About This Journal
As an MSW student, it has become apparent to me that social work education as usual is not providing students with all the information they need to promote 21st century social justice. Therefore, additional educational resources are required.
In our world of readily accessible information, it is impossible to study any subject in depth without dipping into others. Neurobiologist/Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel realized this when he and others established the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology, combining scientific thought from previously exclusive fields into one cohesive whole. In the same fashion, economist Daniel Kahneman has worked to connect economics and psychology with his invention of Behavioral Economics, and his Nobel Peace Prize winning Prospect Theory.
During my personal research into social work, I have found it impossible not to wander into the literature of other fields, most notably, neuroscience and economics. I have also found that many classmates of mine seem to have an ignorance/fear of these fields.
Neuroscience is intimidatingly scientific, and the cold realism of economics can be perceived as antagonistic to social justice.
Value, Rather than Skill as a Unifying Factor
Social work is a values-based, rather than skill-based field, and as such is not in opposition to these fields of study, but rather in a position to direct social work policy and practice through them. Academia is based on the stacking of knowledge, and fields such as neurobiology and economics are two solid bases from which to launch the aims of social work more effectively than ever before.
Social work, since its birth in the Charity Organization Society and Settlement House traditions, has been divided into two camps, policy-based practitioners and clinically-based practitioners. Along with the inclusion of outside knowledge into social work, we propose a unification of these two social work camps. We intend to unify social workers around our common values of human rights and social justice, rather than around the skill sets we use.
It is important for clinical social workers to have an understanding of the principles behind neuroscience. Science has finally offered us an inside look into the machinery behind decision-making, memory, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, trauma, etc. It is essential for social workers of the 21 st Century to understand at least the basic principles of this science.
Just as clinical social work overlaps with neuroscience, the policy end of our profession overlaps with economics. When discussing issues such as publicly funded programs, the rights of workers, and equality, our social workers need to speak the language of the experts.
As social workers, it is imperative for us to be able to speak intelligently about economics if we are to advocate for real change. As long as we are ignorant of economic principles, we will have to defer to experts, many of whom may have motives contrary to ours as social workers.
It has become clear to me that knowledge of at least the basic concepts in these complementary fields is necessary to a complete understanding of social work and social justice.
It is time for our profession to take our place in the debate. It is time for our schools of social work to educate our students in the language of “sharks” and scientists. It is time to take hold of our duty and our promise to uphold the pillars of human rights and social justice.
This inaugural issue is a call to arms. It is time for us to acknowledge our differences, and pool our strengths. Whether you want to be a therapist in private practice or a community organizer, whether you are an economist, a neurobiologist, a law student, a business student, or a high school graduate, social work is, and always has been defined not by our area of study, but by the guiding principles of human rights and social justice, which are as important in the 21st Century as ever before.
The integration of new knowledge into an existing curriculum is not going to be easy, but it is necessary to the efficacy and survival of our profession. The utility of merging the ideas of outside disciplines into the body of social work is illuminated by the relevance of market principles to the current crisis in social work education.
The Crisis in Social Work Education
Universities are businesses, they need to sell a product, and they are faced with a consumer base that has come out of our struggling pre-college education system. Besides this less than ideal consumer base, social work suffers from very little esteem as a profession, as reflected in social worker salaries. According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have a low nationwide mean salary of $54,870 (March 29, 2013). Besides our low earning potential, rumors about our profession as baby stealers, bureaucratic drones, bargain psychologists, and others abound. We have a low “market value.” Social Workers tend to be those who either have a very big heart or a hunger for the work that overrides our low pay and reputation, but as a profession, we draw few ambitious practitioners.
If you want proof, look at the low average cost of social work graduate programs compared to others. Market principles dictate that prices reflect demand. This would suggest that there is low demand for social work education. With a smaller pool of interested students than say, a law school, expectations must be lower for the simple fact that universities have to fill their seats to pay their bills. Low prices and expectations of students could be leading us to a brain drain in the profession. This may limit the ability of the future generation of social workers to fight off the wolves of inequality and oppression.
A strengthening of the curriculum, and the addition of knowledge from complimentary fields can turn this tide. Better educated social workers will attain higher positions and produce higher quality work, leading to higher salaries and professional esteem, and reaching culmination with increased student demand, which will feed the cycle anew, and lift all ships with a rising tide.
This strategy is based on the classification of graduate school programs as positional goods in economics. As such, if we raise the quality of the product, we can raise demand for it.
It is my hope that the following articles will give you many new questions to ponder, and maybe even a few new answers.Zachary Alti, '14, LMSW
Former Editor-In-Chief, 2013–2014