What Was the Day-Unit Approach to Teaching Agriculture (8/26/2022)

Last week’s Footnote featured a suggested three-circle model of agricultural education that depicted the job of the agricultural teacher in the early days of vocational agriculture. One of the circles, the “All-Day Students” circle contained an internal parenthesis with the words (including Day-Unit students). In our teaching about the history of agricultural education we rarely talk about the day-unit agricultural program simply because few of us have experienced it or know much about it. Hopefully, this Footnote will rectify that deficiency.

Figure 1. This 1927 newspaper article informs us that the four high schools in Maine will have Day-Unit agricultural classes. The entire article is found later in this Footnote. Source: Sun-Journal, Lewiston Maine, February 12, 1927,

The Day-Unit Agriculture Program

An article in the Nashville (TN) Banner on June 9, 1926, was titled “Vocational Agriculture Teachers Adopt Five-Year Community Program.” The article was a summary of the strategic plan adopted by the teachers at the annual agricultural teachers’ conference. One of the items in the plan was:

1D. Day-Unit Work

  1. Investigate possibility for day-unit work in nearby schools.
  2. Conduct day-unit classes in as many schools as conditions of roads, distance to other schools, time and relations will permit.
  3. Each day-unit pupil to conduct a project along the lines of instruction age and maturity of boy to determine size of the project.

It appears the agricultural teachers in Tennessee were committed to taking agricultural classes to students in schools where agricultural programs did not exist.

If you remember from last week the day-unit classes were often taught in schools that were not large enough to have a vocational agricultural program. The agriculture teacher from a neighboring school would travel to that school and teach a class in agriculture. These classes only met once or twice a week and were of shorter duration than the all-day school agriculture classes. Yet the day-unit students were required to have supervised practice.

Teaching a “day-unit” class at a neighboring school often made the newspaper. One example from the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson Mississippi (December 24, 1929, p. 8) stated, “Prof. Morgan Brown of Dublin Colored School, Coahoma County, is continuing his day-unit work in Mattson Colored School in addition to his work at Dublin.”

Mitchell’s doctoral dissertation described the operation of the day-unit approach to teaching agriculture in Louisiana. He writes (1959, p. 185):

In 1929-30 day-unit classes were held during the sixteen weeks of the second term of the school session. Four units were taught during this session, namely: Dairying, four weeks; Poultry raising, four weeks; Swine production, four weeks; and Home gardening, four weeks. Students were required to carry projects and keep records in the same manner as regular all-day students.

In 1930-31 each teacher of vocational agriculture was urged to organize and teach a day-unit class, and thirty-five such classes were organized and taught that year.

In 1932-33 the state supervisor of agricultural education in Louisiana “was happy to report that for the first time the vocational agriculture teacher at Bunkie had organized and taught a day-unit class, the class being taught in the Gold Dust Community of Avoyelles Parish.” (Mitchell, 1959, p. 186)

At times the all-day teacher would also teach a day-unit class in the same school. This point was made clearly in a newspaper article titled “Long Felt Need Being Capably Filled by the Smith-Hughes Work” from The Yazoo City (MS) Herald published on November 17, 1931. The lead sentence in the second paragraph is “The Smith-Hughes teacher believes that he should serve all the people, and he never feels that he is actually covering his job until he is reaching every person in his school district who wants vocational training or improvement in his field.”

The article then describes the various audiences served by the agricultural teacher – the all-day class, the day-unit class, the part-time class, and the evening class. Following (Figure 2) is what was written about the all-day and day-unit class. The article also describes the other two groups taught by the agricultural teacher.


 Figure 2. The Yazoo City(MS) Herald published on November 17, 1931

The article concluded by identifying by name and school the four agriculture teachers in Yazoo County and describing what types of classes they were teaching.

In 1936, R. P. Tull at Rochelle High School in Texas taught 69 students in the all-day program but he also taught two additional classes. One was a part-time class (for students who were no longer in school), but the other was a day-unit class. The San Angelo Standard-Times reported (January 19, 1936, p. 7) “One was originally known as a pre-vocational class, but under the classification of the Federal Board, it is now a day-unit class, and is composed of boys and girls in the seventh grade.” The names of the 39 students in the day-unit class are listed in the article, of which 17 appear to be female.

In some locations there would be an itinerant teacher who would travel from school to school teaching day-unit classes [Note: Itinerant means traveling, not illiterate]. This was the case in Maine. Fred Loring was employed to teach day-unit classes at four different schools in 1927. An article in the Maine Sun-Journal of Lewiston (February 12 1927) describes the work (see Figure 3).


 Figure 3. Maine Sun-Journal of Lewiston, Maine. February 12 1927.

In Pennsylvania some of the regional supervisors of agricultural education would also teach day-unit classes. A brief news blurb (Figure 4) from The Central News (Perkasie, PA. January 19, 1939) reveals that the Newtown High School had applied for a day unit course which “will bring the advisor of vocational agriculture into the Newtown High School to teach a course in some phase of agriculture for two hours each week.”

Figure 4. The Central News, Perkasie PA. Jan 19, 1939

A much longer article about the Newtown Day-Unit request in another newspaper (The Bristol (PA) Courier, January 12, 1939) identified the “advisor”:

The teacher of such a day-unit class will be Samuel Horst, advisor of vocational agriculture for Delaware, Montgomery and Bucks County. The primary function of men in that office is to supervise the departments of agriculture established in the various schools but they may teach a limited number of such day-unit courses.

An interesting article in the Elba (Alabama) Clipper newspaper used the term “inside” and “outside” teachers to describe the day-unit teachers in a 1939 article (September 21). It appears the “inside” teachers were full-time teachers who teach in the all-day program and also teach some evening classes. The definition of the “outside” teachers is not clear, but they teach day-unit classes along with part-time and adult classes. Perhaps they were part-time teachers.

Figure 5. Inside and Outside Teachers. Elba Clipper, September 21, 1939

A unique day-unit class was developed for use in North Carolina. A “Farm Family Living” day-unit class was developed in 1940 and was taught jointly by agriculture and home economics teachers. This course was taught to 8th graders, both boys and girls. Two 90 minute periods a week or three 60 minute periods were suggested. A minimum of 20 lessons were to be taught including:

  • Feeding the Farm Family
  • Clothing the Farm Family
  • Care, Repair, and Construction of Simple Farm Equipment
  • Living Together in the Farm Family Group
  • Safeguarding the Health of the Farm Family
  • Providing Recreation for the Farm Family and Friends
  • Providing and Managing the Farm Family Income
  • The Farm Family and Its Place in the Community
  • The Care and Wise Use of Nature’s Gifts
  • Making the Home Comfortable, Convenient, and Attractive

Figure 6. Cover of the Farm Family Living day-unit curriculum guide.

Concluding Remarks

It was very common during the 1920s and 1930s to see the words “all-day” and “day-unit” in newspaper articles about vocational agriculture programs. Typically, there was no definition given. Hopefully, the people who read the newspapers understood the difference.

As I researched the day-unit classes for this Footnote, I tried to figure out how this knowledge could be used today. Two thoughts came to mind:

  1. While the accepted mantra concerning the purpose of career and technical education (CTE) is to prepare people for careers, I am a strong believer that there are other valid purposes of CTE classes. Avocational interests in such topics as gardening and small animal care could and should be taught in a modified day-unit approach as well as classes in agricultural literacy.

    The 1988 National Research Council study, Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education,recommended that agriculture be taught at all grade levels. The emphasis in the lower grades should be education ABOUT agriculture and the emphasis in the upper grades should be education IN agriculture. Many of the day-unit classes taught ABOUT agriculture. In other words, agricultural literacy was being taught. Perhaps that is something we should actively promote today.

  2. From time to time I see questions raised about how to best recruit middle school students into the high school agriculture program. If we were to couple that question with the national FFA proficiency award in Agricultural Education, we might come up with a win-win situation. Why not see if a middle school teacher would be willing to have one or more high school students teach a class about agriculture for one class period one day a week? That could be beneficial for all involved.

    Verd Peterson’s 1930 national study of day-unit classes reported in last week’s Friday Footnote found that day-unit classes were often taught in the lower grades and were viewed as a recruitment conduit for the high school program. Not a bad idea for today!


Mitchell, John H. (1959). Development of Vocational Agricultural Education in Louisiana. Doctoral Dissertation. Louisiana State University.

Peterson, Verd (1930, March), The Day Unit SchoolThe Agricultural Education Magazine, Volume 2, No. 3.