Thursday, May 22, 2008

Agriculture Education

Lately, I've really become interested in learning more about agriculture. I grew up in a town dominated by agriculture but I still know very little about how farms and our food system operates. I know I am not alone in my lack of knowledge of agriculture. Agriculture was not a subject taught in my elementary or high school. I've attended a small liberal arts college, a public college, and a major research university and not one of these schools offered a single course in agriculture. For some reason, teaching about agriculture is not considered important in our curriculum.

I spent the morning researching the history of agricultural education. I was particularly interested in learning more about agriculture education in public schools. The first public schools in New England, such as the Boston Latin School, had a curriculum that was focused on the classics. This was very common in public schools until around the early 1900's when there was a push for more applied education. In particular, there was growing demand for agricultural education and home economics. Essentially, communities were debating whether an applied education was better for their children than one focused on the classics. Does this sound familiar? Jump ahead 100 years and let's look at the statement we choose to describe the education at Lasell College, "Where the Classroom is the Real World". Clearly, the philosophy at Lasell is to emphasize applied education.

I am a professor at a college that encourages applying the classroom to the real world. I am also increasingly concerned about the lack of knowledge American's have of our food system. I am in an ideal position to do something. I've never considered agriculture something I would be teaching but now I believe it is my job. Students need to be educated about their food system. They need to connect the food they eat with the field in Iowa.

Agriculture is certainly important in the real world so what can I do? In the fall, I am teaching Environmental Science, World Geography, and The Diversity of Living Organisms. Each course will have a component that is connected to agriculture. In Environmental Science, we will examine the energy inputs in industrial agriculture, pesticide use, and agricultural runoff. We will also expand our study of food waste in the dining hall. In World Geography, we will examine farming practices around the world, discuss world population and hunger, and investigate the distance food travels to reach our plate in the dining hall. Students in The Diversity of Living Organisms will study plant anatomy and growth and have the opportunity to grow plants from seed.

In all of these courses, we will connect classroom learning to the food on their plate. To really help students make the connection, I am also going to provide students the opportunity to volunteer at a community farm. Many students probably have never had the opportunity to stick their hands in the soil and raise a crop. I really think it is time we have more conversations about agriculture and our food. It is an topic and issue that can no longer be ignored in our curriculum.

1 comment:

S.K.T. NASAR said...

Your desire to aquaint your environmental science students with agriculture is commendable. I have taught Genetics to M. Sc. Env Sci students at University of Burdwan, India. Agriculture is related to environment at all levels - from molecules to biome, and much more. Pollution in and by agriculture is an important issue. The connections among globalised markets, agriculture and environment are so overwhelming now than ever before. Wish good times for your students. S.K.T. Nasar, Kolkata, India