FFA preserving meeting decorum

Posted 5/25/23

Inspiration can come in many forms. It is one of the surprises of life, that at an unanticipated moment, life can hand you some help. 

It was while reading a “Hank the Cowdog” book as a part of a little one’s bedtime routine that inspiration struck. 

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FFA preserving meeting decorum


Inspiration can come in many forms. It is one of the surprises of life, that at an unanticipated moment, life can hand you some help. 

It was while reading a “Hank the Cowdog” book as a part of a little one’s bedtime routine that inspiration struck. 

It came in the form of a conversation between Hank (the cowdog) and his long-time assistant, Drover. The two had just escaped – or so they thought – an attack by a circus monkey whose cage had fallen off of a passing circus truck. 

Hank and Drover had managed to take refuge inside the ranch house. Hank maintained they were safe because it was a law that monkeys were not allowed to open doors and enter ranch houses. Drover questioned him on this, so Hank took a formal, parliamentarian approach. He began to enact a law regarding monkeys and ranch houses. 

Author John R. Erickson picks up the story with Hank’s narrative.

I cleared my throat and struck a dignified pose. “The chair will now entertain a motion from the floor.”

Drover gave me a blank stare. “You mean, that chair’s going to dance on the floor?”

“No, that’s NOT what I mean.”

“Well, you said ‘entertain,’ and I just thought….”

“Are you trying to make a mockery of our system of government? To hold a proper election, we must have a chair that recognizes a motion from the floor.”

“I never heard of a chair that could recognize anything.”

“Forget about the chair, Drover. It’s just legal terminology. Now, you make a motion from the floor.”

After giving me another blank stare, he stood up and walked around in a circle. “How’s that?”

“What are you doing?”

“Making a motion. I guess.” 

*  *  *  *  *

From the pages of “Hank the Cowdog” to the halls of Congress, the procedures used by groups to make decisions can be easily misunderstood or misapplied.  

At perhaps no time in history is the structure of governed debate more needed. Too often today, the rules of civilized debate are discarded as one side or another deserts the process, withdrawing from the structured rules which have been developed over centuries. 

There is hope, however.  

That hope resides in two unique aspects of the “Robert’s Rules of Order.” The first is the amazingly-thorough document which is “Robert’s Rules” and how those rules have developed over time; while the second is how many local youngsters are being educated regarding the rules.  

Parliamentary procedure is governed by the latest edition of Robert’s Rules. That reference is an American success story. 

It was a U.S. Army Engineer, Major Henry Martyn Robert, who in 1875 published (with his own financing) a “Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies.” The 176-page manual was the result of Robert’s research into rules governing civilized debate, personal involvement in local community and church leadership councils, and his own penchant for order and lasting procedure. 

Major Robert had traveled to wide-spread locations throughout the country while serving in the Army. He witnessed the diverse nature of each locale which influenced how they did business.  

The Pocket Manual was wildly successful. The original publication run of 4,000 copies sold out in three months. The country was hungry for a system by which groups could reach decisions in an orderly and fair manner. 

As the Introduction in the 1970 edition of “Robert’s Rules” described, “His idea was that the book should be written in a form suitable for adoption by any society, without interfering with the organization’s right to adopt any special rules it might require.” 

While incorporating procedures which would not inhibit special rules, Roberts remained true to his central objective: “…to arrive at the general will…in minimum time under an internal climate ranging from total harmony to impassioned division.” 

It is safe to say that in 2023 the nation faces many issues of impassioned division. Thanks to the Robert’s Rules Association and the Robert family’s commitment to continuing and improving the work of Henry Robert, a useful, working and up-to-date reference exists to guide deliberations. 

The editions continue to keep pace with technology and social media. Through the many revisions issued by the association, one characteristic remains – each revision would supersede, “but yet be in complete harmony with the preceding edition.” 

One would be hard pressed to find an organization that does not conduct meetings in accordance with “Robert’s Rules.” It is THE authoritative guide to civil leadership.

This brings forth the second reassuring characteristic of the rules – how local youth are learning about them. 

Mineola sophomore – and incoming president of the Mineola Future Farmers of America (FFA) – Gabriel Bardwell described the impact of “Robert’s Rules,” “It teaches one to listen to others carefully, and it eases the conflict and aggression which is a part of debate.”

Bardwell is already well-practiced at exercising Robert’s rules. He has two years of competition in the FFA chapter conducting event. The contest is a highly-structured competition which, in the span of exactly 30 minutes, involves the rote memorization of opening and closing ceremonies and the discernment and negotiation of amendment procedures.

A team of seven FFA chapter officers (president, vice president, secretary, reporter, treasurer, sentinel and advisor) must recite verbatim descriptions as well as correctly conduct parliamentary procedures. The subject matter of the procedures is not known in advance. 

In one of the most important aspects of the exercise, the entire session, in order to receive maximum points, must be adjudicated in 28-30 minutes.

Bardwell commented, “You have to be quick on your feet…the correct timing of the event can only come with experience.”

The FFA is perhaps the only place where parliamentary procedures are actually taught, despite the fact that the procedures are used at every level of government as well as at practically every civil and social organization in the nation. Little wonder that FFA-experienced high school graduates are highly sought after by universities as well as employers.

Bardwell explained how his grandfather, Warren Brown, counseled him that knowledge of Robert’s rules is absolutely essential to conducting a successful business meeting. 

The FFA uses parliamentary guidelines drawn from “Robert’s Rules” and tailored by Jarrell D. Gray specifically for FFA purposes. Gray’s publication is “Parliamentary Guide for the FFA.” 

While much of what is done within local FFA chapters is based on livestock, showmanship and what may be considered traditional farming skills, it is much more. Today’s FFA sponsors additional competitions in agricultural issue debate, career development events such as dairy heifer judging, business management, public speaking, even floral arrangement. 

As long-time FFA proponent Glen Dossett highlighted, “It is reassuring that the six public schools in Wood County all have very active FFA programs.”

Bardwell related that the FFA has a broad and expanding definition of agriculture. 

Central to that definition, however, is the strict application of Robert’s rules. As Bardwell commented, the rules are as much a part of FFA tradition as the blue corduroy jacket. 

In that, there is a lot of hope for the future.