Schools of Social Work

The National Association of Scholars has published a report on schools of social work throughout the country, finding that most are committed to ideological indoctrination rather than unbiased research: “Social work education is a national academic scandal.” Stephen Balch, NAS Director:

Defenders of the American university claim that the seriousness of the problem of political correctness has been greatly exaggerated by critics. There is, however, nothing subtle about political correctness in social work. It is the Jolt Cola of PC.

Social work is a field, perhaps, in which the line between advocacy and academic scholarship is subtle. But the line is nevertheless real. Social work, like medicine and engineering, is a practical field that has as its end not only understanding but doing. Just as medicine has as its goal health, we might expect social work to have as its goal helping people. But many in schools of social work understand what they do in a far more specific and contentious way. Barbara White, Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin, objected to the report:

“We do not advocate any particular positions and definitely do not force them on our students,” White said. “Our profession is geared toward the issue of people working for justice and equality. And our responsibility is to serve the community.”

Justice and equality, notice, come first, and are the means to serving the community. What’s wrong with justice and equality? Nothing, of course, except that they are political concepts. People with different political ideologies construe them quite differently. There could be, and once upon a time were, courses in schools of social work that examined different conceptions of justice and equality without strong ideological presuppositions or biases. People used to feel responsible for arguing for the ideological positions they took against all comers. (I am thinking, for example, of Richard Lodge, former head of the Council on Social Work Education, whom I knew well.) But those days are long gone.

The Council for Social Work Education publishes a Code of Ethics that almost all schools of social work require their students to adhere to. It stipulates:

Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to a knowledge about oppression and cultural, economic and ethnic diversity.

Notice that poverty and unemployment are simply assumed to be forms of injustice. If I quit my job to write the great American novel, hike the Appalachian Trail, or pursue competitive tanning, that’s injustice? Note, too, the use of the loaded term ‘oppression’ and the ritual bowing to diversity.

The Code of Ethics continues:

Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.

So, to be a social worker according to the CSWE, you need to engage in specific kinds of political action. The saddest part of the report discusses particular students who have left or been failed out of social work graduate programs because they opposed abortion, refused to lobby legislators to adopt certain left-wing policies, or analyzed social problems from a conservative point of view.

10 thoughts on “Schools of Social Work

  1. Having worked for a few years in the financial department of a social service agency, this doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve come to be very wary of all social workers.

  2. As a PhD student in social work at one of the top schools of social work in the country, I can state with absolute certainty that the (mis) representations of the field by the NAS are indicative of a profound level of ignorance regarding the current state of social work education.

    Doctoral training in social work/social welfare is grounded in the scientific method, and most PhD programs in social work have a strong bias towards positivist and post-positivist epistemologies. Our training in research methodologies, advanced multivariate statistics, and social/psychological measurement usually equals and often surpasses the training received by students in other social science disciplines.

    The NASW is viewed by most social work academics as an anachronism. The CSWE is also losing credibility in academic social work. These archaic organizations have been largely supplanted by the Society for Social Work Research. Instead of dismissing schools of social work as institutions that generate little in the way of academic excitement (as the NAS does in its report), I encourage your readers to explore the Society for Social Work Research. And if the NAS is dim-witted enough not to recognize the intense intellectual excitement being generated by the work of social work academics such as Drs. Michael Sherraden, Luis Zayas, Bruce Thyer, Peter Hovmand, Wendy Auslander, Gautam Yadama, Enola Proctor,Mark Rank, Ramesh Raghavan, Duncan Lindsey and many, many others, then the NAS clearly has no clue about the current state of social work education.

    I’d be interested in reading an NAS report on the ideological biases in business schools. The primacy of the profit motive inherent in the business profession is indisputably a normative bias, yet the NAS conveniently ignores the indoctrination taking place in business schools around the country.

    I will not deny that the field of social work is inextricably linked with certain normative concepts such as “social justice” and “oppression”. However, there exists among social work students a wide range of opinions on the meaning of these concepts.

  3. PMC,

    I’m encouraged by what you say, but I note that most of the researchers you cite are from one institution, Washington University. That some faculty and some institutions are firmly dedicated to truth and excellence doesn’t mean that others aren’t in the grip of political commitments that stand in the way of those ideals.

    Consider, for example, the human diversity requirement at the University of Chicago, generally ranked among the top three social work schools in the country:

    “In keeping with the School’s mission and the commitment to train students for practice in a heterogeneous society, curriculum content on human diversity is integrated into nearly every course. In addition, students must take one or more courses from a list of approved first and second year offerings. The requirement in human diversity is intended to provide students with an analytical framework to understand human behavior and political processes in the environment of a diverse society to satisfy the following five goals:

    1. To promote respect for ethnic and cultural diversity as an integral part of social work’s commitment to preserve human dignity.
    2. To foster knowledge and understanding of individuals, families, and communities in their sociocultural and socioeconomic contexts.
    3. To analyze the ethnic and political issues related to the patterns, dynamics, and consequences of discrimination and oppression.
    4. To help students develop skills to promote individual and social change toward social and economic justice.
    5. To provide students a theoretical framework for integrating an approach toward diversity within their own particular area of expertise (e.g., clinical, community, organization, management, etc.).”

  4. thanks for this post. I am a liberal with an MSW that I received in 1998. one need not be conservative to be dismayed by the autocratic and anti-empirical indoctrination deployed in social work schools. we were required, at the risk of having our grades lowered if we declined, to read books about the patriarchal construction of the laws of physics! this is social work? additionally, one exuberant post modernist required us to buy all our textbooks from a radical leftist bookstore in town (this is at a state institution).

    Philo writes above that the NASW is an anachronism – perhaps it’s viewed that way by renegade doctoral students who practice closed door empirical studies (good on ’em!), but a look at current issues of the journal – required reading for grad students, and mandatory if you want to buy NASW’s malpractice insurance – reveals that graduate social work, as reflected in its primary academic publication, is deeply mired in post-structuralist delusion and though reform style interpersonal aggression.

  5. I believe political correctness is everywhere in our culture today. However, it’s orgins are largely unknown. At, a nook discussing this exact problem is previewed. It is very important that society is aware of it’s massive influence.

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  7. This is great post about school of social work. As mentioned in this post Social work is a field, perhaps, in which the line between advocacy and academic scholarship is subtle. That’s true and as I am student of social service education i am getting the knowledge about it. which very useful for me in the future.

    Thanks for this informative post !


  8. Seems like the term “Bubble” in relation to any asset class is this years equivalent to 2007’s term “a perfect storm”. It’s a great term for cocktail party conversation but it isn’t particularly useful in assessing an investment strategy. A bubble is only recognized in hindsight. People were predicting a real estate bubble as early as 2000. It wasn’t until 2008 that the prediction came true. Every asset class with returns that exceed the long term averages is potential bubble. If youre worried about a bond bubble you may wish to worry more about a gold bubble.

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