SD agricultural education and FFA history: Curriculum in the 1970s

Clark W. Hanson Professor Emeritus, Agricultural Education, SDSU
Farm Forum

Editor’s note: To commemorate the passage of the Smith Hughes Act of 1917, Clark Hanson has written a historical summary of events that occurred in the South Dakota agricultural education program. A series of articles will explain how the South Dakota program originated and developed the past 100 years.

The previous article, entitled “Student and Instructor Experiences in the 1960’s” included a reference to the Vocational Education Act of 1963. The 1963 Act contained a number of suggestions as challenges for teachers including the expansion of the curriculum to include more than production agriculture. Textbooks were available from book publishers, which featured subjects covering the basics of farming. C.E. Bundy and R.V. Diggins authored one of the better-known series, “Livestock and Poultry Production,” “Dairy Production,” “Swine Production,” and “Sheep Production.” Other popular textbooks included “Feeds and Feeding,” by P.M. Morrison and Animal Science by M.E. Ensminger.

In 1927, Deere and Company, Moline, Ill. published the first edition of “The Operation, Care, and Repair of Farm Machinery” and continued till 1957, with twenty-eight editions. An Internet posting about antique tractors, author Meli responds to an antique buff’s question about an early edition of the John Deere books. Her response contains an interesting comment: “The books were supposed to be about farm equipment ‘in general,’ but by some coincidence, ALL of the examples shown are John Deere equipment. … But yes, the general principles apply to all brands.” What is interesting is that it appears that the textbooks might have been distributed free of charge to vocational agriculture students.

In the 1970’s, Deere and Company would again publish textbooks designed for classroom instruction including texts, student workbooks and instructor manuals. Today, the publications are clustered as five series: Agricultural Primer, Farm Business Management, Fundamentals of Service, Fundamentals of Machine Operation, and Fundamentals of Compact Equipment Service.

As a result of a conference held in Denver, Colorado, 1971, the Ohio Career Education and Curriculum Management Lab in Agricultural Education published a report entitled, “Career Preparation in Agricultural Production: A Curriculum Guide for High School Vocational Agriculture.” The abstract contained the following definition: “This curriculum guide in agricultural production is one of 10 guides developed as part of a vocational education project stressing agribusiness, natural resources, and environmental protection. The scope of this guide includes four occupational sub-groups: animal science, plant science, farm mechanics and farm business management. It is meant as an aid to all who are involved in the curriculum planning phases prior to classroom instruction. Each unit has elements to be used for developing specific curriculum and curriculum materials: unit concept, student performance objectives, instructional areas, examples of learning activities, examples of evaluation processes, instructional materials or equipment and references. Appendixes list recommended equipment, additional references, and selected professional and technical societies.”

In the 70s, as a result of an emerging post-secondary vocational education market, John Wiley and Sons Publishing Company selected John Dagel, diesel technology instructor, Lake Area Technical Institute, to write a textbook on diesel engine repair. This resulted in Mr. Dagel authoring “Diesel Engine and Fuel System Repair” in 1982, followed by a second edition in 1987. After the third edition, it was also translated into Spanish. It remained the most-used diesel engine repair textbook for many years.

Encouraged by the United States Office of Education, Oklahoma established the Mid-America Vocational Curriculum Consortium, (MAVCC) a multi-state project to coordinate, develop, and distribute curriculum materials that was usable across the entire central portion of the United States. The South Dakota agriculture instructors made extensive use of the curriculum materials in delivering instruction in their local communities.

John Dagel was a member of a Mid-America Vocational Curriculum Consortium Committee and assisted in the design of the ASES Competency Profile. Ann Benson, who joined the staff as a curriculum specialist in 1973, directed the project over its first ten years. Jim Steward also served as Director of MAVCC and presented in-service training opportunities for agriculture teachers. Larry Nelson, former Agricultural Education State Supervisor, served a term as President of the MAVCC Board of Directors. MAVCC was one of several publication centers established across the nation to deliver vocational instructional materials.

While not a reference for classroom curriculum, the “Handbook On Agricultural Education in Public Schools,” authored by Dr. Lloyd J. Phipps, served as a teacher’s guide in the delivery of Agricultural Education across the country.

In the 1970’s, two instructors, Alvin Dykstra, Lennox High School and Clarence “Doc” Hall, Watertown High School offered high school classes combining classroom instruction with agricultural job training work experience. As a high school student, Jim Clendenin enrolled in such a program and was a paid employee of a bank.

As a result of being a learning by doing student, Jim was drawn to the program. Job responsibilities included teller, assisting individuals open checking accounts, clerking at auctions and assisting staff when they got busy. Doc Hall conducted supervisory visits. The classroom included a variety of agribusiness units and analysis of student on the job experiences. Jim recently retired as the supervisor of the Agriculture Department, Lake Area Technical Institute.

The opportunity to acquire employable skills still exists. This is evident when reviewing the number of students submitting Work Placement applications for a wide variety of FFA Agricultural Proficiency Awards.

The supply of vocational agriculture instructors has been a problem since 1917. During the mid to late 1970’s the problem continued in spite of the initiation of a Limited Teaching Certificate Program. In an effort to stem the tide of teachers leaving the profession, Mr. Larry Venner, former instructor at Wessington Springs and Pierre, secured a grant from the South Dakota Dept. of Agriculture intending to express appreciation for teachers’ professional efforts and encourage them to remain in the teaching profession. Following the 1979 Vocational Education Conference, vocational agriculture instructors boarded two chartered buses for a four-day all expense paid trip to study agri-business in the Twin Cities. Mr. Venner arranged study tours of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, Grain Belt Brewery, Cargill Research Farm and other agri-business companies.

Significant events, which occurred within the FFA during the 1970’s include:

1971 – The National FFA Alumni Association chartered as an affiliate of the National FFA Organization.

1973 – FFA Official Dress standards created.

1974 – Fred McClure from Texas was the first African-American elected to a National FFA office.

1975 – Food For America program launched. First FFA Student Handbook was published.

1976 – Julie Smiley of Washington was the first female elected to a national office. Alaska became the last of the 50 states to obtain a national charter.

1978 – Commemorative marker noting site of FFA founding unveiled in Kansas City.

1979 – First Extemporaneous Public Speaking Event held and won by Christe Peterson of Wisconsin.

Future articles will focus on further developments emerging from the 1963 Vocational Education Act and growth of the FFA.