In the Room Where it Happened (1/31/2020)


In the hit Broadway play “Hamilton” there is a scene where Aaron Burr wonders what transpired “in the room where it happened“ referring to a secret meeting between Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. This Friday Footnote attempts to replicate that scene but instead looks at who was in the room where it happened (and what happened) with “it” being the proposed 1990 FFA Creed.

In last week’s Friday Footnote we examined the alternate FFA Creed that was proposed in 1990 and the need for and rationale behind the proposed change. We documented that the FFA Board of Directors appointed a committee in January of 1989 to look at revising the FFA Manual and Creed. I have been in contact with four of the committee members (Shirley Sokolosky, Doug Rinker, Rosco Vaughn, and David Laatsch) to learn more about the thoughts and actions of the committee. So, let’s see what we can learn from those who were in the room where it happened.

Who was on the Committee?

The individuals on the committee were (in alphabetical order):

  1. Don Erickson – former state supervisor in North Dakota. Now deceased.
  2. David Laatsch – agriculture teacher in Wisconsin. Currently retired.
  3. Jeff Moss – agricultural teacher educator at Louisiana State University. Now deceased.
  4. Kevin Oschner – past national FFA secretary. Currently president of Agcellerate, LLC and Host of Cattlemen to Cattlemen on RFD-TV.
  5. Doug Rinker – agriculture teacher in Virginia. Currently president of Winchester Equipment (Ford Tractor dealership) in Virginia.
  6. Gregg Salmon – agriculture teacher in Missouri. Current status not know.
  7. Shirley Sokolosky – Freelance Writer, did writing assignments for the FFA. Currently teaches journalism at a school in Oklahoma.
  8. Bill Stagg – FFA Director of Information, committee chair. Now deceased.
  9. Rosco Vaughn – State Supervisor in New Mexico. Currently an agricultural education professor at Fresno State in California.
  10. George Wheeler – agriculture teacher in Connecticut. Current status not known.

(photo courtesy of Shirley Sokolosky)

How did the revised Creed come about?

The committee discussed whether to “tweak” the creed or to do a total revision. Rosco Vaughn stated that “…each member had the opportunity to submit any proposed changes including a complete revision.” David Laatsch believed “that a number on the committee supported a “tweak” of the Tiffany Creed.” Doug Rinker recalled the committee’s objective as “… being to ‘modernize’ the FFA Creed. Ultimately, we wanted some inclusive language and to bring the Creed into the transition of Vocational Agriculture to Agricultural Education and less use of exclusively using ‘farmer’. I do recall we struggled with the right word to take the place of, ‘I believe in the future of farming with a faith…’ Even though we were all fairly traditional in our background and thinking, we all recognized (some like me, begrudgingly) that change was due.

As a result of the discussion and deliberations, the committee came up with at least five alternative creeds and the wording of the minor tweaks to that Tiffany creed. The minor wording tweaks were what the delegates eventually accepted. The five alternative creeds developed by the committee follow (thanks to David Laatsch). Click here for the Creed file.

David Laatsch submitted two of the proposed creeds (#1 and #3). In explaining his thinking, he wrote:

Over the years, I tried many techniques to get my students to complete the requirement for memorizing/understanding the Creed for the Greenhand degree. I know that memorizing was a teaching technique that was used in the country schools. I went to parochial school and we had tons of memory work. But rote memory had fallen out of favor in the current classroom.

So I tried numerous other techniques in order to stress the “understanding” of the creed, rather than “memorizing.” This included a fill in the blank creed, write the meaning worksheet, write your own creed and others. Most of the kids told me that the Creed was too difficult to understand. I had the Tiffany Creed evaluated by our curriculum director on a readability test and it came out 13+ grade level. That explained to me why it was difficult for my seventh, eighth and ninth grade students to understand!

I tried to put myself back in Tiffany’s time to understand why it was such a high readability level. 1) Tiffany was a teacher educator and didn’t write it for high school freshmen 2) Students in his day were used to memorizing prose way above their grade level 3) The common language of the day was much more descriptive than today 4) education of the day was much more based on the Classics including Latin and Greek. I won’t say education was better, just different. But I’ve read letters of Civil War soldiers, just common people and the language used was different than modern day language. I’ve even pondered these things while sitting in Agriculture Hall at the University of Wisconsin, where Tiffany compile his creed.

So, I went about writing an alternative creed that used short and commonly used words and short sentences. I tried to keep the intent of each paragraph in concert with Tiffany’s creed. Again, I tested the readability and it came out to 11-12 grade level. But at least, the majority of my 9th graders could understand it.

When compared side by side with Tiffany’s Creed, I admit, my attempt was flat and simple. It lacked the “traditional” and “time honored” feel of the Tiffany’s Creed. I value the decision of the members of the convention delegates who adopted Tiffany’s Creed over others at the time. I also admire those whose suggestions led to the modifications that were ultimately adopted to Tiffany’s Creed.

The committee selected the creed written by Shirley Sokolosky to go forward (#4 in the attached document). Writing the new creed must have been a challenge for Shirley because she said “I loved the original creed. I knew it by heart for years. My dad was an FFA boy in the 40s and was one of the first star farmers (back when it was a state award for KS and MO.) This all goes deep for me.” An article that appeared in the Kansas City Star (below) after the proposed creed was voted down provides more insight into Shirley’s thinking in relation to the creed.

(photo courtesy of Shirley Sokolosky)

What was it like serving on this committee?

Serving on the committee was viewed positively by the people I talked with. They took their task seriously.

Doug stated “What a great group that I remember met at the FFA Center in Alexandria… We all brought ideas and thoughts to the meeting and then with a lot of discussion, finally arrived at the changes. I don’t recall any lack of opinions, yet we did ultimately collaborate well.”

Shirley said “. I don’t remember any conflicts on the committee, and in fact had a wonderful time renewing my friendships with Doug Rinker and Kevin Oschner.”

David remembers “That committee was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. My school would only allow me to go to National Convention once every three years and to leave for a national committee was big! We were treated to a dinner theater and we toured DC at night. That was big-time stuff for an ag teacher/farm boy from Wisconsin!”

David goes on to state “This was a great committee…I always wondered if the other teachers retired from the classroom or if they moved to other careers. I work with our state Honor Flight to send veterans to DC to visit their memorials. I always think back to that night of the committee meeting when Rosco Vaughn and I and a couple of others walked to the monuments–in a misting rain.”

Did the Committee think the proposed creed would be adopted by the delegates?

Shirley stated “I don’t remember dwelling on discussion of the likelihood of passage on the creed. I don’t think we thought that was our role. Our assignment was to take a hard look and see if we could suggest improvements and tweaks, and advance FFA. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have given it a chance.”

David explained “Having made proposals to our state convention that would have overturned traditions, (and were soundly defeated) I knew that there was a slim chance of major changes being adopted at the National Convention.”

Rosco’s take was “As with all committee work there were a variety of opinions, but the majority of the group supported the final recommendations. I personally felt that the new creed would meet with a lot of resistance and would have little chance of being approved by the membership.”

Concluding Thoughts

Now we know what happened in the room. Even though the proposed new FFA Creed was not adopted we owe a debt of gratitude to the individuals who donated their time and energy in an effort to advance the FFA. Their efforts did result in the tweaking of the Creed at the 63rd Convention.

The members of the committee spoke very highly of the work of Bill Stagg. I share their opinion. In my dealings with Bill I found him to be the ultimate professional and in my opinion, he was Mr. FFA. It is too bad that he is deceased, and we could not include his thoughts in this piece.

I believe there are two take away messages from today’s footnote.

1. We must document as much of the history of agricultural education and the FFA as we can before it is too late. Several of the committee members are no longer with us. We will never know their thoughts about the proposed creed. We can’t wait until “someday” to record our local and state Ag Ed and FFA histories. It has been stated that someday is a codeword for never.

2. While tradition is important so is change. We must be willing to consider change. Just look at what has happened to K-mart, Blockbuster, Sears, J.C. Penney and the list goes on. Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘Don’t change anything.’” And finally, Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” So just how intelligent are we?