A Qualitative Study of Agricultural Literacy in Urban Youth: Understanding for Democratic Participation in Renewing the Agri–food System
Keywords:agricultural literacy, elementary students, constructivism, schema, food systems
Modern agriculture poses ecological problems and opportunities, which defy simple democratic reform without an educated citizenry. Developing an educated citizenry can be accomplished by further developing agricultural literacy in elementary education. While benchmarks for agricultural literacy have been produced, relatively little attention has been focused on how students conceptualize the food system. Using Piaget’s theories of schemata development, this study compared students’ understanding of agriculture to grade–specific benchmarks for agricultural literacy to uncover relationships between students’ backgrounds, experiences, and understandings of the agri–food system. The population consisted of 18 elementary students from Long Beach, California. Data was collected via 45–minute semi–structured interviews. While almost half had been on field trips to a farm or visited a garden, none had ever grown a plant or raised an animal. Students’ ideas about agriculture were often guesses, underdeveloped, or contradictory to expert conceptions. Students failed to convey an understanding of the types and variety of farms, the purpose of farms, or the cultural practices dominating conventional farming. Results suggest that educators should focus on existing underdeveloped schemata to help learners construct viable ideas about modern agriculture supported by contextually rich formal and informal agricultural experiences.