Sometimes I'm grumpy in the morning. It usually happens after I've had a rough night's sleep. But I got a good night's sleep last night, so that's not why I'm grumpy. I'm grumpy because sometimes it feels like the whole world doesn't want to help the whole world. Does that make any sense? Well it might after you read this report I just read on "The Scandal of Social Work Education."
I'm not grumpy because all the recommendations are wrong. I'm not even grumpy because I think every piece of the report is a bias piece of dog-do. I am grumpy, though, because in terms of academic writing, this IS one of the biggest pieces of unsupported dog-do I have ever read....and it's written by a group of academics (a National Association of Scholars) criticizing another group of academics (Social Work educators and their students).
I have a real problem when an entire group of smart people come out with something little-ole-me can pick apart with an axe. I mean, really. Who the hell am I? Sure, I have a brain and I write and I think and I have lots of good qualities. I'm not saying I am an idiot because I'm not. But I am not someone who belongs to some "smart" group like NAS. I expect more from people like that.
I've picked out some of the more inane parts of this report and commented on them here. My comments are not for the weak of stomach. I told you. I'm grumpy. To boot, I've had too many personal experiences that argue against this report--this includes social workers encouraging people to stay in abusive marriages because the State law requires them to do so. The biggest irony of the piece is that it accuses Social Work educators of being one sided. This reported is about as one-sided as any published document gets.
The authors of this report present one of their first pieces if evidence against trends in Social Services education by quoting part of a chapter from a Social Services program textbook:
Use of the term “social justice” today generally equates with the advocacy of more egalitarian access to income through state-sponsored redistribution. The phrase is also frequently used to justify new entitlement rights for individuals and whole categories of people, i.e., legally enforceable claims of individuals or groups against the state itself. Here’s how one social work textbook, Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skill (now in its seventh edition) lays out in vivid detail what its authors believe pursuing social justice means in the context of contemporary American politics: The objective of promoting social and economic justice merits a renewed commitment by social workers given the conservative trends of the past three decades. Providers of social services and their clientele have suffered major setbacks in recent years, as the United States has sought to cope with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the movement from a strong to a declining economy, the shift from budget surpluses to budget deficits, tax cuts geared toward the upper income tiers, and losses of domestic jobs to overseas workers. In an even earlier era, the radical restructuring of the government's approaches to poverty of women and children in the form of pub. L. No. 104-193, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, ‘ended welfare as we know it’. Specifically, work requirements for women were increased even though no guarantee of child care support was provided. In addition, educational assistance was decreased. In another blow, the specific circumstances of women who tend to work in the part-time, low-wage, low benefits services sector were not addressed. In essence, the law increased the accountability demanded from recipients of aid without requiring comparable accountability from state and federal governments regarding the types of employment attained and income levels of those women. Recognizing these discrepancies, social workers need to advocate for the welfare of low income families and children and monitor whether services and supports are actually sufficient to reduce poverty and improve the welfare of children.6
Well, what’s the matter with THAT? Isn’t it true? It may be that curriculum do not offer both sides, but you would have to prove that through more than a few quotes from a sample of texts. There are thousands of social work programs out there, and they all use different textbooks. Are you suggesting we use a standardized curriculum and textbook? This would be interesting since one major argument in the report is that Social Services programs do not support academic freedom.
Later into the report, the authors accuse Social Services programs as being "partisan" and "liberal." This goes back to the discussion of what we mean when we pin labels on people and groups. Why should social justice be considered partisan? Why should upholding the Constitution, freedom and equality, be thought of as partisan? Is the person writing this report partisan? That’s what is sounds like to me.
The authors claim that, “'Oppression' is an unusually strong term.." They go on to provide a standard dictionary definition as opposed to an "industry" definition.
And isn’t “scandal” an unusually strong term? Perhaps we ought too look it up to make sure the word is being used correctly.
"Third, the formulation “global interconnectedness of oppression” strongly hints at a rather specific theoretical take on the nature of “oppression”, one that sees its local manifestations as part of an integrated system of exploitation explainable in terms of some worldwide dynamic."
BUT IT IS! Are you doubting there is exploitation all over the world? Are you doubting all of us are interconnected? Have you never studied history or anthropology or....gasp...sociology? Perhaps the writers' problem is these words are too direct and blunt in their descriptions of the real world and the struggles of people who don't have the luxury to be analyzing their own poverty.
"Shouldn’t students of social work education be encouraged to examine how classically liberal or libertarian principles and approaches, among others, might be applied to the solution of social work? Yet the CSWE would appear to regard such possibilities as closed."
It also appears the writers failed to examine all the schools' programs, curriculum, and teaching methods. It appears they have disregarded current events and the opinions of others than those in their limited group. But maybe it just "appears" that way.
Furthermore, what’s the matter with advocacy? Isn’t that usually in the Social Workers’ job description? If you have clients, you have to advocate for them to help them succeed. There’s no conflict of interest here. Teachers have to advocate for their students all the time by utilizing services with the academy: student services, health services, tutoring services, etc. Lawyers get PAID to advocate for their clients. Doctors are supposed to advocate for the health of their patients. What are YOU advocating?
"No college or university, and most certainly not public ones, can properly demand that a student publicly affirm a particular ideological or political position, much less engage in overt advocacy on its behalf..."
Are they actually demanding this? If so, where is the proof? Yes, the report does supply some case history which I will discuss later in this entry. But so far, the evidence is pretty weak.
Additionally, social services have a history of being cut and demeaned. If your discipline had the same dynamic, you would be fighting for advocacy as well. People in the sciences and math do this all the time. Why should social work be any different?
The reporters dislike the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics and schools that adhere to them:
"Thus, the NASW Code of Ethics reinforces the CSWE guidelines by endorsing not only social and political advocacy as part of the social worker’s role, but also social and political activism directed at policy and legislative change. Moreover, this advocacy and activism are to be put to the service of a sweeping non-judgmentalism that a great many would reject, not only as a statement of personal philosophy, but as a basis for personal counseling, social intervention, and public policy."
Oh come on. You are assuming that social workers come in tabula rassa with no ideals of their own. Do YOU walk into a classroom with no such strong beliefs? Or are social workers a particular weak group of intellects in your opinion?
The next piece of "evidence" is designed to show further bias in a particular school:
"The student will demonstrate compliance with the NASW Code of Ethics. University of California at Berkeley: The Student Handbook indicates that 'suitability for the profession' requires behavior specifically consistent with the NASW Code of Ethics."
"University of Minnesota/Twin Cities: Violations of NASW Code of Ethics can lead to dismissal. The NASW Code of Ethics is reproduced verbatim in the Student Handbook, starting on page 48. It lists "social justice" as one of the "core values" of the social work profession, on par with service, integrity, and competence. Page 68 specifically spells out the consequences of failure to adhere to this code:
Persons who teach and supervise students, along with program coordinators, will assess student academic performance and apply their professional judgment to determine if standards are being met during a student’s educational career."
Now this could be a problem if the instructors really are biased. But this is a problem in ALL education. It’s not specific to Social Work. And how are these allegations being substantiated?
The writers criticize the following industry vocabulary:
...be called "shibboleths of progressive ideology", to wit: “social justice,” “oppression,” “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” “social change,” and “advocacy.”
What’s your problem with these terms? How else would you describe the population social workers deal with? “Downtrodden”? “Deadbeats”? What are you getting at?
The report criticizes the following statement, indicating they are indoctrinating, liberal beliefs being inflicted on students of social work:
"The BSW curriculum, nationally accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, aims to graduate social work generalists who have the abilities to:
* Plan interventions to advance social and economic justice, to combat inequities (such as
poverty, racism, sexism, ageism and homophobia), and to minimize the negative effects of
oppression on clients in given case situations..."
Your argument is that things such as “prevention of homophobia” is a “leftist” ideal leaving no room for personal beliefs. This isn’t true. You can be a social worker and believe that homosexuality is wrong. But you cannot be a an effective social worker and be homophobic! Homophobia is a lack of education often leading to discrimination, not some kind of moral statement. And if you are a Social Worker, you always have the choice of working in a private or non-profit setting that fits your personal belief system.
What is wrong with the Code of Ethics? Every profession has a code of ethics and some actually do require students to follow it! Is this so shocking? Why are you having such a problem with ethics?
Yes, other perspectives need to be presented as part of any well rounded curriculum. But you didn’t prove to me that this isn’t being done already. A simple change in textbooks and evaluations of course discussions can help clear up any real academic concerns you might have if they do indeed exist.
The report continues to criticize institutions that endorse the National Association of Social Worker's Code of Ethics. One example of an institutional statement is as follows:
"We believe professional ethics and integrity are at the core of social work, and the values, principles, and standards that are set forth in the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics should guide, as applicable, the conduct of our faculty, staff, and students; …
* We believe we should work to promote social justice and social change, and should strive to
end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice;
* We believe that the attainment of our mission requires a high regard for the worth of each
person and our collective potential, and that the dissemination of knowledge is enhanced by
the presence of cultural and ethnic diversity in our classrooms;
* We believe that, in order to enhance the social work knowledge base, the attainment of our
mission requires critical thinking, professional development, and meaningful scholarship. As
we improve our ability to transmit this knowledge to students and others effectively, we are
better able to alleviate suffering and to promote social justice in the communities we serve."
So? If you don’t believe in those things, you don’t enroll. Do you enroll at a Christian university if you don’t believe in Christianity? Do you enroll in a science program if you don’t believe in science? Come on. This is not evidence of anything but your bias against social work.
Next, the report criticizes an excerpt from a student handbook:
"The student will demonstrate an understanding of, and respect for, the positive value of diversity particularly as it relates to populations of the Southwest. The student will demonstrate an understanding of the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination."
You think this is not a responsible statement in a handbook? Do you have a problem with a doctor taking the Hippocratic Oath? Doctor’s work with sick people. Social workers work with sick society. Get over it.
"At the University of Maryland School of Social Work, the Student Handbook includes a set of statements depicting the values adopted by staff, faculty, and students in support of the school's mission. These include: global economic and social justice for all individuals with particular emphasis on vulnerable, excluded, and marginalized populations."
Yeah. And those populations change throughout history. So what? What’s your real issue with this? Is it that you dislike the populations being served?
"Organizing for Social and Political Action. This course examines methods of organizing people for social and political action on their own behalf or on behalf of others. Students will analyze different approaches to bringing people together for collective action, building organizational capacity, and generating power in the community. The course includes the study of skills in analyzing power structures, formulating action strategies, using conflict and persuasive tactics, challenging oppressive structures, conducting community campaigns....
The faculty committee told Brooker to write a paper on social work ethics, stressing how she could “lessen the gap” between her personal ethics and the professional ethics of a social worker. They directed her to state that she would not discriminate against homosexuals and that she would be willing to place children in homosexual adoptive homes. They also demanded that she affirm her commitment to the NASW Code of Ethics as well as the School’s Standards of Essential Functioning in Social Work Education."
Okay, I have a problem with them making her promise to place children in homosexual homes, if this was what really transpired. That’s a bit over the top--unreasonable, unacceptable, but also odd. I would like to see how many other cases like this there were in this school. Does her case represent a limited experience with bad teachers? Does the accreditation agency need to do a general review of the school? This could have been handled in a better way, no way around it. I can say this because I had a terrible time in a school, but not everyone had that same experience. My beef with them is not everyone’s beef.
The school settled with Brooker and obviously, she didn't "promise" anything. What's interesting about this case is that it refutes the report's previous argument that students are being "indoctrinated." If this were true, Brooker would never have come forward.
So the school admits a screw-up, Brooker maintains her personal values, and hopefully everyone learns from it. Move on.
"In September of 2006, the school agreed to hire a consultant to investigate Mr. Felkner's claims, but to date, no investigation is underway."
Well get on with it, dammit. He’s a student and deserves to be heard! But, there are probably other issues than the one being highlighted in this report which wants to bash all programs in the field and not particular schools or programs.
"Her most significant and ultimately unacceptable trial emerged, however, when the professor in the course declared to her that it was impossible to be both a social worker and an opponent of abortion. Because this was fundamentally incompatible with some of her most deeply held religious convictions, she decided to withdraw from the program altogether."
Bad teacher. Investigate the school and the teacher. Obviously, if you can prove this is a widespread practice, there are larger issues. My guess is this is not commonly accepted practice because it is too obviously impossible to enforce.
"America’s schools of social work need to reexamine their missions."
Okay. Fine. Re-examine. But don't dismiss the entire discipline and judge it "discriminatory" as you do it, especially based on only a few issues that could easily be rectified.
"But we also rightly expect those professions to recognize and teach the importance of the continuing search for the truth, the need to listen to alternative views, and the need to seek objective bases for best practice. This is true of the training of physicians, psychiatrists, lawyers, law enforcement agents, and every other profession that works directly with the human subject, just as social work does."
This is also true. But again, this can be cleared up through curriculum review.
"Thus it is unacceptable when schools of social work define the substance of what they teach in terms of prescribed answers to important questions that are in fact unsettled. It is unacceptable for schools of social work to compel—or even to encourage—students to advocate for political causes that the social work profession, the school’s faculty, or its administrators hold dear. And it is unacceptable when schools of social work bypass the hard and necessary work of examining the historical and social contexts of human suffering to present doctrinaire diagnoses. Schools of social work have educational obligations to their students and intellectual obligations to the university and society. As the report demonstrates, in key areas, schools of school work are betraying the pursuit of knowledge and systematically perverting the education of their students.22 This, together with the larger university community’s failure to take the necessary corrective action, constitutes a genuine academic scandal."
No…not a scandal. A need for review and change. A scandal would be if the schools were teaching social workers to discriminate against their clients. This is just a messy issue, not a scandal.
"Social work is hardly alone among university programs in having ideological proclivities and a strong penchant for advocacy. But its commitments in these respects are far more explicit and systematic than almost anywhere else. The failure of higher university authorities to challenge this vast misconstruction of mission represents a larger abandonment of the traditional principles of academic freedom and their corollary obligations."
Okay, so again, look at it closely and work with the accreditors. But your report still doesn’t PROVE anything. It just merits looking at.
"A social worker who is largely ignorant of American history faces an intellectually blinkered professional life in which there will be strong temptation to respond to problems according to the stereotypes and shibboleths of the moment. A social worker who is largely ignorant of political theory is unarmed against the appeals of demagogues who offer simplistic and sometimes unconstitutional remedies to complex problems. A social worker with no rounding in philosophy likewise is ill equipped to tell the difference between cogent reasoning and ideology, which superficially can look alike. A social worker not conversant with economics will be in a poor position to evaluate different approaches to the alleviation of poverty. We believe schools of social work should have entrance prerequisites in these areas or requirements for students who do not meet these prerequisites to make them up once enrolled."
This is true. So round out the curriculum a little. Not really a hard fix when there are hosts of instructors who could offer a variety of courses. This is assuming, of course, it's not already being done. While you are at it, round out your own education. Attend some of the classes so you have first-hand experience instead of heresay.
The examples taken from each curriculum are limited examples. They don’t show all the classes offered. They don’t show the full spectrum of the program, either. Unless you can prove to me that every class is slanted towards a particular political leaning, I have a hard time giving this report any credibility. The “exhibits” and “proof” are about as much proof any student provides when he/she complains he/she didn’t get anything from a school. What would you do? You would look into every aspect of that school and hopefull resolve the compaint--not that that was ever done in my case.
If you want a scandal, look at the Ph.D. program I entered, the one that claimed to promote "social responsibility" and even had an unlicesnsed site called "Office of Social Responsibility." Even so, there are students who came out of the program happy with what they received, so the report's argument using a limited number of students doesn't really hold water. Had the school settled with me, had the school dealt with the problem, I would not be in this surly disposition or this mess.
But really, if you want scandal, look at the student loan system. Or the war in Iraq. Scandal is in the eye of the beholder.
More links are forthcoming because unlike some people, I like to back up my ideas as completely as an individual can.
Disclaimer: Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt is neither a social worker nor a member of any elite intellectual organization.