Being a Good Human

By: Matt Patton, CATA Executive Director

It seems as though the world has dramatically changed instantaneously. 2020 has included a hundred-year pandemic, senseless loss of life, global quarantine, record levels of unemployment, worldwide protest, economic collapse, rioting, and the exit of leaders. Current situations have magnified societal, political, and economic instability that exist globally. Understandably people are feeling isolated, frustrated, and afraid. 

As unsettling as current events are, society at all levels is faced with an opportunity to reevaluate many of our practices and policies. How will we govern, police, and provide public services in light of current events? Will we as citizens engage in the public process to influence the way these services are provided by our county, state, and nation?   

What will agricultural education look like next fall as the landscape of schools dramatically changes? How will the delivery of the three-ring model look from junior high to university levels? How can we as professionals use this forced adaptation to improve how we serve students?  

Agricultural education has always strived for inclusivity and acceptance of all students. Ag classrooms serve as safe havens for students of all backgrounds as they congregate to escape the pressures of campus and the larger world. Ag shops, school farms, and labs offer an alternative learning environment that accommodates learning modalities otherwise not supported in traditional classrooms. Hopefully, all FFA students find a CDE, LDE, or SAE that ignites their passion and specific interests. We strive to build a culture of servant leadership, industry engagement, and community service at the local, regional, and state levels. The questions now become how do we identify remaining barriers and become more accessible to a larger audience?

“The most productive way to answer these questions is through respectful, social discourse. We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know” (Rodgers, 1980). In a world empowered by the anonymity of social media, clickbait headlines, and a culture of de-platforming the voice of opposition, the art of discourse has been lost.

Parliamentary Procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order are a cornerstone of agricultural education. The book was written in 1876 and is modeled after the Golden Rule. The book is based on the theory that the democratic value of equality comes from reciprocity (Bischoff, 2006). Below is a summary of the principles of Robert’s book:

• All members have equal rights, privileges, and obligations. 

• The majority vote decides. 

• The rights of the minority must be protected. 

• Full and free discussion of every motion is an established right of members. 

• Every member has the right to understand the motion before the group and what its effect might be. 

• All meetings must be characterized by fairness and good faith. 

(Bischoff, 2006)

Although these principles were constructed almost 150 years ago, they are applicable to help meet the challenges we are facing in 2020. 

While many of us search for the answers to questions facing us socially and professionally, we all can remain confident that change starts with a self-assessment of one’s thoughts and actions. I find the truest way to evaluate my viewpoints is with constant, credible research (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram do not count), and the vetting of ideas with people of differing backgrounds and viewpoints from my own. 

One of the best things about the structure of CATA is our ability to proactively discuss issues that face our profession. At my first CATA Conference, a curricular code debate spilled over into the main Operations Meeting. Stalwarts of our occupation like Green, Mattes, Mooney, Actis, Tosta, and Paasch debated the merits of changing the format of the Parli-Pro contest. They did it with great passion and conviction but maintained a manner of decorum and civility that allowed the free exchange of ideas. 

“Education…. is the practice of freedom. The means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” (Freiore, 2000).

In August 2019, our CATA President, Dr. Erin Gorter e-mailed out the CATA code of ethics. The same one we all received as we were welcomed into the profession. Like Robert’s Rules of Order, the message from this document stands the test of time and can help us navigate 2020. 

California Agricultural Teachers’ Association Code of Ethics

  • I am proud of my profession.
  • I shall conduct myself with dignity and in a professional manner.
  • I shall endeavor to grow and develop in my profession.
  • I shall work in harmony with school authorities and other teachers of the school.
  • I shall take an active part in school and community life.
  • I shall work for the advancement of agriculture and promote agricultural education.
  • I shall be patient, honest, and fair in my dealings.
  • I shall treat others with dignity and respect.
  • I shall strive to set before my students, by example, the highest standards of citizenship. I shall give of myself that each of my students may be inspired to make their future life more full and productive.

All of this is to reaffirm what we endeavor to do as ag teachers – be a positive role model for students, be a leader on our campus, be an active member of our communities, and be good humans. 

Now the question is how we do those things in a changing world? Our profession has become proficient in accomplishing those things in the previously known well-defined environment. We knew how to stay within its banks and live out those ideals.

What is undeniable is that students will be back to school (in some form) in the fall and we ag teachers will be there to greet them same as we have done for 100 plus years. Outside of that most things are undetermined; chances are we will never go back to ‘normal.’ We have all encountered significant historical events that will forever change our world. We will all be asked by future generations what it was like in 2020. Our current students will have experienced far more, than many of their predecessors.

Moving forward the question becomes how to share with our students the decorum, dignity and democratic reciprocity that has defined ag education for a century? 

In my opinion, that question is best answered the same way all challenges have been met by our occupation, through open, thoughtful, considerate dialogue. One of the great things about CATA is opportunity for meaningful discourse. It doesn’t matter if that discourse occurs in a Golden Slate article, at a sectional or regional meeting, over breakfast at a field day, on a 2030 committee, or around the pool at the Sands, the important thing is that these conversations continue.

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Matt Patton, Executive Director, California Agricultural Teachers’ Assn.mpatton@calagteachers.org209 744-1605

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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