Agriculture education in Alberta recently received a boost in the arm with the creation of the Ag for Life group and its high powered membership. They injected a million dollars plus into some established programs – certainly a welcome development. As much as that support is needed, perhaps this new group could also put some money into evaluating existing ag programs, and investigating and initiating new ideas in ag education.
The point being that nowadays education, from certain perspectives, is a competitive situation. Provincial education departments, school boards, teachers and parents are being constantly lobbied by special interest groups, social engineers, busybody bureaucrats, lobby groups, know-it-all academics, teachers unions and a swarm of other self-appointed education experts.
They all compete in trying to change, improve, hijack, manipulate, defend, and save the education system. When you ponder that bigger scenario, it would seem that getting ag education on any agenda is an uphill battle, considering all the powerful vested interests with their agendas.
Oh and I forgot, they usually have a lot more money, political connections and sheer deviousness in getting attention and action from educators and governments. Folks in the agriculture education business consider themselves lucky if they can get even modest initiatives like the classroom ag program into a few schools once a year. Considering the entrenched establishment they are up against that is indeed a victory. The problem always is with the actual decision-makers, who by the time they can decide on what programs will be part of the education system, already have ingrained biases that they picked up through their own education process in universities, media, professional groups, unions, etc.
Add into that the general naiveté and gullible perspectives city folks have about food and agriculture production, and you have a recipe where ag education is going to get shafted by other more duplicitous special interest lobby groups.
I am suggesting that for ag education to succeed at the elementary and high school level, we need first to educate students in colleges and universities. I realize the whole matter becomes a chicken and egg situation. But I maintain that educating the decision-makers is the first step.
It’s important because the anti-agriculture lobby is doing just that — influencing those folks at the attitude development level in universities, even in the government bureaucracy. It would be enlightening to find out how those groups have infiltrated our teaching establishment. What are university and college professors teaching those students about food and agriculture issues? Consider this — a couple of years ago many universities under pressure from campus lobby groups ruled that only free-range eggs could be used in campus food outlets.
There were precious few to question the absurdity of that decision.
On most campuses in large cities, you will find all sorts of campus clubs dedicated to animal rights, vegetarianism, anti-ag green groups, but basically no groups dedicated to the true story of agriculture in this country. There is a message there and the power of political correctness would see professors siding with the anti-ag groups.
Students then graduate with biased attitudes into teaching and the bureaucracy. We lose before we can even start.
Ag education needs some research into firstly how our foes are operating throughout the education system at every level. Let’s face it — they are good at what they do — we could learn from them.
Secondly we need to identify at what level ag education would garner the best long-term benefit. We need to continue supporting it at the elementary and high school level, but it’s a hard sell when teachers have already been indoctrinated against modern agriculture whilst at university.
We also need a better understanding of the programs that the Alberta Department of Education approves and promotes in regards to food, lifestyle, environment, health — anything that can relate to agriculture. For instance, we might be surprised to find the subtle ways youthful attitudes can be swayed by teachers demonizing factory farming for instance.
One hesitates to suggest corrective measures against obvious twisting of reality by educators, but ways must be found to get the agriculture message more fairly presented at this level.
A positive offence would be the better approach, but first we need to know exactly how far behind we are in ag education at every level. Looks like a good research project to me.