Ashley Thorne

Several of us at NAS recently came across an angry blog called “Social Work Nazis.” Under the user name ‘Radi Grund,’ the site’s author has made it his mission to “create a media campaign to destroy the image of the NASW in the group mind of relevant publics and thus remove the NASW from its esteemed place in public policy formation.”

Surprised by the references to Hitler as the “Father of Social Work,” we paused for a look. After all, NAS has also taken issue with recent development in social work education—but we’ve called social work education a scandal, not a holocaust.

The blogger cites the stories of Bill Felkner, Emily Brooker, and Sandra Fuiten, all three of the personal case studies NAS included in our report The Scandal of Social Work Education.

Also in our report, we wrote about the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), an arbiter of professional ethics that requires students to conform to its prescribed ideologies. Nine out of the ten universities in our study had adopted the NASW Code of Ethics. Our primary quarrel is with NASW using its clout to compel students to agree with a one-sided slate of ideas. The Code of Ethics includes some illiberal views, with which we disagree. While we doubt that the profession of social work is doing anyone much good when it foregrounds radical ideological positions at the expense of its traditional role of serving populations in need,  we don’t dispute the right of a voluntary association to promote its views. The deeper problem is that NASW attempts to force its views on students, sometimes over the students’ explicit and principled objections. We urged the NASW to “cleanse its Code of Ethics of political/ideological mandates,” and wrote that unless it “makes these reforms, their guidelines should have no role in the governance of social work education.”

In this way, we called on American social work schools to vindicate academic freedom.

Yet Radi Grund, an Indian journalist, takes a stance against “social work Nazis” as if in a battle between good and evil. He claims that social work ideology is responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre, and he called the social work intervention at the Texas polygamist ranch a movement from thought control to “DEADLY FORCE.”  He sarcastically imagines this year’s NASW convention topics: How to Violate Student Civil Liberties; Just Say No to Christians; and We Hate Conservatives Don't We?

The blogosphere notoriously invites rhetorical excess.  Perhaps this explains Mr. Grund’s grudges.  But whatever his reasons for raising the decibel level, we at NAS deplore his stance.  NASW deserves strong criticism, but social workers are not Nazis and are not instigators of lawlessness. We draw attention to Mr. Grund’s blog because his blog draws on our work.  This may give some defenders of the social work status quo the false comfort of dismissing legitimate criticism as emanating from the fever swamps of the angry-culture. 

That would be a mistake. The NAS has approached the scandal of social work education in the spirit of patient reform. Our criticisms are built on the foundation of a year-long investigation using a rigorous survey method. We are calling on schools of social work and university administrators to uphold trusted standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and scholarly method.  

Perhaps it says something about how far amiss things have gone in social work that NASW has begun to attract its own gadflies. (Mr. Grund isn’t the only one.) Social work, having opened its own doors to intemperateness and fierce ideological attack is likely to provoke more and more in-kind payment.  This loss of equilibrium advantages no one—especially not the people social workers strive to serve. 

We can summon stronger language when need be, but the National Association of Scholars will leave the intemperate gadding to the self-appointed gadflies. Think of us more like a lightning bug, giving a bit of glow here and there as dusk settles.  

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