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cHAprER 27 The Social and Ethical Conned of Agriculture: Is It There and Can We Teach It? Otto C. Doering IT! James G. Leising, Rapporteur "Values are the emotional rules by which a nation governs itself. Values summarize the accumulated folk wisdom by which a soci- ety organizes and disciplines itself. And values are the precious reminders that individuals obey to bring order and meaning into their personal lives. Without values, nations, societies and individu- als can pitch straight to hell" (Michener' lssl:so-sl). So argues James A. Michener in a plea for the teaching of family and commu- nity values. He sees such values as being distinct to each group in society and critical to the working of any society with each group or family having something unique to convey to its next generation. Many in agriculture still labor under the belief in agricultures uniqueness. This notion rests on the recollection of Jeffersonts concerns for a yeoman class to preserve democracy and on the continuation of agrarian beliefs from the era of populist fervor in America. The preservation of the myth of agricultural uniqueness also preserves the notion that agriculture has a unique social and ethical context. One aspect of this has been a belief that agricul- ture has a special relationship with the natural world. Depending on the values implicitly expressed, this relationship is variously described as one of harmony or one of management of nature, ranging from that of an English garden to that of Attila the Hun. Some other aspects involve the value of labor, the place of commu- nity, and the inherent value of rural life. What we all need to face is the fact that the uniqueness is gone and that agriculture is unlikely to operate or exist on the basis of its own unique social and ethical contexts. Other social and ethical contexts have overtaken that of agriculture if not by force of vir 237
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AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERG~UATE tue, then by force of swamping the agricultural population with an industrial one. it was the social and ethical context of the industrial population that first swamped the agricultural population. The dy- namism of the industrial context is superbly reflected by Carl Sand- burg~s poem Chicago." Chicago is not only "Hog Butcher for the World" and Stacker of Wheat" but also "Tool Maker . . . Player with Railroads . . . Stormy, husky, brawling, . . . Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job . . . Bareheaded,/Shoveling,/Wreck- ing,/Planning,/Building, breaking, rebuilding" (sandburg' 1970). This is the new American industrial city. Yet this poem was written in 1916, only a decade after the Country Life Commission (Rasmussen, 1975), written at a time when half of the nation was still agrarian. We are now well beyond the industrial age and into a postindustrial age and context. To believe that agriculture still has its own unique social and ethical context is to be two revolutions out of date. What we face now is not the challenge of dealing with a social and ethical context that flows from the agricultural experience. We are having to deal with the social and ethical context of someone elsets age. Those whom we teach in schools of agriculture are not products of the farm the Jeffersonian and populist vision they are products of the postindustrial age who will be unlikely to go to the farm or anything like it. Our current students come to us not only without a sense of agricultural context but also with only a very limited collection of any strong social and ethical norms. Neither families nor communi- ties feel as strongly about inculcating a given set of norms in their young as was the case in more interdependent communities gen- erations ago. As these Uundernormed" students approach the uni- versities or colleges of their choice, they are subject to the posture of modern science that tries to ignore or avoid dealing with social or ethical norms as much as possible. Science in schools of agri- culture is not unique in its disinterest in social and ethical norms. industrial science and scientific production also have no interest or willingness to deal with such norms unless they reinforce science or production. Over the years, agriculture has had some touchstone social and ethical issues that have been barometers of our social and ethical sensibilities. Migrant labor has been one of these. The way we have dealt with this issue is by eliminating it eliminating it without compensating the displaced, eliminating it without retraining the redundant, eliminating it because it was so socially embarrassing that we were unwilling to apply good management science to a first-class labor force and make them more productive. Church groups might give money to migrant labor organizing efforts, but the same diocese might not minister to the spiritual needs, let alone social needs, of the migrants. Few applied good science to make viable employment instead we applied technological displace 238
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THE SOCIAL AND ETHICAL CONTEXT OF AGRICULT13RE meet. In spite of (or maybe because of) harping criticism from the outside, agriculture was unwilling to tackle this issue constructively. It seems ironic that having punted concerns about our treatment of people, we are now having to respond to concerns about battery of chickens and animal rights. What would we like to have a student of agriculture be prepared to do about social and ethical questions? My goal would be to produce students who are able to recognize and weigh the trade- offs involved in applying broad social and ethical norms to today's decisions. 1 am concerned that our students are mostly unable to deal with issues like the Wig Green" referendum in California (ban- ning a large number of agricultural chemicals and addressing many other environmental concerns), given the many conflicting social and ethical norms and goals involved. We cannot avoid responsi- bility by using the device of throwing our students into international or other cross cultural experiences to sensitize them to Real" is- sues they must first be able to identify and deal with the context of their own society. Only later might a cross-cultural experience be instructive in further teaching the broad nature of our own norms. 1 learned more about American social and ethical norms during 2 years of postgraduate study at London University than at any other time in my life (but I started from the basis of a strong liberal arts undergraduate education) Many of the faculty in schools of agriculture had a single re- sponse to the Big Green issue that was a non sequitur to the rest of society. The response was: elf the public were only adequately trained in science, they would recognize the need for these chemi- cals and the inherent safety of their use." This response is indica- tive of several tragic flaws in the way that the agricultural minority approaches the rest of society. First, even if a member of the general public had the same scientific knowledge as the scientist, that individual might still have a different risk preference and val- ues with respect to health or concerns for environmental damage. Second, the general public is not likely to ever be adequately trained in science in the eyes of scientists. Third, we are dealing with public perceptions, which may or may not correspond to scientific facts and may correspond more closely to information from a source believed to be trustworthy. Being considered trustworthy is closer to a value judgment involving social and ethical norms than it is to scientific accuracy. Finally, my fellow scientists missed some of the mayor trade-offs and potential problems of Big Green by being con- cerned only about the scientific facts. Some of the major trade-offs were social and ethical, and neither extreme in the debate had all the angels on its side. By being unconcerned with the social and ethical arguments central to major public issues, we leave the game in forfeit. One of the impacts of Big Green would have been to move the 239
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AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE production of a number of specialty vegetables and fruits to other states or countries. As a consumer, 1 know that California has the most stringent pesticide and fungicide use regulations in the nation. California also has the highest standards of safety and economic protection for its agricultural labor force of any state or country. If we move this production out of California, I am likely to be less well protected from excess chemicals or more risky chemicals than was the case when California grew the product. Certain foods might be more expensive or less available. The labor used to grow and harvest the product is also less likely to have good working conditions and adequate wages and benefits (according to my stan- dards as an urban consumer) than would be the case in California. What this says is that, in some instances, Big Green would likely result in potentially more chemical exposure for the rest of the nation that now consumes produce from California and consumer choice would be changed by price and availability. It might also result in production under conditions much less favorable to agri- cultural workers and those of us outside of agriculture know about these things: we boycotted grapesl All of these secondary im- pacts involve social and ethical considerations that are important to society. How would our students look at Big Green? Would they temper the science-only approach7 How arrogant might their science-only approach be7 Would they recognize the importance of public per- ception and trust and know what they are based on7 Would they be able to identify and assess countervailing social and ethical concerns even when one side appeared to have all the social and ethical weight in its favors Could they make decisions on the basis of both science and nonscience7 AS another example, how would our students deal with the "circle of poison" issued Again, scientific and factual information appears to be on one side, which is pitted against social and ethical con- cerns on the other side, whose proponents suggest we stop the production of unregistered chemicals for export. However, even social and ethical norms can be of widely different scopes and contexts. There are ethical as well as good scientific arguments on both sides. Having worked in developing countries for a number of years, I do not feel I have the ethical right to tell a subsistence farmer that he is not allowed to use a chemical that is not regis- tered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when he is feeding a family suffering from malnutrition. 1 feel it would be arrogant of me to do so. Wealthy people are more able to worry about the long run than very poor people are. Do wealthy people have the ethical right to force the long-term view on the poor? 1 do not find this an easy question to answer. Those on both extremes in the debate are more comfortable than I am in easily dealing with or just ignoring such questions. 240
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THE SOCIAL AND ETHICAL CONTEXT OF AGRICULTURE Can and should we teach an ethical and social context to our students? we can, but we probably should not. Can we teach a broad perspective that gives context to social and ethical issues? I am not sure that we can, but I think this is a better approach. What I am saying is that, first, our society is providing less and less of an overall social and ethical context for our young. Few parents are willing to teach and convey it, and precollege schools believe that they are not allowed to teach it. Second, if we try to teach this at the college level, we might end up teaching a doctrine or set of personal professorial beliefs. However, I am less con- cerned about a Marxist in the classroom than ~ am about a bad Marxist in the classroom whose only appeal is to the heart, not the mind. Students need to be able to recognize and then analyze the social and ethical trade-offs inherent in any important decision to which they can then apply their own developing values and their knowledge of scientific facts. Winston Churchillts quip that "if a young student is not at first a Socialist he does not have a heart, but if he does not later become a Conservative he does not have a brain" tells us more than his view about socialists and conserva- tives. It says something about the process of learning and explor- ing values and balancing these with facts in decision making. At the college level, we should not teach a given social and ethical context per se. We can broaden the knowledge base in which an individual deals with such questions and we can demon- strate an approach to such issues by example. Exposing under- graduates to teachers who are good in their disciplines, who have broad experience, and who have their own well-developed social and ethical context is one of the best learning experiences. What sorts of individuals fit the bill? Keith Kennedy, Jean McKelvey, Jean and Ken Robinson, Dan Sister, and Milton Barnett at Cornell Uni- versity; John Axtell, Bruce McKenzie, Deborah Brown, and Don Paarl- berg at Purdue University; Emerson Babb and Bob Peart at the University of Florida; and Bill Chancellor and Sylvia Lane at the University of California at Davis have done this for earlier genera- tions. If you want students to gain social and ethical context, do not try to teach it badly; put in the classroom teachers for whom it pervades the learning experience. Students then see what such a context does for onets ability to analyze difficult issues and make critical decisions. A course in ethics can broaden a students scope but may offer little by example or experience in making difficult ethical choices. On a curriculum level, there must also be some background information or personal experience giving the student some basis for making comparisons and choices. This means taking a good class in American government, some well-taught history, English that facilitates better reading and writing (allowing the student to enter the world of ideas)' cultural anthropology, applied sociology, 241
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AGRICULTURE AND TIdE UNDERGRADUATE etc. Without something like this, a student has no context for social and ethical issues-no standards for comparison and discrimination other than personal emotions and experiences. The following are some goals that we might set for ourselves to equip our students to integrate social and ethical factors into their decision making: 1. Do our students understand the difference between facts and values? Are they equally comfortable dealing with each, and do they recognize the role of each in decision making? 2. Do our students have a broad context for social and ethical questions in addition to their own personal beliefs, values, and experiences? 3. Are our students able to identify and assess trade-offs that involve facts and values, science, and the social and ethical con- text? 4. Have our students been sufficiently exposed to teachers who convey experience in dealing with social and ethical issues in a nonadvocacy, nonproselytizing way? If we can answer yes to each of the above, we are turning out an individual ready to deal with the social and ethical context of the postindustrial world. References Michener, J. A. 1991. What is the secret of teaching values? Money(April): 9~9 1 . Rasmussen, W. 1975. Pp. 186~1906 in Agriculture in the United States: A Documentary History, vol. 2. New York: Random House. (First published in Bailey, L., et al. 1909. Report of the Country Life Commis- sion.) Sandburg, C. 1970. Chicago. P. 3 in the Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. RAPPORTEUR'S SUMMARY Many believe that agriculture has a unique social and ethical context. Some of the major aspects involve agriculture's special relationship with the natural world, the value of labor, the place of community, and the inherent value of rural life. Otto C. Doering 111 argued that the industrial segment of society has overtaken that of agriculture and has, in effect, replaced the social and ethical con- text for most Americans. He stated, UWe are now well beyond the industrial age and into a postindustrial age and context. To believe that agriculture still has its own unique social and ethical context is to be two revolutions out of date." 242
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THE SOCIAL AND ETHICAL CONTEXT OF AGRICULTURE Currently, students come to colleges of agriculture without a sense of agricultural context, but they also have limited collections of strong social and ethical norms. As a result, students are sub- ject to the attitudes of modern science. These attitudes attempt to ignore or avoid the ideas of social and ethical norms and the roles they play in society. A good example of this attitude was the Wig Green" referendum in California that was aimed at limiting a large number of agricultural chemicals. Scientists responded from the perception that if the public were only adequately trained in sci- ence, they would recognize the need for these chemicals and the safety of their use. This type of logic often errs, because the scientific community fails to recognize that we are dealing with public perceptions that may or may not correspond to scientific facts and that may correspond more closely to information from sources believed to be trustworthy. Being trustworthy is closer to a value Judgment involving social and ethical norms than it is to scientific accuracy. What should students of agriculture be prepared to do about social and ethical questions? According to Doering, students should be able to recognize and weigh the trade-offs involved in applying social and ethical norms to today's decisions. He also advocated that pushing students into international or other cross-cultural expe- riences was not the answer. Rather, they must first identify and deal with the context of their own society. Can and should we teach an ethical and social context to our students? Doering believes that we cannot teach the social and ethical context per se. Rather, he feels we can broaden the knowl- edge base in which an individual deals with such questions and we can demonstrate an approach to such issues by example. In other words, do not try to teach it badly, but instead, put in the classroom teachers who have it so that it pervades the learning experience. Students then see what such a context does for one's ability to analyze difficult issues and make critical decisions. It was concluded that teachers often attempt to separate fact from values rather than looking at all the information brought to bear on the issue that will cause students to look at the whole. MuCh debate ensued in the discussion group over whether courses could be used to teach the values and ethics of agricul- ture. No clear consensus was evident, but it was pointed out that most faculty have little formal education in the area of ethics, and therefore, courses of this nature may need to be taught jointly with faculty from philosophy or other social science departments. A beginning point for implementing the teaching of ethics and values might be for each professor to agree to integrate topics that ad- dress the question, What social and ethical implications does this course have for mankind and society at large?, However, this suggestion is made with the understanding that faculty would be 243
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AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE given the opportunity for professional development in this area and would have thought deeply about the issues involved. Another concern that was addressed was the idea that students do not have a context for dealing with social and ethical issues because they have no standards other than an emotional context for discriminating the various sides of an issue. In other words, should the curriculum include some general education in such dis- ciplines as history and government, English, anthropology, and so- ciology to provide a context for considering issues? After much discussion, the consensus was yes. However, one question re- mained: "How many units should be required and what agricultural courses should be deleted to make room for general education courses?" lt should be noted that most universities have required general education courses; however, this discussion was focused on the idea of creating a coherent core of courses specifically for agricultural students. in summary, Doering suggested four goals that faculty members might set for students in the area of the social and ethical context of agriculture. Students should understand the difference between facts and values. 2. Students need a broad context for social and ethical ques- tions in addition to their own personal beliefs and values. 3. Students should be able to identify and assess trade-offs that involve facts and values, science, and the social and ethical con text. 4. Students should be exposed to teachers who convey experi- ence in dealing with social and ethical issues in a nonadvocacy, nonproselytizing way. There is no question that the social and ethical context of agri- culture is one of the least understood and least taught areas of the curriculum for agricultural students. This session provided a dis- cussion of the issues involved and provided insight into teaching about the social and ethical context of agriculture. it is apparent, now more then ever before, that if we fail in dealing with these aspects of agriculture, we could become paralyzed as an industry. 244
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