On the eve of the new millennium, not far from the edge of the world and in the middle of the new economy, agricultural education in California is "virtually" exploding. As we peek into the future we see a variety of revolutions and evolutions occurring in agricultural classrooms up and down the Golden State.
In a state where diversity in its people and in its fertile fields is common, agricultural education is changing to reflect the cornucopia of talent and tastes needed by the new economy of the cyber space world. According to Jim Aschwanden, the executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers' Association, "Agriculture is experiencing a technological revolution." He sees the dramatic impact technology (and not just computers) is having on the agricultural industry and notes that "policy makers and opinion leaders must understand the demands of our clientele." He says "students today must be taught how to think, how to learn, and how to use technology in a real world setting."
"We're living in a global economy that needs a global workforce," Aschwanden said. "This challenges us to rethink what we are teaching and why." He added "agricultural education is successful because we provide relevance to instruction and help students to make the connection to a dynamic world." He emphasized we "can't abandon our philosophy of applied learning."
With the tide rising on academic standards as the benchmark of student success, Aschwanden says "there is not enough Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn in schools today." "Students need opportunities to explore different paths of learning outside the classroom to capitalize on their inquisitive minds-like Huckleberry Finn did," he said. "When we do this successfully, magic will happen."
Show Me the Scores
Educational reform movements have come and gone and have come again. According to Robert Heuvel, the California State Supervisor for Agricultural Education, this time a few key forces are here to stay. "Assessment and accountability are driving educational efforts in California," said Heuvel. "This trend will continue to affect what we do in the agricultural classroom. It will also have an impact on how we address the FFA and the SOE/SAE components of our instruction."
He indicates standardized test unfortunately cannot truly measure what a student has learned outside of the classroom. But he said, "we're being evaluated by the numbers generated on those tests and that drives the system." Yet Heuvel believes "the leadership and personal development experiences in the FFA are critical to a student's career success." "We have to help bureaucrats determine ways to evaluate the value and build support for leadership and career preparation that occurs beyond the walls of the classroom," said Heuvel.
A Few Good Men and Women
With the growth of high school agricultural programs up and down the "left coast," an ongoing shortage of qualified teachers exists in California. "The future for young people who want to teach agriculture is bright," said Heuvel.
Marc Coleman, the head of the agricultural department at Hilmar High School in Hilmar, California, echoes this need. "The academic standards in agricultural education today and in the future demand quality teachers. We need young teachers who have the energy and ideas to capture the imagination of our students."
He added, "I see a fundamental change in the core of our teaching profession. …