By Dr. Larry Case, National FFA Advisor and CEO
Kathryn Whitaker, Communications Specialist with the National FFA Organization
The Agricultural Education Magazine (Nov/Dec, 1998, Vol. 71 No. 3)
0ver time many influences have formed today's program content and program design. Societal trends, such as declining numbers of people involved in production agriculture, have influenced the content and program pedagogy. Federal legislation, the evolution of vocational education, educational studies, and educational reform initiatives are also among the forces impacting the program.
Federal involvement began with the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917. The act provided funds to establish programs and originated many program methods. For example, what was once a "supervised practice" in farming is now a supervised agricultural experience (SAE).
Two other legislative actions, the Vocational Education Act of 1963 and Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act broadened the scope of agricultural education. Production agriculture has been compounded with careers like aquaculture, floriculture, food technology, and wildlife ecology. The Perkins Act codified several educational reform strategies; Tech Prep and the integration of academic and vocational education were among those strategies.
In 1984, the National Council for Agricultural Education was formed to provide leadership for agricultural education. In 1988 the National Research Council released a national study entitled "Understanding Agriculture, New Directions for Education" which led to a National Strategic Plan for Agricultural Education. This effort increased visibility of and responsibility for agricultural literacy.
Agricultural Education Today
The current mission of agricultural education-to prepare and support individuals for careers, build awareness and develop leadership for the food, fiber, and natural resource systems accurately articulates the vision of the future of agriculture.
Preparing and supporting individuals for careers recognizes their need for lifelong learning, a foundation of vocational education legislation. Building awareness is an integral part of that mission, as well. The percent of the population involved in production is declining; thus, the general public is unable to completely understand food production from beginning to end. Developing leadership, also rooted in the early days of agricultural education, is the cornerstone of the FFA program, the National Postsecondary Agricultural Student Organization (PAS), Collegiate FFA and the National Young Farmer Educational Association (NYFEA).
Fewer mandates by the Federal and National organizations mean this mission is not meant to be a prescription for programs at every level, rather it should provide direction for agricultural educators in developing their own mission for their particular program.
Goal 1: To update instruction in and expand programs about the food,
fiber, and natural resources systems.
Updating instruction in agricultural education programs will always be a challenge. Evolving from primarily production to the ever-changing science, business and technology of agriculture involves major changes in the content of instruction. Today's content involves agricultural science and technology, managed ecosystems for providing food and fiber, animal welfare, agribusiness marketing, global communications, public policy handling, environmental and natural resource management, food processing, safety and nutrition, forestry, horticulture, floriculture and landscape design, construction ... and the list continues.
Local teachers are charged with providing a broad array of technical information for the diverse occupational needs of their students. To meet this challenge, several states have established curriculum laboratories to assist local teachers. One national leadership group, The National Council for Agricultural Education, uses its direct contact with agribusinesses to provide cutting edge curriculum for state and local use. Likewise, agricultural educators should increase their involvement in educating more students about agriculture. The American people must be literate about their food system if we are to continue to prosper.
Goal 2: To serve all people and groups equally and
The greatest resource for a productive agriculture and food system is people. Strength is found in diversity-ethnic, gender, physical, economical, and geographic. Historically, agricultural education was only attractive to male students in rural areas. However, with the growing number of diverse agricultural careers strength can be found in those who bring a broader scope of experience to the industry.
Goal 3: To amplify and expand the "whole person" concept
of education, including leadership, personal, and interpersonal skills.
Effective teaching and learning goes far beyond sharing information. A key ingredient in the success of agricultural education is in the program pedagogy orchestrated by caring, well-trained teachers. The art of connecting formal instruction with application of information to real life situations makes learning relevant and stimulating. The inclusion of providing individual and group recognition for worthy accomplishments through FFA, PAS, and NYFEA adds a valuable dimension to the educational experience. This affirmation fosters confidence, initiative, responsible citizenship, leadership, and the development of personal and interpersonal skills. Individuals must have these "whole person" characteristics, which go beyond cognitive knowledge, to be successful in their pursuit of a career.
Goal 4: To develop educational programs that continually
and systematically respond to the marketplace.
A common expectation of agricultural educators at all levels is to connect and work with the agricultural industry they serve. The benefits to students range from direct placement in a business for their SAE to a job after graduation. The teacher and the instructional program benefit by having access to cutting edge information currently used in the industry.
Goal 5: To provide the stimuli that foster the spirit
of free enterprise and develops creative entrepreneurship and innovation.
A basic value of many involved in agriculture is the desire to own and operate a business. The Agricultural Education Strategic Plan cites preparing students for job employment is only part of the program charge, the true greatness of business is found in the spirit of competition. As a result, agricultural educators are expected to foster the recognition of entrepreneurial opportunities and business ownership and operation.
Goal 6: To provide leadership and cultivate strong
partnerships in the total educational system
Partnerships help create successful agricultural education programs. Developing partnerships with other teachers not only promotes collaboration but provides continuity between students' coursework. Partnering with community colleges and universities provides greater access for students to attain a higher degree. Utilizing community and business leaders' resources assures access to work-based learning and community support.
Goal 7: To elevate and extend our standards of excellence
in classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised experiences, and student
Agricultural educators have the ability to enhance their content, delivery, and support by using six keys identified through the Local Program Success (LPS) initiative. Three components (instruction, supervised agricultural experience, and FFA) and three strategies (marketing, partnerships, and professional growth) serve as cornerstones of the program. Successful teachers developed an LPS guide that is utilized by other teachers. This sharing of ideas elevates and extends the standards of excellence which agricultural education is founded.
Simply put, the purpose
of agriculture programs in local public schools is to produce capable, knowledgeable,
contributing citizens. As agricultural educators we must play an integral
role in preparing and supporting students for agricultural careers, building
awareness of the industry and developing leadership skills through education.
Adapted from "Building the Future and Serving Today" as part of the Strategic Plan for Agricultural Education.