture of challenging goals would improve not only schools but the very process of learning. Lowest common denominators would no longer be the norm, and a child or school that would have been undistinguished but okay under old standards would likely now be reported as needing improvement, but knowing where to focus. This was success, even if incremental, in the same way a millionaire’s success comes dollar by dollar.

Then politicians got involved and found it worth votes to twist the logic of high expectations into a stereotype of failing schools. In 2001, Congress and the president followed with a cliché of a national act promising ‘no child would be left behind,’ setting deadlines and mandating tests on top of tests to celebrate their wisdom.

In the meantime, back in the schoolhouse, a new kid, little Billy, came into Millie’s classroom this morning from who knows where. Maybe his family is homeless. He has obviously been left behind, but he will now be included in the next set of numbers showing Millie to be failing in the eyes of politicians.

Except Millie isn’t going to leave Billy behind, not today, nor as long as he is hers to teach. So she welcomed him, introduced him to the class, took him by the hand, and got him started. Maybe Billy will someday be a teacher himself, because of Millie Martin. She’s an amazing teacher, but she’s just about average, and she is just what we expect.