The Blind Man, the Elephant, and Agricultural Education

Article excerpt

The Purpose of Agricultural Education

If one were to ask six guidance counselors, principals, or people on the street corner about the purpose of agricultural education, one might get as many answers as the men who felt of the elephant. Even those in the profession may have a difference of opinion about the purpose of agricultural education. Let's explore some of the possible answers we might get.

The purpose of agricultural education is to prepare people for work. The Smith-Hughes Act, the founding legislation for our field clearly stated in regards to vocational agriculture, "the controlling purpose of such education shall be to fit for useful employment." Furthermore, this is the primary purpose identified in the national mission statement for agricultural education, "Agricultural education prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber, and natural resources systems" (The Council, 2004). So it is very plain that the purpose of agricultural education is to prepare people for work.

The purpose of agricultural education is to reinforce academic skills and prepare students for higher education. In the opening section of the President's plan for the reauthorization of the Perkins legislation, one finds the statement, ". . .every U.S. student needs to complete high school with a high level of academic skills and be prepared to take advantage of education and training beyond high school." (United States Department of Education, 2004) Clearly the administration believes the purpose of secondary vocational education is to help teach academic skills and get students ready for post-secondary education where they can learn work skills.

The purpose of agricultural education is to serve special needs students. The Carl Perkins Act of 1984 called for 57% of the state allocations for vocational education to be spent on special populations. Vocational education was specifically directed to work with the disadvantaged, handicapped, adults who need retraining, single parents, displaced homemakers, and the incarcerated. This legislation coupled with the IDEA Act (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) of 1975, which brought about mainstreaming has shifted the focus of vocational education to serving special populations.

The purpose of agricultural education is to promote agricultural literacy. In 1988 the National Research Council's report, Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education, suggested, "all students should receive at least some systematic instruction about agriculture beginning in kindergarten or first grade and continuing through twelfth grade. …