Important Events in Agriculture and Education From the Past 100 Years

Most of the following items are reform reports impacting on education or agricultural education. A few other items such as Supreme Court decisions and books are also included because of the impact they had. A brief description of the report or event is included. Most items are linked to other web sites that have additional information. Click on the title of the document to view more information. Federal laws are in a different document.

Plessy vs. Ferguson (1892)

In a court case involving railroad cars in Louisiana the Supreme Court established the doctrine that "separate but equal" was a valid way to handle race relationships. The races could be segregated as long as each race was treated equally. This decision impacted the operation of schools and the extension service until the 1960s. NEA Committee of Ten (1893) What should be the purpose of high school? Prepare students for college or prepare them for the world in which they live? That was the question the National Education Association's (NEA) Committee of Ten was asked to address. When six of the ten members are presidents of liberal arts colleges, there shouldn't be much doubt as to the outcome of the report. The committee concluded the goal of high schools was not to just prepare people for college, but for life. However, the best preparation for life was remarkably similar to preparation for college. The committee did recognize that non-college bound students didn't really need Latin or Greek. They could simply substitute German or French for Latin and Greek. The committee didn't recognize much need for practical or vocational subjects. Douglass Commission (1906) Governor Douglass of Massachusets (who also owned a shoe factory) commissioned a study of industrial and technical education in the state in 1906. The commission recommended the development of secondary vocational schools in Massachusetts. As a result of the report a comprehensive system of vocational emerged. Agricultural education was established in Massachusetts as a result of this report. Rufus Stimson provided much of the leadership for the development of agricultural education in the state. The rest of the nation looked to Massachusetts for ideas.

A side note: Regional agricultural high schools were established in the early days in Massachusetts. While there are some agricultural programs in comprehensive high schools, the big three programs in the state are Bristol County Agricultural High School (14 teachers), Essex Agricultural and Technical Institute (15 teachers) and Norfolk County Agricultural High School (22 teachers). Guess where the county offices for the cooperative extension service are located in these counties? In the agricultural high schools!!

Country Life Commission (1908) President Teddy Roosevelt appointed a commission to conduct a comprehensive survey of the rural population to determine what can be done to improve the conditions of rural life. Liberty Hyde Bailey, Dean of Agriculture at Cornell, chaired the Commission. Over 550,000 people were surveyed and hearings were held at 30 locations. The Commission found that schools in rural areas were deplorable, rural people were socially isolated, roads were inadequate, communication was poor, farm credit needed to be improved, farm cooperatives were needed and the extension service was needed. They made a number of suggestions as to how to solve these problems.

The following came from a web document titled "Ag Development and U.S. History" for Rural Sociology 108 taught at Western Kentucky University by Dr. David Coffey.

"Roosevelt, long concerned with natural resource issues and public lands policy, established the Country Life Commission for a number of reasons, not the least of which being his fear that further rural depopulation would create vulnerabilities within the American food system. Believing that agriculture was the basis of all economic prosperity, Roosevelt wanted to upgrade rural institutional life and create an efficient food production system. In this way rural populations would be stabilized, the quality of rural life would be improved, and agriculture would assume its rightful place as the foundation for urban and industrial expansion.

 Agriculture could conform to the emerging pattern of modern life. In nearly every state country life commissions were formed on the local level to evaluate rural problems. While the recommendations of the Country Life Commission failed to garner very much support from Congress and President William Howard Taft, who had succeed Roosevelt at the time of the issuance of the Commission's final report, the findings were critical to the future of rural policy.

Generally speaking, the Commission and the movement it spawned saw agriculture in an extremely favorable light. As typical with rural fundamentalism, the Country Lifers ascribed to rural people an honesty, patriotism, simplicity and a moral and emotional tone far superior to that of urbanites. As Bailey wrote echoing the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson, farmers were the "fundamental fact of democracy. "But many problems existed with the fabric of rural living which demanded attention. The litany of rural problems and concerns emphasized the drudgery of farm life, the lack of culture and amenities, the poverty and ineffectiveness of country institutional life, and the failure of government policy.

Among those institutions singled out for particular criticism and concern was the rural school. The failure of the rural school was often seen as the impetus for the depopulation of rural areas. The principle charge leveled against the schools was a perceived urban bias in the curriculum, the texts employed, and teaching approaches. Teachers were accused of steering the brightest youth to the cities rather than into farming. This "brain drain" seriously eroded the very foundations of rural life, it was argued. Superintendents of rural school systems hired poorly trained teachers, seldom placed enough emphasis upon continuing professional development, frequently failed to enforce laws related to attendance, and lacked a desire to supervise and evaluate performance. All too often supervision was carried out by local farmers and not be professional educators, a condition which appalled the Country Lifers who wished to see a greater level of "professionalism" in all areas of rural living, including the schools. While the quality of professional leadership and teaching came under attack, so too did the very size and scale of the typical country school. It was simply too small, too independent, and too informal to be effective. To the Country Life reformers the one-room schoolhouse was the very symbol of rural inefficiency and institutional poverty. The answer to these and other related problems was school consolidation, the "best solution to the country school problem yet devised," according to Mabel Carney, one of the leaders of the movement.15 While consolidation of schools was advocated several times prior to the Country Life movement, this reform became one of its hallmarks.

 The consolidated school would become the focus of a region's social and cultural life. Grading, planning, curriculum standardization, and the professionalization of teaching and supervision were all supposed advantages of the consolidated school system. Such an approach would almost immediately lead to an improvement in educational attainment and would permit instruction in scientific agriculture, domestic science, and industrial arts, all deemed essential to a modern rural education. Schools would instruct children "to do in a perfect way, the things their fathers had not learned."6 Another recommendation of the Country Life Commission Report, Rural Free Delivery (RFD,) began and communication between all areas of our country was finally accomplished."

In 1912 Teddy Roosevelt ran for the presidency on the Progressive Party platform. Following is the Party's plank on Country Life (it reflects the findings of the Country Life Commission). Roosevelt was not successful. William Howard Taft won the election.
Country Life
"The development and prosperity of country life as important to the people who live in the cities as they are to the farmers. Increase of prosperity on the farm will favorably affect the cost of living and promote the interests of all who dwell in the country, and all who depend upon its products for clothing, shelter and food.
We pledge out party to foster the development of agricultural credit and co-operation, the teaching of agriculture in schools, agricultural college extension, the use of mechanical power on the farm, and to re-establish the Country Life Commission, thus directly promoting the welfare of the farmers, and bringing the benefits of better farming, better business and better living within their reach."
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1906-1909)
In the early days of high school there was considerable variability as to the length of the school day, class periods, etc. There was really no way to compare how much time was spent in a European History course from Schools A, B, and C. Students could have greatly different experiences. The Carnegie Foundation proposed a standardization of the school day and the awarding of credits. They developed what is known as the '"Carnegie Unit" which is still used in schools today.
Commission on National Aid to Vocational Education (1914)
Several bills introduced into Congress in the early 1900s called for the creation of the cooperative extension service and also called for federal funds to be used to support the teaching of agriculture and other vocational subjects in the public schools. The problem is both ideas were combined in the same bill. People would support certain segments of the bill but have reservations about the other parts. It was clear the two ideas would need to be split into two bills in order to pass. One bill should call for the establishment of the extension service and one should call for federal support for vocational education. But which bill should go first? A comprise was reached between the supporters of extension and the supporters of vocational education. If vocational education would first support the extension bill, then a special commission would be established to study the need for federal aid for vocational education (some people thought using federal funds to support education was unconstitutional, it was unnecessary federal interference into what should be a state matter). The behind-the-scenes bargaining as to who would serve on the commission virtually assured that the commission would recommend federal funds be spent to support vocational education. If the Commission's findings supported the funding of vocational education, this would provide reluctant Congress members the rationale needed to vote for vocational education legislation.
The advocates for vocational education supported the Smith-Lever Bill which passed in 1914 thus establishing the cooperative extension service. Congress then created the Commission on National Aid to Vocational Education. The following individuals were appointed to the Commission:
 The Commission had less than six months to complete their work but was provided with a staff of 45 people. The non-congressional members of the Commission met on a near daily basis. Surveys were sent to state and local school officials and representatives of organized labor and trade unions. The responses were positive in favor of vocational education. One week of public hearings were held. The final report of the Commission contained the following major points:
1. There is a great and crying need for providing vocational education for every part of the United States.
2. Vocational education is needed as a wise business investment. The national prosperity and happiness is at stake and without vocational education the markets of the world cannot be maintained.
3. The social and educational need for vocational training is equally urgent. Vocational education will democratize the education of our country by providing for differences in tastes and abilities and by providing equal opportunity to prepare for lifework through day, evening, and part-time schools.
4. Vocational education will indirectly but positively affect the aims and methods of general education by developing teaching processes for those who learn by doing, rather than by book methods alone.
5. Vocational education will introduce into the educational system the aim of utility to take its place in dignity by the side of culture and by connecting education with life. Higher standards of living are the result of better education which makes workers more efficient, thus increasing their wage-earning capacity.
6. The training for all different vocations is important and desirable, but agricultural and trade and industrial education are most important at the present time.
7. National grants are required for the salaries arid training of vocational teachers.
8. The problem is too large to be worked out extensively and permanently except by the entire, Nation. The states need help to give vocational education because they are now burdened with the task of meeting the requirements of general education.
9. The states need funds to equalize the unequal task of preparing workers who have the tendency to move from state to state making training for lifework a national, as well as a state, duty and also to prepare youth for useful and productive service.
10. There is a need for national appropriations for studies, investigations, and reports. As a nation we are lacking in this kind of information, and, therefore, the European countries have gained much in advantage because they are already in possession of such information.
11, There is a need for funds to expand the work of the different federal agencies in furnishing information and advice. Some of the Government departments should be organized to serve as a clearing house and develop procedures to make the material available to the several states.
The final report also contained a draft bill of proposed federal legislation. The bill was written by Charles Prosser, a member of the Commission. Two other Commission members introduced the bill into Congress--Senator Smith and Representative Hughes.
Commission on Reorganization of Secondary Education (1918)
After the Smith-Hughes Act passed in 1917 the National Education Association thought it might need to re-examine the purpose of the high school (after all it had been a few years since the Committee of Ten report). The Committee published a report titled "Cardinal Principals of Secondary Education." The committee indicated that students should receive an education in the following fields:
    1. Health
    2. Command of fundamental processes
    3. Worthy home membership
    4. Vocation
    5. Civic education
    6. Worthy use of leisure
    7. Ethical character
This list is commonly referred to as the Seven Cardinal Principals and formed the basis for public schooling for decades.

Brown vs. Board of Education - Topeka (1954)

This Supreme Court ruling overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson. "Separate but equal" was ruled unconstitutional.
Russians launch Sputnik (1957)
In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik. This event sent shock waves through out America. Perhaps American education was falling behind. We needed to put more emphasis on science, mathematics, foreign language and technology in order to catch up.
Panel of Consultants on Vocational Education (1962)
After John Kennedy became president, he requested that a special panel be convened to study vocational education. Vocational education was still operating under the provisions of the Smith-Hughes Act but America had changed considerably. The panel was composed of people from the education profession, labor, industry, agriculture as well as the lay public and representatives from the Departments of Agriculture and Labor. The panel was appointed in 1961 and issued their report, "Education for a Changing World of Work" in 1962. The panel recommended that vocational offerings be expanded, updated, and be made available to all people.
The People Left Behind (1967)
In 1967 President Johnson issued an executive order creating a National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty. The charge to the committee was "To make a comprehensive study and appraisal of the current economic situations and trends in American rural life…." Twenty-six individuals ranging from college presidents to pastors to labor leaders to farmers to the president of ABC television were appointed to serve on the commission. The commission held public hearings, collected data and commissioned 45 papers on specific aspects of rural life. Following are excerpts from the report"
The Commission made a number of recommendations regarding policy, education, manpower, housing, health, nutrition, etc. Thirty-three specific recommendations were made regarding education. Some of these included:
#10. That the Federal Government in cooperation with the States develop and expand occupational education programs that will enable students to adapt to a changing society. Such programs should be developed at the elementary, high school, and post high school levels.
# 29. That Cooperative Extension in cooperation with the Employment Service and other rural agencies provide younger low income farmers with the information they need to decide whether to stay in farming or seek non-farm employment. Moreover, if a decision is made to stay in farming, appropriate rural agencies should provide intensive assistance to help them develop a viable farming operation.
#30. That the Federal government provide funds to create homemaking teams composed of professionals and subprofessional aids to work intensively with all low income rural families.
#31. That the Cooperative Extension Service devote more of its efforts toward development of a comprehensive youth program that focuses on the total development of the individual. This may involve less emphasis on 4-H clubs.
#32. That the land-grant universities concentrate more research and extension education resources to problems of people and communities in adjusting to changes brought about as a result of economic growth and development.
Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times (1972)
Jim Hightower, a Texas radio personality and politician wrote this book. It is a scathing indictment of land grant colleges, the extension service, and agricultural research. Hightower claims the needs of small farmers, rural communities, farm workers, rural poor and Black farmers are ignored by the extension service and land-grant colleges. The land-grant colleges only care about working with big agribusiness. He even calls the 4-H an elite country club for rural kids.
A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (1983)
Secretary of Education Terrell Bell appointed a group, the National Commission on Excellence in Education, to study the status of education. This report indicated that American education was in deep trouble. The report stated that a warring nation couldn't inflict as much damage on the United States as our education system was doing. The report encouraged higher standards and more emphasis on academics. As a result of this report, 47 states raised their high school graduation requirements, making them tougher. This report also resulted in changes in teacher training. The link in the title of this section leads to a brief analysis of the report. For those who want to dig deeper, the federal government has a site with much greater detail about A Nation at Risk.
Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education (1988)
In 1985 the Secretaries of Agriculture and Education jointly commissioned a study of the role of vocational agriculture in the public schools. The study was conducted by the National Research Council. The Council assembled a Committee on Agricultural Education in Secondary Schools (Graham Boyd from North Carolina was a member of the Committee, the instructor of this class played a role in the development of Appendix B "Agricultural Education in America") to investigate the situation. The Committee held hearings, visited schools, and talked with a lot of people. The major findings and recommendations of the group were:
Reinventing Agricultural Education for the Year 2020 (1998-2000)
This is a million dollar project funded by the Kellogg Foundation. The goal is to identify where agricultural education should be going and what characteristics it should posses in the future. Four major goals were identified as a result of the project:
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