Social Work Education

Social Work Education


For several decades, social work education programs in American universities have been dominated by ideologues who have crafted curricula designed to indoctrinate their students in the politics and values of the left. As a National Association of Scholars (NAS) report puts it: “[T]hese programs see themselves as training not just case workers, but advocates for a particular set of policy-relevant perspectives in public debate.”

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the national accreditor of social work education programs in the United States, considers preparation for political advocacy an essential component of professional training. In its Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS), CSWE candidly states that one of the primary purposes of social work is “[t]o pursue policies, services, and resources through advocacy and social or political actions that promote social and economic justice” – terms that are essentially synonymous with “socialism” in the lexicon of the left. The EPAS stipulates further that graduates of social work education programs should be able to “understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and apply strategies of advocacy and social change that advance social and economic justice”; that these programs should “integrate social and economic justice content grounded in an understanding of distributive justice, human and civil rights, and the global interconnections of oppression”; and that the programs should “prepare students to advocate for nondiscriminatory social and economic systems” – i.e., socialism.

By and large, social work programs permit students little or no room to deviate from the foregoing positions; divergent opinions or worldviews are not only frowned upon but are often forbidden entirely. In numerous cases, students who have failed to advocate the correct positions have had their grades lowered or have been warned that they might not receive their diplomas. Indeed, not only must social work students publicly affirm CSWE’s ideological and political positions, but they must engage in overt advocacy in pursuit of those positions. As the NAS observes:

“An instructor who requires that students publicly endorse his pet wealth-distribution scheme, or his favorite race-preference policies, can … find support in CSWE guidelines. Even more than that, he could actually argue that his duty demands he require his students learn to ‘apply strategies of advocacy and social change that advance social and economic justice,’ because the accreditation of his program depends upon it.”

Like the CSWE’s accreditation guidelines, the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Code of Ethics mandates that students conform to its ideological orthodoxy and engage in political advocacy activities directed at policy and legislative change. The Code states, for example, that:

  • “Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice, community organizing, supervision, consultation, administration, advocacy, social and political action, policy development and implementation, education, and research and evaluation.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.”

The vast majority of social work programs nationwide will not permit students to graduate unless they explicitly endorse the NASW Code of Ethics.

Reinforcing the goals of the CSWE’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards and the NASW’s Code of Ethics are the mission statements of virtually all social work schools in the U.S., which are replete with terms that the NAS has described as “shibboleths of progressive ideology.” These include such terms as “social justice,” “oppression,” “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” “social change,” and “advocacy.”

Course descriptions, too, are filled with this type of terminology. For example, an Arizona State University (ASU) course titled Diversity and Oppression in a Social Work Context explores “oppression based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability status.” Another ASU course, Social Policy and Services, encourages students to “identify the impact of institutionalized forms of oppression,” and to “analyze how racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other forms of societal oppression impact the policy arena.”

At UCLA, a Cross-Cultural Awareness class features lectures on “White Privilege” and “the experience of oppression and discrimination and the implications for one’s professional role with regard to advocacy, social policy, and social change.” A University of Central Florida course titled Generalist Practice in Social Work seeks “to advance social justice 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.”

At the University of Michigan (UM), Introduction to Social Welfare Policy and Services teaches students to “identify strengths and weaknesses in the current social welfare system with respect to multiculturalism and diversity, social justice and social change, [and] behavioral and social science theory.” Another UM course, Organizing for Social and Political Action, analyzes “different approaches to bringing people together for collective action, building organizational capacity, and generating power in the community.” Particular emphasis is placed on “challenging oppressive structures,” “conducting community campaigns,” and “organizing people for social and political action” – especially “oppressed and disadvantaged … communities of color, women, LGBT populations, and other under-represented groups in U.S. society.”

The radicalism of social-work education programs was reflected with particular clarity in 2013, when former Weather Underground radical Kathy Boudin — who spent 22 years in prison for the role she played in a 1981 armored-car robbery that killed two police officers and a Brinks guard — was given a prestigious adjunct professorship at Columbia University’s School of Social Work.

Major resource: “The Scandal of Social Work Education,” by Barry Latzer, National Association of Scholars (September 11, 2007).

Additional Resources:

The Scandal of Social Work Education
By Barry Latzer (National Association of Scholars)
September 11, 2007

A Conservative Social Worker! (Is That Even Possible?)
By Judith Acosta
February 4, 2017

Indoctrination in the Ivory Tower
By George Will
October 14, 2007

Critique of the Received Definition of Social Work
By Ray Woodcock
July 11, 2010

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