This letter marks the 60th anniversary of my joining 4-H. I am still a registered member of 4-H. I work with FFA members when I can. I believe in young people and organizations that involve young people. But today I feel like a casualty in the culture wars. These organizations are struggling to find and retain members.
4-H and FFA organizations emphasize learning by doing. This is good for the students and families that discover them. The meetings are run by the students. They learn Robert’s Rules of Order. They learn how to work on a committee. They learn to compromise between personal wants and service to the organization and the greater community. They learn public speaking. 4-H and FFA are not star driven. There are rewards for achievement that are based on reaching growth points in levels of knowledge, effort, and involvement.
I remember when there were only a few sports each with a season. No one started before high school and no one was asked to specialize until they had spent time in each sport. A person would look forward to being old enough to go out for the high school team. Teams only traveled within its conference and its season. We have added girls sports and more tournaments than there are facilities to hold them in. Now students in lower elementary grades are traveling year round to distant contests.
Grade school traveling teams are not logical in my world view. It is hard to defend organized sports when viewed through the lens of concussion protocols, joint development, mental development and stress. I am frustrated that parents are choosing dominating adult coaches over family based, student led organizations like 4-H and FFA.
4-H and FFA are fully integrated and inclusive with adaptive needs being met at every level of participation. My brother proved in 1964 that the physical limitations of his polio infection would not prevent his participation in livestock raising and showing at the county and state fair. Students with special needs can fully participate in the meetings and activities that are based on standards of personal betterment toward personal standards and goals.
The 4-H members are picking projects they want to study this year. The high school aged FFA members in their blue corduroy jackets are at their national convention 65,000 members strong. If you have children, check out these proven ways of building strong individuals and strong communities.