Today I went on a “trek” (think field trip, but the version designed for college students who are being taught to practice their networking skills) with the Careers in Education Professions program to the School of Social Service Administration. While there is probably no more than a 1-2% chance (at most) of me deciding to either go into social work or attend the SSA, it was still a nice chance to meet new people with a fresh perspective on education.
In my opinion, the visit was probably a bit too much like one of the many college information sessions that I have no desire to repeat (though it seems like I’ll have to for graduate programs), but it was still an interesting experience. I enjoyed hearing about the mix of clinical and administrative focuses of the SSA student population. The most appealing aspect of the school is its fundamental (in some ways, even institutionalized) dedication to interdisciplinary study and discourse between individuals working in all types of social justice issues. While it is certainly overwhelming to think about all of the different actors, institutions, and bureaucracies that one must keep in mind when analyzing educational policy, it is nonetheless necessary, and incredibly stimulating intellectually.
One thought that the trek to the SSA made me think about is the danger that arises from stereotypes of social workers. Our host at the SSA spoke about the infamous, media-popularized stereotype of social workers, namely, an emotionless female bureaucrat holding a clipboard who comes into homes with the sole purpose of detaching children from their parents and destroying people’s lives. While I don’t think I would make a very good clinical social worker (and don’t plan to try), a few members of my family have backgrounds in social work and I have always had the utmost respect for them and their work. But this makes me somewhat of an exception. Social work as a profession faces a lot of distrust from society as a result of misguided media portrayals. Of course, there are always some members of any category who actually do fit the stereotype, but I want to believe that this is the minority of individuals in the case of social workers.
This leads me to wonder two things. First off, where do these stereotypes come from, and how are they perpetuated? I’m sure there’s a long history behind this particular stereotype, as is the case with most, along with a couple of not-so-great social workers who only made it worse. I’m inclined to believe that governmental bureaucracy also plays a huge role in perpetuating this infamy, even just by its severe lack of financial support encouraging social work as a profession valuable to society.
My second question: how much harm has the social worker stereotype caused? This is certainly a depressing train of thought to ride out, because I think it’s probable that many individuals and families who could have benefitted greatly from the help of social workers have not reached out for such help due to the societally supported assumption that social workers are vultures who aim to further hurt people who are already down on their luck. After visiting the SSA, at least I take some comfort in knowing that the future social workers being trained at the SSA will have the interdisciplinary abilities and knowledge of policy to fight the bureaucracy that aims to tarnish their reputation as important contributors to society.