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Disrupting the order -- on purpose

May 5, 2014 - By Randy Tucker

Sometimes it's fun to do, and to watch.

It was a game we teachers sometimes played, especially if the in-service was extremely dull, repetitive or simply ridiculous. The best part of these little trips to educational purgatory was lunch. After a morning of fighting to stay awake as some guy in a slick suit with a $200 haircut droned on about classroom strategies from somewhere beyond the Twilight Zone, we needed a break from the monotony.

Occasionally we joined teachers from other districts in ballrooms, auditoriums or other large meeting rooms. When this happened, the game was on.

Have you ever noticed that when people meet in a large, unfamiliar setting that they take ownership of the seat they choose the first time the meeting takes place?

If someone takes the third seat from the right in the fourth row on day one of a week-long conference, they're going to stay in that seat until the final session on Friday.

To break up the idiocy of the educational programs we were forced to attend my friends and I would often pick a section to move to after a long break.

We'd always get back a few minutes early, take a section where no one had left something behind and wait for the fun to start.

Education is an increasingly female occupation. There just aren't that many men left in education, so we usually ended up taking seats that had been filled by women earlier in the day.

In general, women get much more agitated when you do this. Men never do. Most of the guys just don't care and can slip into the nether world of day dreaming just about anywhere in a room.

The same isn't true of the more ardent women, who try their best to make the presenter feel at home and work equally hard at pretending these meetings are worthwhile.

That made taking their seats all that much more fun. I know it wasn't exactly nice, but it did stir things up a bit and brought a bit of relief from the constant demand of trying to drag us onto the latest bandwagon that was destined to "fix" education.

I spoke with Pauline Welty last week at the Homestead Center in Riverton. Pauline is 97 years old and remains mentally sharp.

Her only problem is limited eyesight. I walked up and spoke to her and she had to ask who I was. But once I introduced myself she knew me right away and commented that she was a regular reader of my column.

Talking to Pauline took me back in time more than 40 years, when she was Pauline Stearns and was working her dairy farm with her son Bob just a mile northwest of our family farm between Kinnear and Pavillion.

I worked on that dairy one summer. As Pauline and I reminisced, the behavior of people in large groups and that of dairy cattle merged into one in my mind.

The Stearns dairy had approximately 100 milk cows. In those days they kept a dozen or so Jersey cows with a much larger number of Holsteins. J'erseys were smaller cows and they produced smaller volumes of milk, but their milk was much higher in butterfat -- and higher butterfat meant higher prices for the blended milk.

The cows lined up in exactly the same order for milking each morning and evening. Pauline knew each cow by sight and knew her disposition as well. Some were placid, some nervous, and some were just troublemakers. These cattle acted much like people do.

Occasionally one of the cows would push her way ahead to a place that wasn't hers, sort of a bovine version of cutting in line. When that happened, chaos reigned.

One cow changing spots in the line affected every cow after her, and the results bordered on anarchy as bellowing, pushing and butting ensued until the offender returned to her correct spot.

You can learn a lot about people by simply watching animals. I've spent time watching the dynamics of cattle and horses in small, familiar herds. There is always a dominant animal that leads the rest of the herd.

In the days of the cattle drives, a lead cow or steer often was used repeatedly to guide cattle north from Texas to the railheads in Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. Other cows just naturally follow a lead cow once that status is established.

Wildlife follows the same patterns, with lead does often taking charge of moving herds of deer. In a group of mule deer, the bucks are always at the end of single-file string of does and fawns.

It never fails. You don't see antlers until nearly the entire group passes.

Canada geese and migratory ducks follow the same leader on multiple flights south and back north over the years.

The difference between us humans and the animals often is not that great. A thin veneer of civilization separates the urge to pound someone for taking your unassigned seat from actually committing the act.

In the end, the animal kingdom is always more honest, forthright and direct in its dealings with miscreants. The cows won't stand for someone cutting in on their positions, while decorum and peer pressure force us to behave.

But it is fun to watch.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.

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