agriculture education, agriculture life, vocational education

More than just an “agriculture” education

A few days ago, this graphic appeared in my Facebook News Feed.  All I can say is that the person who created it obviously never took an agriculture education class.  Because I learned all those things, and had to use the Pythagorean theorem.  And I learned a ton of other life skills like basic auto maintenance, finding and interviewing for jobs, time management and public speaking.  In fact, no other course that I took in high school came anywhere close to preparing me for the real world as my time in agriculture education classes.

For example…

Ag class helped me learn about applying for loans.  I wanted to participate in the beef coop and cooperatively raise yearling cattle on grass at our school farm.  I needed $3,000 to invest in the coop, so our teacher set us up to work with a bank to get the funds.  I had to prepare financial statements to show where the money would go and my projected income.  Then I had to meet with the banker and discuss those documents, including talking about how I was going to insure the cattle to protect against catastrophic loss, offer up a down payment and discuss the meaning of collateral.  Did I mention I was 15 at the time?

I know exactly what FICA and social security meant to my take home pay.  I did my first set of taxes at 17 in ag class.  Mr. Cotton gave us a sample W-2 and some other income information (such as money made from the sale of livestock or equipment), and had us complete our taxes.  By hand.  We received extra-credit for inventing legitimate business and personal expenses that were tax deductible.  The man was a great ag teacher, but I think he would have been a remarkable accountant, too!

Sure, I can draw up a business plan.  In ag class, I was “bequeathed $200,000 by a dying uncle” with the provision that I was to start some sort of agriculture operation.  I had to prepare a business plan, including costs and income, to take to the attorney in charge of handling the estate for approval.  How’s that for a relevant final exam?

Need your oil changed?  Ag class taught me vehicle maintenance and industrial skills.  My senior year, Mr. Berry and Mr. Cress took us into the shop for a few weeks.  I learned to weld, change my own oil, change a flat tire and jump a car.  Mr. Cress taught me how to replace a hose on my pickup that was leaking.  I helped a friend build a feed bunk, even busting out old Pythagoras to help with the angles.

Here’s my resume.  When I started applying for part-time jobs in high school and college, I had a leg up on my competition.  I had a resume that I created for an assignment in ag class.  And because part of our assignment was completing fictional job applications, I knew how to do that to impress as well.

I to interview for a job?  No problem!  I’ve been interviewing for positions and organizations since I was 15.  We had to interview for the livestock coops.  We had to interview for FFA officer positions.  We had to interview to be part of some career development event teams or go on certain trips.  I probably did more interviews in high school that some adults will complete in their entire lives.

Stand up and speak up!  Ag kids aren’t afraid of public speaking, because it was woven through everything we ever did.  We memorized and presented the FFA Creed as freshmen, then prepared a persuasive speech as upperclassmen.  We learned how to evaluate a beef cow, and how to defend those evaluations through oral reasons.  We presented reports to our classmates on topics we researched.  We discussed current issues facing the industry in small groups and with guest speakers.

Complaining about the high cost of eggs right now?  Let me explain why and tell you about supply and demand.  I rolled through my college economics courses because I learned about supply, demand, price, scarcity, marginal cost, opportunity cost, utility and the paradox of value in ag class.  And I learned about finance, too.  I know how to evaluate stocks, invest in mutual funds, understand the futures market and calculate compound interest.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Agriculture education is so much more than just “agriculture” education.  Yes, I learned about cattle, crops, tractors and natural resources.  And that is important.  But I also learned about life and living in the real world.  And my ag teachers weren’t just teachers.  These men acted too as financial adviser, mechanic and  life coach.  It wasn’t a guidance counselor that helped me find a major suited to my interest and skills.  It was Mr. Berry,  my ag teacher.

As real world economics come into play and money becomes scare for school districts, it is often the career and technical courses, the “vocational” courses, that suffer.  But what is the opportunity cost of cutting ag, welding, auto-body or home economic classes (see what I did there?  See how well ag class taught me?)  Students are losing out on the opportunity to learn life skills and career skills they can employ immediately in the workforce.  They lose the chance to take classes that are enjoyable, applicable and keep them interested in school.  They are losing the chance to experiment and innovate and find a vocation, not just filling in a box for a college admission sheet.

Isn’t that too high a price to pay?

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