I just received a letter in the mail asking me to sign up for a Florida Agriculture in the Classroom license plate that comes complete with the slogan “Agriculture Keeps Florida Green”. I immediately assumed that the educational materials promoted by this plate probably pushed an industrial agriculture point of view. I was right.
They have lots of materials for download and I haven’t looked at all of them yet, but one in particular caught my eye. It’s called Food Production: Fact or Fib. The stated objective of this lesson is to clear up misconceptions, focusing especially on making sure students understand the difference between fertilizer and pesticide. The unstated objective, though, is clearly to make sure that students understand how necessary both of these types of chemicals are, while completely omitting any mention of harmful side-effects.
The main activity asks students to determine whether statements are facts or fibs. Here are some samples:
8. If your family pet were infested with disease-causing insects you would take them to a veterinarian to get treatment.
18. Antibiotics prevent diseases in humans, animals and plants just as vaccines do.
19. Controlling insects is one way to prevent diseases in humans, animals and plants.
And here’s the bonus question:
A doctor would prevent many diseases in a patient by making sure he/she got vaccinations. A Veterinarian would make sure every dog and cat received a rabies vaccination to keep them and their owners safe from rabies. How would a farmer protect his or her crops or animals from diseases or pests? Give more than one example.
Drawing an equivalency between how an industrial farmer feels about his or her crops and how a person feels about their pet is disingenuous. These facts are chosen to steer students into favoring the pro-chemical methods of industrial agriculture. There is literally no mention of no mention of harmful side effects, either in terms of human health or the environment. There is no mention of eutrophic deadzones or of the illnesses suffered by farm workers. There is no mention of organic farming. And there is no mention of the necessity of insects or how pesticides kill them all indiscriminately (not just the “disease-causing” ones).
Obviously, I am not recommending these materials, but I do think they could be useful an in activity that engages true critical thinking. Having students compare these materials with material that gave a truer picture of the pros and cons of fertilizers and pesticides would be interesting. I’m going to contact some local groups and ask if they have any materials like that, and if you know of any, please share them in the comments below.
It’s a real shame that, as we cut educational funding, it is increasingly likely that overworked and underpaid teachers will turn to ready-made materials produced by special interest groups.