seal  Purdue News

July 2, 2003

4-H tackles ethics and sportsmanship, teaches life skills

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – County fair season is here, and for approximately 46,000 Hoosier youths that means showing livestock. While showing those animals is fun, Clint Rusk, associate professor of youth development and ag education at Purdue University, says the experience also teaches 4-H members valuable life skills.

Joe Sheets
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"4-H members who participate in livestock projects use many of the skills they develop from raising livestock to complete homework assignments, be on time at work and care for younger siblings," Rusk said. "In addition, the projects teach lessons on ethics and sportsmanship."

The concept of teaching ethics isn't new, but it's gotten a lot of attention in the past couple of years, said Keli Brubaker, a graduate student in the youth development and ag education department who's studying the subject.

"The idea of teaching ethics has really caught on," she said. "There's not a lot out there right now, but we're developing several programs on animal ethics."

Brubaker developed a program that focuses on ethics in and out of the show arena. This fall she will present the program at schools throughout Indiana.

"Ethics, both in the arena and out of it, are some of the most important things that 4-H can teach youth," Brubaker said.

The three-hour program includes activities, a video and a lecture. Brubaker said one of the things the program asks youth to do is answer the question, "How can I be trustworthy?"

Rusk said 4-H was already stressing honesty and ethics to 4-H members, but this program will reinforce that message.

"In the course of other research with 4-H members, we discovered that 4-H was already instilling a sense of ethics in many youth," he said. "Some comments that we received included, 'You must compete fairly to have a good show' and 'You have to follow the rules, whether it's in the 4-H rule book, the speed limit or the legal voting age.'"

Sportsmanship is another key component of the 4-H livestock project. Rusk said one 4-H member told him, "The main point I've come to understand is that winning isn't everything. Learning is the best part of the 4-H experience."

Still, there's more to do, Rusk said. According to a recent survey, 33.5 percent of the 4-H members questioned said they'd witnessed or knew of cheating in the 4-H livestock program.

"That's not what we want to hear," Rusk said.

In addition to the lessons on ethics, Rusk found that 4-H members are picking up a multitude of life skills from their livestock projects.

A paper on his research will be published in the Journal of Agricultural Education in September. This research surveyed 4-H members who exhibited at county and state levels in sheep, swine and beef projects. The members were asked to respond to five open-ended questions intended to identify how they were using life skills gained in 4-H in their everyday lives.

Many of the participants indicated they used the responsibility learned from raising 4-H livestock to complete schoolwork on time. In addition, they said their 4-H experience taught them to be committed to projects they had started and to perform better at work. Others related their livestock projects to caring for a sibling.

Of those surveyed, the 4-H members who exhibited at both the county and state fairs ranked their skill level higher than those who exhibited at the county fair only.

The Journal of Ag Education can be found online.

Writer: Kay Hagen, (765) 494-6682,

Sources: Clint Rusk, (765) 494-8427,

Keli Brubaker, (765) 494-8620,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Related Web sites:
Indiana 4-H
National Institute of Agriculture's Youth page


Joe Sheets, 14, is one of approximately 46,000 Hoosier youths who will show livestock at Indiana county fairs this summer. The Shadeland, Ind., youth will be exhibiting cattle at the Tippecanoe County 4-H Fair later this month. (Purdue Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

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