Agricultural Education vs. Vocational Agriculture

Article excerpt

I have the pleasure this fall semester of teaching college seniors enrolled in Agricultural Education about FFA and teaching agriculture (I'll try not to ruin them). The lesson our first day was about the history of Agricultural Education, and we visited about where we have been and where we are going. I talked about the change from Vocational Agriculture to Agricultural Education, and we found ourselves discussing an important question. Is Agricultural Education an academic course or a vocational course?

In 1917 the Smith Hughes Act was passed so that high school students would be taught how to farm and work directly after high school. Today, better than 90 percent of students from my school go on to post-secondary education. Should the goal of our program be to prepare students for careers after high school graduation, or should we concentrate on career exploration and preparation for college? As agriculture and agricultural education continue to diversify, is it even possible for educators to truly prepare students for careers by teaching them the skills they need?

Currently, at both the federal and state level, there is much discussion about teacher standards, testing of students, higher standards of education, and an increased emphasis on the "academic" courses of Mathematics, English, and Science. No one is talking about increasing the number of electives or technical courses required to graduate. We need to realize that it may become increasingly difficult for local school districts to keep elective and technical programs. How can career and technical courses compete in a changing educational environment? We need to somehow tie ourselves to Math, English, and Science courses and prove to those who will make decisions about what is "best" for our schools that there is value in Agricultural Education beyond preparing students for careers and/or college. Do we stand a better chance of survival if we are viewed as an academic program?

I had a long talk with another Agricultural Education instructor about his thoughts on the future of our programs. …