The Failed Revision of the FFA Creed (1/24/2020)

Typically, in the Friday Footnote, we describe events and activities that have occurred in the past. This week, we are going to look at something that did not happen – a major revision of the FFA Creed. In 1989-90 there was an attempt to replace the FFA Creed with a new Creed, but that effort failed. Why was there an effort to change the creed, what did it say, and why did it not succeed?

Background Information

The 1980s was not a good decade for agriculture or agricultural education. During the 1980s:

  • Farmers in the United States faced an economic crisis that was more severe than any since the Great Depression.
  • Inflation was running rampant.
  • Land prices reached new highs and then plummeted.
  • Delinquency on property taxes increased 400 percent.
  • Banks in the agricultural heartland were failing at a rate higher than at any time since the Great Depression.
  • The number of farmers declaring bankruptcy soared
  • There were more than 900 farmer suicides during the 1980s.

Why would anyone want to be involved in agriculture with daily headlines like these?

The farming crisis had a ripple effect and impacted agribusiness and other areas of agriculture, including Vocational Agriculture programs (yes, that was the name in the early 1980s). Why would anyone want to study vocational agriculture?

The word vocational was also a problem. The publics’ perception of “vocational education” was negative. The perception was the programs were outdated and for students of lesser ability. Catri (1998) documented the image problem in Vocational Education’s Image for the 21st Century.

Enrollments in Vocational Agriculture (and the FFA) declined during the 1980s (see graph below). Between 1977 and 1989 FFA membership had declined by more than 100,000 members. Not only was there a perception that agriculture was a failing industry, but it was also believed by many that agriculture, Vocational Agriculture, and FFA was out-of-date, not scientific, and just wasn’t cool (in the lingo of the day). Why would anyone want to wear dorky blue corduroy jackets around?

National Reports

In 1983 the publication of A Nation at Risk caused a major upheaval in the world of education. This report commissioned by the U.S. Secretary of Education Terrell Bell was a critical examination of education in America. The report claimed if a foreign nation had imposed our education system on us, we would declare war on that nation. The report called for increasing graduation standards, making schools more rigorous, improving teacher quality and returning to the basics.

As a result of this report, many states and academic disciplines re-examined what they were doing. This was true of the agricultural education profession.  Because of increased graduation requirements, the negative connotation associated with the word vocational, the farm crisis, and the image of vocational agriculture, it was obvious that something had to be done.

At the request of the U. S. Secretaries of Education and Agriculture, The National Research Council established the Committee on Agricultural Education in Secondary Schools to conduct an intensive study of Agricultural Education. This committee started work in 1985 The Committee met seven times, held five hearings across the country, organized two conferences, attended a national FFA convention, and visited nine schools. The final report of their work commonly referred to as the Green Book or the Apple Book because of the cover, was released in 1988 and was titled Understanding Agriculture New Directions for Education.

One of the major recommendations in the report was (p. 8) “The FFA should change its name and revise its symbols, rituals, contest, awards and requirements for membership…to reflect a contemporary image of agriculture and a broadened and improved agricultural education program.” Clearly, there was a need for change.

The FFA Responds

In response to the report, the FFA made numerous changes. The word vocational agriculture was replaced with agricultural education on the emblem and the name of the National Future Farmer magazine was changed to FFA New Horizons.

In January of 1989, the FFA Board of Directors appointed a special committee to revise all parts of the Official FFA Manual, including the Creed. Markwart (1990, p. 18) described the thinking regarding the creed as follows:

Bill Stagg, FFA Director of Information and chairman of the Manual Revision Committee said the group took a “back to basics” approach in studying the creed. The committee began its deliberation by considering what a creed is, how it is used in the FFA and what values or themes it should contain,” said Stagg. “All possibilities were explored, from a minor rewrite of the current creed to a completely new creed. After examining drafts of each approach, the committee felt strongly that a new creed would best meet the criteria established in a fresh contemporary way. At the same time, the committee sought to retain some of the ‘look and feel” of the creed by E. M. Tiffany.”

A proposed new creed emerged from the committee. It was written by committee member Shirley Sokolosky of Oklahoma. She had been an FFA member in Missouri, had competed in the state creed speaking contest, served as state secretary and received the American Farmer degree. She had also served as a counselor at the Washington Conference Program and had been the editor of the National FFA Convention Proceedings. (note: Shirley currently teaches journalism in Oklahoma). The proposed creed follows.

The FFA Board of Directors approved the proposed creed at the July 1990 Board Meeting and agreed to put in on the agenda for delegate consideration at the 1990 FFA Convention. The week after the July FFA board meeting, the proposed creed was presented to the state FFA presidents during the State Presidents’ Conference in Washington, D.C.

There was a concerted effort to inform the current and past FFA members about the proposed new FFA creed and why it was needed. In the June-July 1990 issue of FFA New Horizons an article titled “I Believe…” appeared. In the article it is stated (Hamilton, 1990, p. 12):

Today the largest FFA chapters are in Philadelphia and Chicago with hundreds of members who have never set foot on a farm. FFA members across the country are preparing for careers in sales, research, engineering, communications, and the many other careers available in agriculture.

Yet the Creed embraces only one segment of our membership—those who have come from and plan to go back to the farm. Though not to be ignored or forgotten, that segment is clearly the minority in today’s diverse membership. In a time when agricultural education and FFA are striving to expand their mission, the Creed, by its narrow focus, limits those efforts.

Hamilton (1990, p. 12) goes on to acknowledge “…there are members, teachers and alumni who believe the current creed does this job and does it well. In some parts of the country, the FFA Creed is as appropriate today as it was 60 years ago, and may continue to be for the next 60 years.”

Apparently, Hamilton’s article generated some interest. The next issue (August-September, 1990) of FFA New Horizons featured three letters from FFA members. The first letter was signed by 64 members of the Livingston, Texas FFA chapter. The letter starts “The Livingston FFA Chapter sees no need to revise the FFA Creed” and then continues.

The second letter is from an FFA member in Michigan. Brett Birchmeir writes (1990, p. 9) “I believe that a new creed should be written. The current creed focuses on farming, and farming only, as the objective of our organization. However, today’s agriculture is very diverse, and our creed should reflect this.”

The third letter from Lee Ann Elder of Kentucky tells of her pride in the Creed. She concludes by writing (1990, p. 9), “I don’t feel that we need a new creed or need to make changes.”

On the cover of the October-November 1990 issue of FFA New Horizons appears the words “Convention Delegates to Vote on New Creed.” Inside this issue, we find another article about the proposed creed – “New Creed or Same Creed”. This article featured the proposed creed and explained how it came about. Markwart emphasizes (1990, p. 57):

The proposed creed honors the heritage of farming in America while broadening its scope to encompass all careers in agriculture. Most of the values found in the current creed are also in the proposed creed but phrased with modern terminology and style. The third paragraph of the proposed creed does introduce a strong emphasis on individual environmental responsibility not found in the current creed.

The Fall 1990 FFA Alumni Newsletter also addressed the new creed. In an article titled “Delegates to Consider New FFA Creed” the reason for the proposed change is described along with a copy of the proposed creed (1990, p. 4):

Today, many FFA members fall outside the parameters set by the current Creed. An increasingly large number will never “know the joys and discomfort of agricultural life.” Therefore, it was felt that a new creed needed to be written; one that would include rural students in Iowa as well as the urban students in Philadelphia. That agriculture would again form the core of the creed was a given — but this time, a wider, more encompassing view of agriculture would be presented.

The author of the proposed creed, Shirley Sokolosky penned a very thoughtful article in the November 1990 issue of The Agricultural Education Magazine. In the article “A New Creed for FFA” Shirley describes some of her thinking (1990, p. 12):

As I worked with the committee to study the creed, however, I learned that my personal feelings were not the best perspective from which to study the future. Rather, I have begun to understand that doing what’s best for FFA members in the coming decades requires a hard look at every aspect of the organization. We must analyze FFA as if we had never set eyes on it before. We must see it through the eyes of a 14-year old who has no knowledge of the past 63 years.

So What Happened at the 1990 FFA Convention?

In an article about the recent National FFA Convention in the December-January 1990-91 Issue of FFA New Horizons there is one sentence on page 12 that simply states “A new creed, proposed by the National FFA Board of Directors, was voted down by the delegates.” No other details are given other than describing the three minor word changes to the Creed that were identified in the previous Friday Footnote.

When one looks at the official convention proceedings, there is very little detail about the vote (or lack thereof) on the proposed creed. The style of the convention proceedings underwent a drastic change at some point in time from detailed minutes to a more tabloid approach. Therefore, the 1990 convention proceedings were of little help. I can find no record of an actual vote on the proposed new creed. The proceedings state (p. 15) “In a brief debate, delegates considered recommendations for a new creed written by Shirley Sokolosky. The Promotion and Information Committee did not mention the Sokolosky creed or read it before the delegates.” Based on the official proceedings, what actually transpired regarding the proposed creed is as clear as mud. However, the three wording changes to the existing creed were identified in the Proceedings as part of the report from the Promotion and Information Committee.

Concluding Remarks

The bottom line is that the proposed new creed was not adopted. In the FFA Organization, it is next to impossible to change tradition. The prolonged fight to allow females FFA members pretty much illustrates this.

During this time period, there was a discussion about changing the FFA jacket. Four possible prototypes (including the current FFA jacket) were created and were on display during the career show at a National FFA Convention. As FFA members came through the career show they had the chance to vote on the jackets. So what do you think the corduroy clad gung-ho FFA members voted for – the existing jacket.

Whether or not the FFA Creed should have been changed in 1990 or even today is still a viable topic for discussion. We should also be willing to explore other needed changes in agricultural education and the FFA.

Teaching Ideas

1. Share the 1990 proposed creed with your students and discuss whether or not it should have been adopted. You might stage a formal debate.

2. Have your students carefully examine the current FFA creed and identify changes they think might be warranted.

References  (see copies of these articles ->  Articles about the 1990 Proposed FFA Creed)

  • Catri, D. (1998). Vocational Education’s Image for the 21st Century. ERIC Digest. Retrieved from
  • FFA Alumni Newsletter. Fall, 1990.
  • Hamilton, L. (1990). I Believe. FFA New Horizons. Volume 38, Issue 5, p. 12.
  • Markwart, A. (1990). New Creed or Same Creed? FFA New Horizons. Volume 39, Issue 1. Pp. 18, 57.
  • National Research Council (1988). Understanding Agriculture New Directions for Education. Washington: National Academy Press.
  • Sokolosky, S. (1990). A new creed for FFA. The Agricultural Education Magazine, Volume 63, Issue 5, pp. 12, 14, 23.