Monday, October 6, 2014

National 4-H Week

As a 4-H agent, promoting 4-H can generate some ambivalence.  Most people have an image of 4-H, either based on their past experience or some pastoral image that appears to have been successfully imprinted upon society.  It seems that most everyone has a picture of 4-H and what it has been or should be.  The 4-H clover is said to be one of the most recognizable emblems.  The converging of the past and agriculture with the present-day 4-H creates a varied mix.  A person entering 4-H today with no previous knowledge of the organization might see an emphasis on science and technology; robotics and GPS are hot topics.   What a contrast!  So, what is 4-H?  The author of this article, describes some of the conflict.  His understanding of 4-H is that it is a youth development organization.  Someone else disagrees, insisting that 4-H is an agricultural education organization. 


In recent times, the emphasis is on 4-H as a youth development organization.  This means focusing on developing lifeskills in youth, no matter the topic.  Through whatever subject matter, youth experience 4-H ingredients such as working with adult role models, participating in a group, making decisions, and setting goals.  They then extend their interest in the topic by sharing it with others (public speaking) and other competitions.  So, a 4-H project could be around any topic, even skate boarding or computers.   The topic matter is said to be less important than the process and skills the youth is practicing through the topic.

Do these two sides of 4-H work?  Or, have we diluted our essence by becoming too broad?  Can we be all to everybody?  One advantage of the youth-development angle is that anyone can participate in 4-H.  Some people automatically say “I can’t participate in 4-H; we don’t have any animals or live on a farm”.  However, thousands of 4-H participants across the states are living in urban settings;  some are doing animal or plant related projects and some are not.   However, by saying 4-H is not just an agricultural organization, we do not want to discredit or dismiss the heritage of 4-H and the continuing opportunities through agricultural projects. 

These many sides of 4-H seem to be co-existing alright.  4-H today is a diverse program, differing in programs and services from county to county and state to state.  There is a lot more to 4-H than even 4-H clubs, which is another topic in and of itself!   Perhaps the bottom line is, 4-H can be what you make it!

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