Since thinking up my capstone for ENVS 220, the plan for my thesis research has always aimed to analyze the relationship between agriculture and education, and the ways in which each is influenced by and influences one another. Spring of Junior year in ENVS 350, I attempted to analyze this relationship through the lense of a universally recognized framework which seemed to encourage the link between these two actors: The 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This initial analysis targeted higher education (at the undergraduate level specifically) and its role and effectiveness in making large scale changes to systems such as that of US conventional agriculture. I went with this approach when ultimately creating my methodology in ENVS 400, situating the research in the well known agricultural college at Oregon State University, conducting a curriculum analysis and interviewing professors, students, and alumni on syllabi inclusion of SDGs and university influence on careers/mindsets.
My findings however, drew me to realize that contextualizing my definition and understanding of sustainability in agriculture from only the SDGs, greatly limited the scope of my analysis. The courses which seemed to be the most influential of all of the OSU core requirements (the basics of soil science), are ones which scored low in its overall inclusion of the SDG sustainability ideals. These results have shown me that the SDG ideals are not a framework which properly conveys the influential relationship between agriculture and education, nor depicts an accurate definition of agricultural sustainability. Thus, after some reflection on my research upon submitting my first draft, my larger takeaways now come from the purposes of education in supporting structural change and the power of pedagogy rather than curricula content.
Learning from my Mistakes
My perception of my larger question has moved away from the ways that agriculture curriculum has influenced student mindsets/post graduate careers, into the ways in which pedagogy and education in general acts as that influencer. The implications of my research now shed light on the questions: what are the purposes of higher education, and what is the power of pedagogy in agriculture? I have since transitioned to think about my thesis as research which shows the flaws within popularized development and sustainability frameworks for creating meaningful and persuasive models for education institutions. Through my use of the SDGs as an analysis tool, I have discovered that these are not the structures which should be used to evaluate the capabilities for education or structural change.