Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel
Click for next page ( 20

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement

Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 19
cHAPrER 1 Introduction FRANK PRESS A good education is the essential starting point toward the reso- lution of the current and future issues that we face as a society. In 1988, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Hoard on Agriculture of the National Research Council directed attention to graduate education in agriculture at a conference that honored the first class of USDA food and agricultural sciences national needs graduate fellows. Other studies that have been conducted by the Board on Agriculture at the request of USDA are Understanding Agriculture (National Research Council, 1988b), which focused on secondary education in agriculture and agricultural literacy, and Educating the Next Generation of Agricultural Scientists (National Research Council, 1988a), which directed attention to the education of and future de- mand for doctoral and postdoctoral agricultural scientists and engi neers. in 1991, the focus turned to undergraduates. The National Re- search Council, through the Board on Agriculture, was greatly pleased to cosponsor, along with USDA, the conference Investing in the Future: Professional Education for the Undergraduate, which em- phasized the general education of undergraduate students Conscience majors as well as students who intend to pursue agricultural sci ence careers. According to several recent news accounts, individuals in HI segments of our society are lacking the background of a solid gen- eral education. Recently, a reporter asked several graduating Harvard seniors what accounts for summers and winters. They could not explain it. The reporter asked the graduates to explain the differ- ence between a molecule and an atom. They could not do it. Recently, the chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco told me of a public meeting where local citizens were protesting, on environmental grounds, the opening of a new biol 19

OCR for page 19
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE ogy laboratory. The chair of the meeting, a college graduate, said, "We know that you're releasing DNA from this building and we are opposed to it." All of us must be concerned about scientific and technological illiteracy in our society, and we must be involved in correcting the situation by better preparing the citizenry policymakers and vot- ers through undergraduate education and ongoing communication of science to the public. A good general education is a starting point toward the resolution of the issues we face as a society. Decisions relating to science and science policy are being made daily by law- yers; business executives; local, state, and federal policymakers; and others in positions that give shape and direction to standards in society. Therefore, we must consider science education an essen- tial part of the undergraduate curriculum of conscience majors. Agriculture is a striking example. Students who are Conscience majors as well as those who are planning agricultural science-re- lated careers must be educated in agriculture, because agriculture extends into every segment of our society. People must be edu- cated to make choices for themselves and their families choices that might involve an understanding of such matters as recombi- nant DNA, nutrition, and the assessment of risk. in turn, professionals working in agriculture must learn to ad- dress the scientific and technological problems that are interwoven with issues of social and cultural standards, ethics, and human values. we are proud of some of the recent accomplishments of the National Research Council in this direction: a guide for the high school curriculum in biology, better ways to teach mathematics to undergraduates in colleges and universities, and the National Sci- ence Resource Center, which, in association with the Smithsonian institution in Washington, D.C., is a national facility for making cur- riculum materials available, especially in elementary schools. At the National Research Council, we intend to increase empha- sis on the problems of education in the United States. The National Research Council has recently established the Coordinating Council for Education. The 13-member coordinating council will facilitate and coordinate the variety of current studies and activities in edu- cation that are being conducted throughout the National Research Council. Continuing the life-long education and retraining of a work force that must constantly adapt to technological change is of in- creasing concern within the National Research Council, as is the scientific literacy of the general population. 1 am delighted that the people who can bring about changes in education the people who participated in the conference have been willing to share their ideas in the papers in this volume, and in this way make them available to educators and institutions across the United States. 20

OCR for page 19
INTRODUCTION References National Research Council. 1 988a. Educating the Next Generation of Agricultural Scientists. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. National Research Council. 1988b. Understanding Agriculture: New Di rections for Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. CHARLES E. HESS The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took great pleasure in joining Frank Press and the National Research Council in cospon- soring the first national conference on the evolving mission of the nation's colleges of agriculture, investing in the Future: Profes- sional Education for the Undergraduate. We are proud that the Board on Agriculture of the National Research Council joined us in this endeavor and took the responsibility for hosting and planning the conference. it is a very appropriate follow-up to the Board on Agriculturets study on research, Investing in Research: A Proposal to Strengthen the Agricultural, Food, and Environmental System (Na- tional Research Council, 1989), which has provided the foundation for the national research initiative in agriculture, food, and the envi ronment. Curriculum Issues in the food, agricultural, and natural resource sciences, curricu- lum revitalization is essential to the survival of higher education as we know it. Over the years, our curricula have undergone signifi- cant changes, from the pre-1970s emphasis on production agricul- ture to a strong business approach in the 1970s. This was followed by greater attention to the underlying sciences of agriculture in the 1980S, and today, in the 1990S, we find ourselves in a new wave of transformation that emphasizes the educated person and a broader and more philosophical approach to preparing people for life. In colleges of agriculture and natural resources, we are now giving greater attention to the global perspective: systems models, problem-solving techniques, environmental ethics, social issues, and the critical area of oral and written communications. Clearly, changes in curriculum content, format, and mission are occurring. Although they are occurring slowly, a new curriculum is emerging. in the process of curriculum reform, however, those of us in agriculture and natural resources must not lose sight of the uniqueness of these technologies and the necessity of maintaining them as vital ingredients of higher education. 21

OCR for page 19
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE As we examine the evolution of the curriculum in colleges of agriculture and natural resources, we soon realize that the elements of change envisioned in this volume and at the conference are truly revolutionary. Some of these elements are examined below. Faculty Development The faculty in U.S. colleges of agriculture and natural resources hold the key to virtually all that we achieve in higher education. This is particularly true with curriculum change. Faculty understand the complexity of their role. They determine curricula, help mold people for careers, bring a subject to life in the classroom, and generate new knowledge through research. At the same time, tech- nology advances at an unprecedented rate and faculty have less and less time to keep up, much less to get ahead. Faculty develop- ment, in addition to administrative development, is sorely needed in our universities. If we are to ensure real progress in curriculum revitalization, time and resources must be provided for in-service faculty professional development. 1 am proud that the USDA higher education challenge grants and the 1890 capacity-building grants program provide opportunities to fund such programs. Graduate Students Although the conference focused on undergraduates, we must also recognize the importance of graduate students in the teaching programs and the major role that many will play as future faculty in colleges and universities. Graduate students" education in any discipline should not merely be a time to develop research skills and produce a dissertation. They should have the opportunity to teach and to learn the skills of instruction to ensure the perpetuation of effective instruction in colleges and universities. This attention to teaching in graduate student education will do much to help to allay the concerns that teaching and learning are not alive and well at our univer- sities. - - Internationalization of CurAcula The conference also addressed the importance of the inter- nationalization of curricula in colleges and universities. Global in- terdependence, increasing economic competition from other nations, the loss of technological leadership in some areas, and the important role of agriculture in the world marketplace are con- cerns for all of us. Agricultural business and education leaders 22

OCR for page 19
INTRODUCI~ION have stated their concerns regarding the internationalization of curricula as they view the curricula and research programs in our land-grant universities. We cannot hope to compete effectively un- til we begin to develop visionary leadership in the graduates of our programs. Environmental Health Issues In recent years, agricultural and natural resources technology has been labeled as suspect by many in the media and the general populace. We are viewed by some as having little or no concern for the environment, health, safety, or conservation. it is impera- tive that we change these negative perceptions by providing StU- dents at our colleges and universities with ethical decision-making tools for addressing those issues. We must ensure that our gradu- ates, many of whom will become scientists and leaders, acquire an appropriate sensitivity and perspective. Multicultural Diversity Demographers predict that by the year 2000, women, minori- ties, and immigrants will account for 80 percent of the growth in the U.S. labor force. In its framework for change, the USDA established a goal of building a work force that values cultural diversity. The changing ethnic, racial, and social composition of the U.S. work force, coupled with the need for food, agricultural, and natural re- source professionals to work with people from different lands and different cultures, requires that students and faculty become sensi- tive to the issues of cultural diversity. Closely linked to this is the importance of markedly increasing recruiting efforts, with scholarship support for ethnic and racial mi- norities needing financial assistance. Conclusion Curriculum development and implementation are complex activi- ties. They are made even more so by the rapid changes occurring around the world. To meet the needs and challenges of present and future shifts, we need well-educated and trained people, and so our educational institutions must change. This landmark conference offered a unique opportunity for sci- entists, business leaders, educators, and public officials to contrib- ute tO the improved education not only of students of agriculture and natural resources but also students throughout the higher edu- cation system. 23

OCR for page 19
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE Reference National Research Council. 1989. Investing in Research: A Proposal to Strengthen the Agricultural, Food, and Environmental System. Wash- ington, D.C.: National Academy Press. KARL G. BRANDT 1 believe that the principal reason our colleges and universities exist is to educate students. We cannot do without discovery and scholarship, but what differentiates us from research institutes is our responsibility to teach. I worry that the research agenda is driving our priorities, however, and 1 worry about how we reestab- lish the essential balance. Our agenda is simple: the education of the next generation of professionals for the food, agricultural, and natural resource system. it is an awesome responsibility. We live in exciting and challenging times. One of those chal- lenges is the sheer mass of knowledge that we are accumulating, a mass that may occasionally trigger in us a feeling of panic as we confront the necessity of providing our students with a curriculum that is comprehensive and current. What do we include? How do we "shoehorn" into the curriculum new discoveries and technolo- gies? When we add something new, do we take anything out? if so, what? As the technical content of the curriculum increases, must the human content the ethics, literature, philosophy, foreign languages, geography, political science-decrease toward zero? Logic compels me to insist that the answer is "No." We must remember not to panic, because, as Nobel laureate Peter Medawar observed, "The ballast of factual information, so far from being just about to sink us, is growing daily less.... in all sciences we are being progressively relieved of the burden of singular instances, the tyr- anny of the particular. We need no longer record the fall of every apple" (Medawar' 1 984:29). Do we adopt that philosophy as we plan curricula and courses on our campuses? Our courses should not be exercises in Trivial Pursuit, focusing only on facts and memorization. Our exams should not be multiple choice, because problems in the real world are not presented in that format. We want our students to be problem solvers. Our courses should instruct students in concepts, synthe- sis, and process. My biases compel me to believe that a college education should be about higher-order learning, about thinking. we all have biases, and most of the people who participated in the conference arrived with biases and curricular caveats, but with- out an individual educational agenda. So it is best if we admit at the outset that we have biases. Therefore, before you examine the specific ideas and concepts presented in this volume, 1 suggest 24

OCR for page 19
INTRODUCTJON that the reader begin with an immense, invisible canvas, large enough so that the base coat of your pet educational biases forms only a faint background, with ample space to paint in bold strokes, using different colors applied in many layers, as you create a provoca- tive, intellect-grabbing vision. I hope this picture will not just be a workmanlike copy of what hangs on your campus now, but that it will be vibrant with new ideas. It may harbor some subtle messages (some residue of your biases may still show through, for biases are not necessarily wrong). If we are successful, however, it will be a curriculum worth a thou- sand words, an educational landscape that will draw students to the gallery of your campus, a work of energy and rigor that will empower your graduates to take on the bright world of the real. As you contemplate the content of that curriculum, I hope you share a fear of mine. My fear is that a student will graduate from one of our colleges, having majored in X (where X is some narrow dis- cipline)' not only believing that she or he will be an X for the rest of her or his life but also, in fact, prepared for nothing but being an X. Is the goal of an education the engineering of a tool with only one purpose and with only one use? I hope that the answer to that question is "No." Jobs change. People change careers. I believe we must educate our young scholars to be able to grow and adapt, or else we fail in our responsibilities. I worry about many other things. Do we cringe when we hear our students speak or when we read their papers? Do we force our provincial students out of the comfortable agricultural nest to rub shoulders with students and faculty who do not share the tradi- tional agricultural perspective? Are we educating our students to acquire environmental sensitivity and an ability to listen and re- spond rationally (rather than emotionally) to viewpoints different from their owns How do we get our students to study or travel abroad, to experience and appreciate diverse cultures? HOW do all of us come to celebrate cultural diversity on our own campuses to embrace students of color and different ethnicities? 1 worry about whether we demand enough of our students. All of these issues are discussed in this volume. Hut perhaps my greatest worry is this: Do we provide a learning environment that helps our students tie together the isolated sub- jects that we require them to take, so that they see the connections between the diverse parts of the curriculum and the coherence that we like to believe is there? This is not a new concern. Nobel laureate Francois Jacob, in his autobiographical work The Statue Within, wrote about his early education in France before World War 11: "One aspect of the teach- ing in the Iycee bothered me: the compartmentalizing of subjects, the isolation of each discipline.... No matter how competent the teacher, . . . the idea never occurred to one of going beyond his 25

OCR for page 19
AGRICULTURE AND Tf1E UNDERGRADUATE boundaries, of showing us that the world is a whole, that life is a composite of many things.... it was up to the students to set about constructing their little universe and finding in it some coher- ence" (Jacob, 1 988:59). Can the teaching of connections become an integral part of our curricula? Our agenda is simple, but very demanding. We must direct our energies toward composing an undergraduate curriculum that will ensure the molding of minds with voracious appetites for knowl- edge, minds that willingly see issues from many sides, that have an endless capacity to shape knowledge in new ways, and that are prepared to construct solutions for problems not yet discovered in our changing world. lf 1 did not care, it would be easy to shrug my shoulders and live with the status quo. But 1 happen to believe that we can do bet- ter that we must do better-in educating our students. We must now worry about how to accomplish this simple agenda. 1 invite you to stretch that canvas 1 mentioned earlier and open your paint box. lt is time to begin. References Jacob, F. 1988. The Statue Within. New York: Basic Books, Inc. Medawar, P. 1984. Pluto's Republic. New York: Oxford University Press. 26