Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // To The Point // 3TP2

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Dropping Lines


Violet Malone
Professor and Specialist
Adult and Extension Education
University of Illinois-Urbana

Expecting that Boone could present a definitive view on staff development in Extension, I was delighted to prepare this To the Point response. When I received the paper, I became so excited that my sweaty palms could hardly turn the page. I knew he'd lay out a path to "Glory" and, as a staff development leader, I could take each line as an "Epistle," if not a "Gospel," for my future work until I reach mandatory retirement.

Well, he does a fine job presenting the case for "crossing lines," but his response left me wanting something different.

Beyond Just Crossing Lines

From the beginning of Extension, we've been expected to "cross lines" and pool resources to help people solve significant problems. What happened? Have we really crossed lines to do "issues programming"? I don't think so.

In contrast to Boone's emphasis on "crossing lines," I believe we should be dropping the lines. As long as the permanent, inflexible organizational structures of CES remain in place, staff will need to surmount such organizational barriers as program areas, issue boundaries, and departments. Dropping the lines means staff wouldn't have to waste energy fighting barriers and crossing territorial lines.

"Dropping the lines" will require restructuring CES to a point where it would be quite a different "Extension System." The concept of Extension education is well-known, but organizational structure makes it difficult for staff to operationalize the concept. The real challenge is to create a workable system that removes barriers rather than just helping staff understand or cross barriers.

Beyond Understandings to Vision and Action

For staff development practices, Boone presents 15 points of UNDERSTANDINGS needed by staff. They're the same ones we give to all staff about good program development in Extension. But that's not good enough.

Where are words like visionary, initiative, creativity, leadership, decisiveness, responsibility, credibility, tenacity, ethics, cultural diversity, and stewardship? Developing staff to operationalize these words might be valuable in translating Extension into a more viable, effective organization. By the way, most of these words are in the The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, a book by Wes Roberts. I like this list because I think tough times call for tough approaches.

I suppose I'll just have to wait a little longer for the "Word." However, for those who feel that "crossing lines" is enough to move us into the year 2000, then Boone's article is right on target. For the rest of us, the greater challenge is dropping lines and removing barriers - especially barriers to equity and diversity.

Equity and Diversity

In thinking about dropping lines, I'm reminded of Leland Bradford's leadership phrase: "Nothing is so unequal as equal treatment of unequals."

In staff development and Extension programming, we do a lot of developing the same thing for everybody, often in the name of equity. We don't need more of the kind of equity that treats everyone the same regardless of individual needs. We need to create equal access to a variety of opportunities that will genuinely meet diverse individual needs.

The barriers to equity within CES mirror societal barriers to equity, so it won't be easy for Extension to drop lines that are deeply entrenched in the larger society. But, if we're to create a better quality of life for all, we must drop lines that create barriers to realization of that better quality of life.