Business-as-Usual Bureaucrats Picnic with "I-Despise-America" Ideologues

Peter Wood

When we released our study, The Scandal of Social Work Education, last September, we sent it to state licensing boards that examine and certify prospective social workers. Forty-eight states (Idaho and New York are the exceptions) require candidates to present Master of Social Work (MSW) degrees from programs approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Our complaint is that the CSWE imposes ideological litmus tests on the schools. The schools obey CSWE (often enthusiastically) by requiring students to commit themselves to a particular and extremely hostile view of American society. 

CSWE, for example, requires schools of social work education programs to teach “the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and apply strategies of advocacy and social change that advance social and economic justice,” and to “integrate social and economic justice content grounded in an understanding of distributive justice, human and civil rights, and the global interconnections of oppression.” Under CSWE rules, schools of social work must also make sure their programs “provide content related to implementing strategies to combat discrimination, oppression, and economic deprivation and to promote social and economic justice,” and “prepare students to advocate for nondiscriminatory social and economic systems.”

These “standards” are a far cry from expecting schools of social work to teach their students how to be competent providers of social services who know the relevant laws and the available resources. Instead of training social workers to do social work, these schools, under CSWE prodding, are training social workers to be political activists. 

Maybe the world needs more political activists, but we think there is something wrong when a whole profession that serves one long-established and legitimate purpose is transformed into a body advocating political views. Moreover, as we documented in our study, students who resist CSWE’s political dogma have received rough treatment in their social work programs. Some of have been dismissed without their degrees merely for dissenting. At least one successfully sued her university, and other suits are pending. 

The evidence is ample that CSWE has abandoned any role of legitimate gatekeeper for social work programs. Instead of upholding professional standards, it has become an enforcer of ideological conformity. 

And yet in 48 states, the state bureaucracy goes on pretending that CSWE is still a legitimate gatekeeper. Amazingly, CSWE accreditation is required by these states as evidence that a would-be social worker is professionally competent. It wouldn’t be too far off base to claim that if CSWE accreditation proves anything at all, it’s that a student has been exposed to systematic propaganda about why American society is no good and needs to be radically transformed. 

We want to emphasize that NAS is not attempting to limit free speech or the free examination of ideas. Arguments about the “oppressive” nature of American society should be heard and weighed on their merits. But these are political arguments, and by their very nature belong in the political arena. They are not the core knowledge of an academic discipline or the proper substance of professional training. The government has no business surreptitiously making adherence to a political dogma or advocacy of its main ideas the basis of a professional license. 

But that is exactly what 48 states do when they require candidates for state social work licenses to have degrees from CSWE-accredited schools. 

Let’s weigh a counter-argument. Clearly most social workers do not hate America. Most seem to brush aside most of the extremist rhetoric of their social work professors and eagerly apply themselves to learning how to do their jobs well. If this is true, why should we worry about CSWE accreditation? No one is harmed, right? 

Wrong. For one thing, CSWE accreditation standards are cited by schools as they mistreat, stigmatize, and dismiss the few students who dare to actively resist ideological conformity. We’ve found that religiously observant students are especially vulnerable. A student who refuses on religious grounds to advocate gay marriage or gay adoption, for example, may be forced out of a program. In another case, a straight-A student was dismissed from his program for advising a Catholic client to participate in a Catholic grief-counseling program. CSWE accreditation, in effect, weeds out a whole class of highly-motivated would-be social workers whose views don’t match the prevailing political orthodoxy.   There is no suggestion in these cases that the students would be unable or unwilling to do their jobs in a professional way. The problem is simply that they hold views regarded as unacceptable by the people who have come to dominate this field. 

For another thing, the clients served by social workers are shortchanged when they end up with graduates of schools of social work who have spent a large part of their time learning how to be community activists rather than competent social workers. A competent social worker doesn’t respond to a client who needs housing, medical care, food, transportation, protection from an abusive relationship, or other ill with the one-size-fits-all idea that “we have to change the system.” The social worker needs to understand how and when to intervene in a particular life, rather than just how to mount a community protest. The biggest victims of CSWE accreditation are the people who need social services and end up with social theorists.

These were our thoughts when we wrote to the state licensing boards. We sent our report and a cover letter, in which we noted that “by designating CSWE as sole accreditor of your state’s social work programs, your board necessarily imposes its political and religious tests on anyone seeking licensure as a social worker, very likely conflicting with the with the First Amendment Rights” of students adhering to different political or religiously-based orientations. We argued further that CSWE should be required to modify its politicized standards or relinquish its exclusive accreditation role, in view of the constitutionally unsustainable policies currently in effect. 

The Results

In response, we received a total of six letters and two phone calls. The best of these came from New York’s State Board for Social Work, which we included in the original mailing.  New York’s executive secretary provided a detailed description of its licensing criteria including, to our surprise, the revelation that social work degree programs in the state need not be accredited by CSWE. 

A somewhat similar letter came from the Director of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, who informed us that his office was “certainly open to a review of CSWE,” and added that our study was slated for discussion by the Association of Social Work Boards at a national meeting in November. A follow-up telephone conversation with an ASWB staffer confirmed that this was indeed the case. 

However, this apparently unwitting revelation, which we rather routinely posted on this page, touched off a frantic opera buffa response from ASWB, and provided our office with an entire week’s worth of high comedy. The other four letters were simply terse, two-sentence acknowledgements thanking us for our interest, etc.

Oklahoma’s Board of Licensed Social Workers also assured us that CSWE’s accreditation monopoly “has not created a hardship for the candidates, as the majority of higher education programs are CSWE accredited.” Yes, that is what it says. At least, however, these six boards actually responded to our inquiry, leaving forty-two publicly-accountable, public agencies which simply ignored it altogether. On the other hand we have not, to date, received a single counter-argument, criticism or challenge of any kind to the case presented in our survey or the documentation on which it rests, which strikes us as a rather telling silence. 

We’ve waited long enough and are preparing a new round of letters. We also hope to hear from more would-be social workers who have suffered because of the collusive relationships between CSWE, state boards, and schools of social work. 

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