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Why preserve 4-H history?

Why Preserve 4-H History?

For over a century, 4-H has been a unique experiment, strengthened and replicated on many fronts.

While continuing to thrive, the history of the past century should not be lost; it can well serve current leaders to keep the program strong, vibrant and responsive. 4-H history can strengthen and enhance professional and volunteer staff development, program design, and resource development and marketing.

Why is 4-H History Important?

Over the past century, 4-H has been at the forefront of experimental education, including both programs and processes. The stories of these unique ideas and their successful outcomes cannot be lost. Four-H history is directly linked to the program's positive identity today; the history ties experiential learning - "learn by doing" - to today's basic educational philosophy of four-fold development. The unique relationship between government support at the local, state and federal levels; the mutually supportive roles of both public and private sectors to finance 4-H; the earliest collaboration between the schools and the Boys' and Girls' Club Work program; the culturally-sensitive delivery of specialized programs tailored to ethnically diverse populations in rural and urban areas; the productive and effective teaming of professional and volunteer staff input: all of these areas were on the cutting edge of youth development program management and survived, endured and grew. The impact of these special relationships on individuals, families and communities, and the resources they represent, should be archived at all levels - national, state and local - and made accessible through an archival database network of common functionality for continued research and use.

The history documents and artifacts of National 4-H Council and its two predecessor organizations should have relative priority (given that much of the federal documentation is already archived), including the history of the programs and services, donors, staff and other relevant areas. While there are history books detailing much of this information, it is neither complete, nor readily accessible in 21st Century format.

While programs may be the backbone of 4-H learning, due to its "bottom up" rather than "top down" approach, much of the programming information may well be redundant; i.e., we do not need to include every leaflet, circular or manual ever produced on 4-H rabbit production. On the other hand, some program areas are tremendously relevant from a historical perspective. The importance of the early Boys' and Girls' Garden Clubs and Canning Clubs in cooperation with the one room country schools; the importance of the 4-H Victory gardens during World Wars I and II, and the importance of 4-H block gardens in the inner cities in the 1960s are all relevant. The role of Extension using 4-H rural youth to hasten practice adoption from the Land Grant Universities in areas like using hybrid corn, safe food preservation and health practices, and testing milk is not only a relevant part of 4-H history, but history of America. This continuing link to the Land Grant University System, an integral part of the 4-H structure, is vital to developing current and future cutting edge experiential programs. Innovations like the out reach to rural youth serving programs overseas, the 4-H Seeing Eye Dog Training program, 1970s food/nutrition education using television, and the successful after-school and military families initiatives currently in 4-H today are all significant educational experiments which speak to that rich history.

4-H events, services and programs such as National 4-H Conference, National 4-H Congress, National 4-H Week, National 4-H Sunday, International Exchange Programs, Citizenship Short Course, 4-H Calendar Program, Report to the Nation, and the 4-H Fellowship Program, all have rich histories - stories, documents and artifacts - related to them; similarly, services like the National 4-H Supply Service - the first youth-serving supply service of its kind - and the National 4-H News. Through the years, 4-H has been the conceptual leader in developing and implementing educationally innovative programs and services to strengthen youth development. The strong unique partnerships noted above - federal, state and local levels; private and public sectors; professionals and volunteers - allowed 4-H to take risks, to be out there on the cutting edge, to try new approaches even though they might fail (although they seldom did!). It should be the continuing appreciation for this strong story of 4-H history and for the preservation and accessibility of these stories, documents and artifacts that will continue to drive the 4-H movement in the future.

And, again, why it should be so important to the staffs at all levels who are responsible for professional and volunteer staff development, for program design, and for resource development/marketing that this information be available in communication formats of the 21st Century.

No matter what the cost of this project might be, it will be money well spent.

Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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