National Academies Press: OpenBook

Agriculture and the Undergraduate (1992)

Chapter: 6 Environment and Ecology: Greening the Curriculum, A Public Policy Perspective

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Suggested Citation:"6 Environment and Ecology: Greening the Curriculum, A Public Policy Perspective." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Environment and Ecology: Greening the Curriculum, A Public Policy Perspective." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 56
Suggested Citation:"6 Environment and Ecology: Greening the Curriculum, A Public Policy Perspective." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 57
Suggested Citation:"6 Environment and Ecology: Greening the Curriculum, A Public Policy Perspective." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 58
Suggested Citation:"6 Environment and Ecology: Greening the Curriculum, A Public Policy Perspective." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
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CHAPTER 6 Environment and Ecology: Greening the Curriculum A Public Policy Perspective James R. Moseley r 1, like practically every American citizen, am more than willing tO say something about education and our educational system. In looking over the information that was sent to me as background for the conference, I read that I should make my presentation from the perspective of someone who is confronted daily with the real-world demands for decisions and policy interpretation relative to environ- mental issues and what the curriculum through which we educate the food, agriculture, and natural resources professionals for the twenty-first century should provide these young people. I thought about the assignment and then reflected on some of the things that 1 had dealt with over the previous week. For ex- ample, I became Involved in policy related to the free trade agree- ment between the United States and Mexico (the environment is going to be a key question related to that agreement). I met with lawyers on an Everglades National Park lawsuit. l spent hours on wetlands negotiations. I tried to determine how to keep the courts from shutting down timber production in the Pacific Northwest be- cause of the threat to the spotted owl. I worked on writing the rules and regulations for the logo Farm Bill. I prepared to go to Capitol Hill to testify on our 1992 budget. I wrote a briefing for a trip I took to Geneva to establish an international forestry agree- ment. 1 worked with the two department chiefs on management strategies for the 60,000 employees in the Soil Conservation Ser- vice and the U.S. Forest Service. My assignment for the conference was to discuss what the cur- riculum should be to prepare students to address issues such as these. In other words, what courses should I have taken when I 55

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE was at Purdue University to get myself ready to do the things listed above? As I examined this subject, I thought about higher education and realized that there was no curriculum that could ever prepare me to address all of the issues that I must deal with today. When I worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with William Reilly, the agency~s administrator, I wished that I had understood environmen- tal law much better. Now, as an assistant secretary, I wish that I had obtained more experience in forestry, soil science, and public administration. I can make a lengthy list of areas in which I wish I had more experience. The point is that none of us can predict what the issues are going to be as we move Into the next century. As a result, we cannot determine exactly what classes our students should be tak- ing today. I do know, however, that there are some fundamental skills that all of us must master in order to be effective in handling whatever issue comes our way. In her book Megaskills (Rich, 1988), Dorothy Rich defined megaskills as those things that each of us needs in order to succeed. She says they are inner engines of learning and the stuff that achieve- ment is made of. The lo megaskills that she identified are confi- dence, motivation, effort, responsibility, initiative, perseverance, caring, teamwork, common sense, and problem solving. One may think that there is really nothing new to that, and that may be right. These are the basic skills that all of us need to have in order to have a fulfilling life. However, her book focuses on how to teach these skills to our own children as they are growing up. I would like to take it a step farther, though, and suggest that at the fundamental level of preparing and delivering any college course, whether it is a basic introduction to agriculture or organic chemis- try, these megaskills should also be reinforced. I am not suggesting, however, that we need to offer specific classes on problem solving, teamwork, or common sense. That is not a good use of anyonets time. I do suggest, however, that as teachers we must make certain that each course that we offer incorporates these key skills. The skills I need to have in order to handle the daily issues I mentioned above are the foundation on which I can build. When I try to look objectively, then, at young people who are successful and those who are struggling following graduation, the difference generally is not a lack of technical knowledge as much as it is a lack of inter- and intrapersonal skills. I am reminded of an old Chinese proverb: "Tell me, I will forget. Show me, I will remember. But involve me, and then I will under- stand." We need to ask ourselves what kinds of teachers and classes we have at the universities: Are they Tell met' teachers and classes, or do they get to the essence of education? That is, do they involve people in the learning process7 56

GREENING THE CURRICULUM When I look back at my college experience, I know I am no different from anyone else. The classes that had the biggest impact and that were the most useful to me are the ones that In some way took me into action and involved me. So the college curriculum should entail the best Uinvolve me" teachers we can find, teachers who incorporate things like cooperative work and study and inter- national travel experiences, mentor programs, and even extracur- ricular actlvitles. For some time I have believed, and I continue to talk about, the publish-or-perish mindset that Is doing serious damage to our higher educational process. we need a strong research program, and we need some way to report that. we must go back to science; for ex- ample, we must go back to science to address environmental Issues. I believe in science and I believe in research, but the publish-or- perish mentality used to evaluate and promote teachers does not necessarily reward those teachers who are the best communica- tors in the classroom. For several years I have encouraged univer- sity administrators to take a serious look at this particular issue and the way we work through this system. Publishing is important, but it should not be the main criterion for an individuals evaluation. I would also like to see more universities develop partnerships with business and government, partnerships that provide students with firsthand experience on what we mean when we say that school is not a preparation for life, it is life. Learning and education do not end when the sheepskin Is placed in our hand; it is only the beginning of lifelong learning. One of the real pleasures that I have had since I left Purdue has been the opportunity to work with current college students. we live about 20 miles from campus, and over the course of the past 20-some years we have had more than 200 part-time students em- ployed on our farm. And I suspect we have probably had at least 1 ,ooo to 1,200 students come to our farm in various kinds of classes and laboratory settings. Many of them ask me for advice on what they should be doing in school, what classes they should be tak- ing. I always tell them that I cannot make that decision for them. I can tell them, however, some things that I did not do adequately and some things that I would do differently if I had the opportunity to do it over. For example, I would have broadened my curriculum: I would not have specialized quite as much as I did. It is hard to tell an undergraduate not to specialize. They do not listen, because they are focused on getting a Job. They think that they must special- ize, and they want to make sure that they have adequate skills. I am not saying, though, that I would not have obtained an agri- cultural degree. My agricultural degree is very important to me. It is the degree I should have obtained, and I am pleased with what I have achieved. It was critical for me in terms of developing a knowledge base about science, the technology process, and tech 57

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE nology transfer. It was also critical because, from my experience in dealing with environmental issues, we simply do not have enough people who understand science and technology. My career has obviously gone well beyond the fences of the farm. In fact, it has gone well beyond agriculture. The statistics Indicate that our current college students" careers will do the same. Therefore, I would have spent more time learning about the social sciences and would have taken courses In history and philosophy, ethics, political science, and law, because my career today prlma- rily focuses around the application of social sciences to the physi- cal science and technology questions that society faces. I once heard a quote that said, The man we call a specialist was formerly called a man with a one-track mind." In my Job, I cannot afford to have a one-track mind. I must understand the members of the public who want to till the soil, but I also must understand those members of the public who want to leave the soil alone. I must understand the reasons why we should save the spotted owl. But I must also understand the reasons why timber communities are important and vital to the economic well-being of a region. It is that continual need to balance the needs and the desires of society that requires all of us to think beyond our own small world. As a result, we cannot have focused and specialized minds. I would also have learned a foreign language. I did not do that, and it was a serious mistake. I would have tried to participate in some kind of foreign-exchange experience as well. There is no question that we have truly become a global village, a global com- munity. I now know with great certainty that learning a foreign language would have been one of the most useful things that I could have done. We can expect knowledge of a foreign language to continue to be important, because the world is going to continue to get smaller as technology, and communications technology in particular, continues to expand. Finally, I would like to encourage faculty and administrators to be cautious about pursuing what I call the "salad bar approach" to college curricula. There are many people who believe that we should offer a broader range of courses in college. And I suspect that there will be numerous suggestions that we should broaden the curriculum to address environmental Issues. As I look at the type of instruction that would have helped me deal with the envi- ronmental issues that 1 must face now, however, most of them would not have come from specific environmental classes. There are natural resource management issues that encompass the ethi- cal, political, social, and scientific views of society. These are at the core of the environmental questions and are essential to help- ing us find the answers. Although I wish I had taken a broader range of courses, I do not necessarily mean that I wish that I would have had more electives to choose from. In fact, perhaps I had too many elective opportuni 58

GREENING THE CURRICULUM ties at the undergraduate level. What I would like to have seen was a required core curriculum in the college of agriculture that con- tained more of the social sciences. At the undergraduate level, we must focus on a more traditional education of the basics of the physical and social sciences. Students of colleges of agriculture should not be able to use a golf class or something similar to obtain graduation credits. That is not the type of course that is necessarily going to help students deal with the issues. Even though I am now an assistant secretary of agriculture and I am dealing with a multitude of issues at the national level, we should not forget that many of these issues can and should be solved at the local level. We do not need to be spending our time developing curricula specifically so that we develop national or international leaders and secretaries and assistant secretaries of agriculture, because these issues need to be resolved, insofar as possible, at the local level. We need to develop a program that produces people who appreciate the value of a good education; who understand that good education goes beyond just getting a good job after graduation; and who become school board mem- bers and county commissioners, 4-H Club leaders, and people who understand what it means to think globally but to act locally. These are the kinds of students who I would like to see graduate from U.S. colleges and universities. In closing, I want to share part of a letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son on his vents first day of school: World, take my son by the hand. He starts school today. Teach him, but gently, if you can. He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just and all men are not true. Teach him that for every scoundrel, though, there is a hero and that for every enemy there is a friend. Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest people in life to beat. Teach him the wonder of books. Teach him that it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even when everyone tells him that he is wrong. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone else is getting on the bandwagon. Teach him to listen to all men, but to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and to take only the good that comes through. Teach him to sell his brawn and his brains to the highest bidder, but to never put a price on his heart and his soul. Teach him to close his ears to the howling mob and to stand and fight when he thinks that he is right. Teach him gently, world, but don't coddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel. I know that this is a big order, world, but see what you can do. That is the essence of what we have to do. Reference Rich, D. 1988. Megaskills: How Families Help Children Succeed in School and Beyond. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 59

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This book presents efforts to chart the comprehensive changes needed to meet the challenges of undergraduate professional education in agriculture. The United States needs to invest in the future—in human capital and the scientific knowledge base—to revitalize one of its leading industries, the agricultural, food, and environmental system. That objective can be met by educating all students about agriculture as well as by educating others specifically for careers in agriculture.

Agriculture and the Undergraduate includes perspectives on rewarding excellence in teaching and formulating curricula to reflect cultural diversity, the environment, ecology, agribusiness and business, humanities and the social sciences, and the economic and global contexts of agriculture.

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