Traditionally, students have been strongly encouraged at the high school level to consider careers and choose courses that would fortify occupations of interest. Today, administrators and educators across the nation realize that developing students' interest must be addressed earlier--at the middle school level. Agriculture educators believe this to be true and are working to grow middle school agriculture education.
There is a lack of agricultural literacy in America. The majority of the U.S. population does not live on farms and does not engage in production agriculture. This has contributed to the diminishment of agricultural knowledge that has taken place over the decades but supports the need for agriculture education in today's schools. Middle school agriculture educators enlighten students both in the classroom and the laboratory. And, with the growing world of biotechnology, a "new agriculture" has emerged, offering students exciting new career paths to consider before reaching high school where, customarily, the groundwork has been laid.
In 1997, Susan Fritz and Linda Moody of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln asked the question, "Why should we expand agricultural education into our junior high/middle (grades 6-8) schools?" in their abstract titled "Assessment of Junior High/Middle School Agricultural Education Programs in Nebraska," found in the Journal of Agriculture Education, Vol. 38, No. 1. Their answer to the question was "to teach agricultural education to adolescents including: the issues of agricultural literacy; exploration of agricultural career interests; and utilizing experiential learning theory during adolescence."
One of the strong points Fritz and Moody make is that, even if students do not pursue careers in agriculture after having completed such an exploratory program, they should have a working knowledge of the important role of agriculture in society as the future policy and decision makers of the nation.
The idea to root agriculture education below the high school level has been growing nationwide. Professor Roland L. Peterson, University of Minnesota, has focused his efforts over the years to teaching methods, student teacher supervising, student advising, and developing various courses and programs in agriculture education.
"In my understanding of the philosophy of middle-level education," says Peterson, "those years serve as a time for students to explore many aspects of life and future career possibilities. The reality of having educational experiences around real animals and plants they see and handle every day provides a very unique context for middle-level students to learn the 'why' for various mathematics, science, social studies and communication concepts and skills."
Peterson, who believes that agriculture education (as well as other areas of career and technical education) must be a part of every student's middle school experience, comments, "I cannot think of a better way to create interest in school for many students who are starting to be 'turned off' by a school experience that is not connected to real things."
Minnesota is not alone in its quest for developing such programs. Bringing agriculture education to the middle school level in Georgia was reinforced by a study done by the Georgia Rural Development Council. Polling almost 4,000 young students in 157 counties revealed that 90 percent felt that agriculture was important, 60 percent have not had the opportunity to participate in leadership programs, 67 percent wished there were more afterschool activities available, and 60 percent wanted to learn skills needed to start a business.
The results helped to determine that agriculture education at this level could very well help decrease the dropout rate; increase interest in science, math and leadership, as well as agriculture; assist in integrating career connections and academics; involve more students in personal leadership development; and provide students real-life experiences. …