Fall 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 3 // Forum // 3FRM1

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Making Music in Discordant Times


Ellen M. Ritter
Chairperson, Journal of Extension
Editorial Committee
College Station, Texas

Six months ago, when this issue of the Journal and the special section on "professionalism" was still a set of unedited manuscripts, the Editorial Committee met in Dallas.

Between work sessions, we discussed the issue of "downsizing" Extension, talked of tenure troubles, and shared stories of farms and families in crisis.

At the final meeting, we were given a simple training exercise: create a metaphor that gives added insights into Extension professionalism. What are Extension professionals - "Climbers" conquering a mountain? "Missionaries" for lifelong education? "Gardeners" nurturing the growth of people's skills?

We finally decided that true professionals in Extension are like members of a choir. Why? Because a choir is a collection of individuals using their voices to sing the same song. Each voice is unique, yet blends with the others in its section to perform one part: soprano, alto, bass, or tenor. Each singer's native talent, vocal training, and willingness to practice and help the group learn its part determines the strength of the section and of the choir as a whole.

A director, who can see and hear all the singers, conducts the choir through the music as the parts weave in and out to carry the melody, then the harmony; sometimes in parts, other times in unison, or even in silence while a soloist soars.

A choir exists to perform for an audience, encouraged by its patrons and under the scrutiny of critics. And it's the choral performance, not individual voices that's judged for quality and fidelity to the music. When the melody is sweet and the harmony simple, the performance is easier. Yet, it's the most difficult and complex music, with intricate harmonic patterns, changing rhythms, and unusual chords, that brings both choir and audience to new heights of musical understanding.

To the 20 members of our Editorial Committee-agents and specialists in all program areas and from 22 states - the comparisons between our mythical choir and Extension became obvious.

The separate areas - 4-H, home economics, community development, evaluation, agriculture, communications - are like the different parts in a choir. Leadership is critical, but each area, and Extension as a whole, is only as good as those individuals who continually strive to develop their own expertise and skills, encourage each other's professional growth, and support organizational goals.

Extension now faces increasingly complex issues with fewer resources. To meet this challenge and have greatest impact, professionals from different program areas must work in a variety of interdisciplinary configurations. At times, one program area may need to give precedence to another or let an outstanding individual "solo" to accomplish overall objectives.

Like a choir, Extension professionals also perform for an audience - an audience of clientele and of supporters and detractors in the university, county, state, and federal governments. In both simple and complex tasks, our performance must demonstrate unequivocally that Extension programs meet the needs of clientele and achieve worthwhile educational goals.