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Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom History

Throughout much of the history of the United States, agriculture and education have been closely related. During the decades when most Americans lived on farms or in small towns, students often did farm chores before and after school. Indeed, the school year was determined by planting, cultivating, and harvesting schedules. Old school books are full of agricultural references and examples because farming and farm animals were a familiar part of nearly every child's life.

From the 1920s through the ‘40s, as the farm population shrank and agricultural emphasis decreased in school books and educational materials, educators focused on agriculture as an occupational specialty, rather than an integral part of every student's life. Agriculture education was mainly offered to those few students wanting to make a career of agriculture.

During this period, a small nucleus of educators and others persistently pushed for more agriculture in education. They recognized the interlocking role of farming and food and fiber production with environmental quality, including wildlife habitat, clean water, and the preservation and improvement of forests. They kept interest in agriculture and the environment alive during a period when interest by the public as a whole was decreasing.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, as agriculture, conservation, and forestry organizations realized the need for quality material, many films, literature, and classroom aids were financed and produced by businesses, foundations, nonprofit groups and associations, as well as state and federal agencies. There was, however, little coordination of effort or exchange of ideas among the groups and no central point for national coordination.

In 1981, representatives of agricultural groups and educators came to a meeting in Washington, D.C,. at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to discuss agricultural literacy.

In 1988, the National Research Council's report, "Understanding Agriculture - New Directions for Education," was released. The report emphasized a need for agriculture to be taught to all students, not just those interested in careers. The report also stressed the need to help our citizens have an understanding of the impact of agriculture on our history and culture and economy.

As a result of these efforts, the USDA established Agriculture in the Classroom, which has the endorsement of all living former Secretaries of Agriculture, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the National Conference of States Legislatures, most of the Governors of the States, and the major agricultural organizations and commodity groups. Significant progress has been made through these partnerships of agriculture, business, education, government and dedicated volunteers.

Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom was begun for the purpose of helping Oklahoma school children understand the importance of agriculture in their daily lives.

By the late 1980’s the first efforts and developing lessons for classroom use had begun and in 1990 a group organized with the mission of raising funds for development of the Ag in the Classroom program (AITC). This group represented a partnership between the public and private sectors. In the early years most of the efforts were in securing funding and developing a conceptual framework and pilot lessons for the program.

The current curriculum design emerged following a writing workshop hosted by 4-H in 1991 which involved teachers, industry leaders and OSU subject matter specialists.

The same year, the Oklahoma Wheat Commission donated a computer for the sole purpose of curriculum development, and the first teachers and writers were employed to design, write, and test lessons for classroom use.

In 1992, the Oklahoma Beef Industry Council (now the Oklahoma Beef Council) contributed $50,000 for development, implementation, and evaluation of Ag in the Classroom curriculum.

At the same time a request was made to the state Legislature for $100,000 to support the program. Those funds were awarded and then followed by a $50,000 per year renewable grant, which was to pass through the Oklahoma State Department of Education to Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. This action began the three-pronged partnership between the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES), the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and the Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture now Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF), along with private and corporate support.