Ag education desperately needed in schools

Our nation’s educators push math, science, reading and social studies with an emphasis on standardized testing, but are students ready for the real world? Practical lessons grounded in agriculture could help prepare them for adulthood.

Amanda Radke

June 1, 2018

4 Min Read
Ag education desperately needed in schools
Amanda Radke

I was reading a parenting blog the other day and found a list of fundamental skills kids should learn before they graduate high school. The list included practical skills like how to change a tire, balance a check book and do the laundry, just to name a few.

I would add to the list that young people should not only learn how to cook, but they should be taught first-hand what it takes to get their food from the farm to the dinner table. The best way to learn this information isn’t from YouTube videos but from real life experiences.

Agricultural education isn’t just for rural school kids; it should be a requirement in every urban school across the country as well. Kids should be outside, working with their hands and learning the meaning of hard work, the circle of life and the difference between pets and livestock.

READ: Recognizing outstanding agricultural teachers

More than that, agriculture should be, and can easily be, incorporated into core subjects like math, science, reading and social studies.

Yet, due to tight budgets, strict requirements and underpaid and overworked teachers, agricultural education often gets dropped from curriculums, leaving a gaping hole in a student’s education where they can learn important, practical lessons that will benefit them throughout their adult lives.

But, Amanda, my student isn’t going to go into agriculture.

First, why not? With a projected 57,000+ jobs available in agriculture and food science each year, these employment opportunities often go unfilled.

Second, your child eats three meals a day, right? When they go to the grocery store, don’t we want our youth informed as they make purchasing decisions? Don’t we want them armed with the facts, so they don’t have to feel guilt and confusion due to the misconceptions and biased opinions perpetuated by activists, food bloggers and the media?

It’s simple — keep agriculture in schools and it will ground our kids, strengthen what they are learning and offer experiences outside of the classroom that make teaching core subjects more enjoyable for teachers and students alike.

I recently read an article on the Corn Corps Blog written by Susie Thompson, a student at Illinois State University. In the post, Thompson explains why agricultural education should absolutely be a general education requirement.

Thompson writes, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have required general education courses that we actually utilize in the real world? That’s where agriculture education comes in. The agricultural industry offers many lessons to be taught to those who desire to learn. For example, many FFA members have projects and must keep accurate records of all transactions that occur each year. This teaches students how to balance a checkbook, budget accordingly and plan for the future – all of which are real-world skills.

“At many universities, introductory agriculture courses offer many ways to help students grow professionally, for both agriculture and non-ag majors. For example, at my university, a class titled, ‘Introduction to the Agriculture Industry’ (also known as AGR 109) requires students to create a resume, cover letter, and participate in a mock interview with real employers, all for a grade.

READ: Bayer & 4-H want more agri-science in schools

“Many students enrolled in this course, from college freshmen all the way to seniors, did not have a resume created for themselves. This class creates an opportunity for those students to make a resume and receive feedback as well. On top of that, the mock interviews allow for students to network with actual recruiters from many different companies. This basic agriculture class helps students prepare for the professional world, far more than my required Introduction to Theatre class ever did.

“General education courses are important; they are considered a foundation for student education. However, when courses like AGR 109 offer professional development skills and put students in real-life scenarios, this helps prepare for life after graduation.

“Those classes are solidifying the foundation they will use for the rest of their lives. This is why everyone should take at least one agriculture education course as a student, from middle school all the way through college. The skills learned, knowledge gained and networking opportunities provided are very applicable to the working world – all the more reason to add agriculture as a general education requirement.”

READ: Ag education is a smart investment for America's future

If your school district has an agricultural education and FFA program already in place, that’s great! Help solidify its longevity by writing letters to the editor or visiting with the school superintendent about how these classes benefit young people and offer ways you might be able to support these classes moving forward.

If your school district has never had or has dropped agricultural education from the curriculum, now is time to act. Contact your elected officials. Write to the newspaper. Get in the classroom yourself using National Ag In Classroom materials. Speak to teachers and school faculty about the issue and share resources from the National FFA Organization about the benefits of agricultural education in schools.

Today’s consumer is more disconnected from the family farm or ranch than ever before; schools are a great place to bridge the gap, share facts and real stories and create educated consumers for life.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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