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4-H in Century III

4-H in Century III set out a major roadmap for the 4-H program.

Tom and Marilyn Wessel, in their history book, "4-H: An American Idea, 1900-1980" provide a good interpretation of the reasoning behind 4-H in Century III.

"4-H in the 70's set a new agenda for the 4-H program, but it also served to ratify the changes that had taken place during the 1960s. Clearly, the growth of urban programs, nutrition and low-income work had generated considerable increase in the power and responsibilities of the 4-H division, but it still could not mandate change.

"For all of the calls to excellence and flexibility, there were many thousands of 4-H programs that reflected the structure and methods of twenty years earlier. Some saw that as a lack of progress. Others insisted that the lessons of the 1960s had been to enhance the organization rather than erode the base. Most thoughtful officials noted that 4-H had changed principally by widening its umbrella to encompass the best from the past, while incorporating new audiences and programs that fit neither the old structure nor the old methods. If 4-H agents and volunteers could focus on that central theme, then perhaps those involved in traditional club work and those working in other environments could find a new consensus to move 4-H into the next decade.

"In America's bicentennial year, Extension seemed to embrace that view with another think piece, 4-H in Century III. In many ways it repeated the message of 4-H in the 70's, but there were some new elements on the horizon. After several years of spiraling enrollments, the numbers of 4-H'ers leveled off. Official publications used the word `stabilized', but soon it became less than that as enrollments began to drop. Inflation effectively cut programs and reduced staff, particularly in urban areas. The lack of any new television series eliminated a large audience that had helped swell the rolls in previous years. 4-H once again faced fundamental demographic changes in a population that simply had fewer young people. Clearly, if 4-H were to recapture its expansionary trend, it would have to reach a greater part of its potential audience.

"To that end, 4-H in Century III urged Extension to direct more effort toward publicizing 4-H. Extension personnel were asked to do more to tell the nation about national 4-H events, provide greater exposure for National 4-H Week and generally bring the accomplishments of 4-H before the public. A specially appointed Report to the Nation Team, an activity originally begun in 1950, assisted in the public relations efforts by talking with important national officials and presenting them with a volume describing 4-H achievements during the previous year. The reporters - who usually got good coverage, particularly at the White House - were themselves representative of the new emphasis in 4-H. The team was integrated in 1962 and its members soon represented the diverse geographic and program elements in 4-H. The teams proved so popular that many states organized their own reporters to make similar tours on the local level. Such activities were designed to let 4-H'ers gain maximum public exposure for their own program.

"4-H efforts at public information were considerable, but a gap still persisted between what the organization had become and the public's perception of 4-H. A Gallup Poll, commissioned in 1978, indicated that while 4-H was not as well known as some other youth groups, it was recognized by 88 percent of the people in the sample. That recognition figure was up from 77 percent positive response in a similar poll taken in 1974. The growing recognition probably represented the expansion of 4-H efforts in urban areas. Nevertheless, the poll also indicated that 4-H was most frequently recognized by people living in small towns and among those of upper socioeconomic groups. The Gallup Poll also noted that one of every three who indicated an awareness of 4-H described it as an agricultural program. There was no Gallup sample from the late 1950s with which to compare the 1978 data. Consequently, 4-H officials could not accurately assess the public's perception of the organization's evolution over the previous two decades, but they could surmise that public information was an area that still needed emphasizing.

Volunteers Remain Crucial to Success of Program

"While 4-H structure and programs had changed dramatically in the past two decades, one element remained constant. 4-H in Century III reiterated the importance of volunteer leaders to 4-H. Just as organizers had seen over half a century before, the success of their programs rested squarely on the shoulders of volunteers. While experiments with paid aides and paraprofessionals had proved successful, they were used largely in special situations. People who accepted the mission of working with 4-H'ers without pay continued to provide the organization's driving force. In that regard 4-H had changed little. While volunteers might need to absorb new management skills and take on new responsibilities, their presence in the 1980s was essential as it had been at 4-H's beginning.

"The writers of Century III also conceded that there were no easy means for responding to the call for accountability. Extension leaders simply urged agents and state staffs to keep working on the thorny issue. Road builders, farmers, factory workers and many business people could numerically assess the worth of their efforts, but like most educational endeavors, 4-H found it difficult to evaluate what it was doing in numerical terms. Statisticians could quickly calculate what it cost to provide services to an individual 4-H'er, and social scientists working within narrow parameters could often suggest what an individual might have learned from a given 4-H experience. But determining whether the learning process was worth the cost was quite another matter. Most educators, including those in 4-H, intuitively knew that education was valuable. Determining the cost-effectiveness of helping a young person grow and develop his or her self-esteem and confidence seemed irrelevant. Ultimately, the effectiveness of educational programs required a measure of judgment, as well as a measure of numbers. Statistical methods of determining the worth of educational programs simply did not lend themselves to applying informed judgment. Like nearly every other educational institution, 4-H wrestled with forcing an educational program into a reporting mold that left little room for individuality.

"4-H in Century III also was stylistically unique among 4-H publications. Its graphic approach seemed to indicate that 4-H as a youth education program had grown strong enough and secure enough to discuss itself without the supporting symbols that always had been so critical. The publication was done in shades of orange and black, rather than the traditional 4-H green. Neither was there any evidence of the familiar 4-H clover. While the clover had been pushed and pulled into an amazing variety of shapes over the years, it seldom failed to appear somewhere on 4-H publications. The graphics used in 4-H in Century III portrayed no award winners, no uniforms and no carefully balanced sets of rural and urban situations. Instead, its few drawings focused on young people doing what most 4-H'ers had always done; learning by themselves or with help. Many readers of the document might have asked how one was to count the intensity on their faces or measure the sense of accomplishment they had acquired.

"Finally, 4-H in Century III highlighted the breadth of programs which 4-H had developed in the 1970s. Instead of listing several hundred projects which differed from state to state, with or without awards, the document spoke about learning experiences. 4-H in the 1980s could enrich the lives of youth through programs in economics; jobs and career exploration; animal, plant, and soil sciences; environmental and natural resources; health and safety; leadership; citizenship education and community development; creative and performing arts; leisure education and communications; mechanical sciences; energy conservation and development. The new categories in part responded to the need for ease in computerized reporting, but they also reflected the diversity and broad appeal that 4-H had achieved in the previous decade.

Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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