Social work / Page 11
Is social work a profession ? / 11
The easy impatient sweep of progressive recommendation, characteristic of even the best progressive journalism, is one thing; the working out of a practical problem is quite another. I know of nothing more difficult than to take hold of a definite situation in sanitation or education and to make it better. Nor is it only or in some cases mainly the iniquity and perversity of men that are at fault; our impatience may occasionally be unjust, if it is due to any such view. The problems are in themselves intricate; our resources are inadequate; our powers, especially in dealing with others, are relatively slight and work slowly. In the sense in which we are now speaking, Goethe's saying may be reversed: to think is easy, to do is hard. I have no desire to discourage social workers; still less do I want to bring aid or comfort to the enemy. I do not want to diminish the vigor of any attack that can be made upon poverty, ignorance, disease, selfishness; but for the moment I am, ignoring all else, looking at the method of the social worker from the merely professional standpoint. Now when social work becomes thoroughly professional in character and scientific in method, it will be perceived that vigor is not synonymous with intelligence. Moreover, vigor cannot succeed without intelligence. The battles that social work wages will not be won by phrases which too often serve as a substitute for experience and knowledge, but by trench, warfare carried on by men and women who have learned every inch of the ground over which they must fight. I spoke a moment ago of journalism. I would not be understood as discrediting effective and able journalistic work. Its limitations however are obvious, and by none are they more acutely felt than by some of those who are compelled by the necessities of the case to labor within them. What I mean to point out here is this: that a profession needs in these days a form of expression and record that is scientific rather than journalistic in character. The newspapers, the weekly and monthly periodicals, more or less serve social work as far as journalistic publicity is concerned. Now while it is doubtless still advisable to concentrate this material in journals expressly devoted to social work for news-propaganda and agitation, it is important to remember that we do not thus rise above the journalistic to the scientific or professional level. A profession must find a dignified and critical means of expressing itself in the form of a periodical which shall describe in careful terms whatever work is in progress; and it must from time to time register its more impressive performances in a literature of growing solidity and variety. To some extent the evolution of social work towards the professional status can be measured by the quality of publication put forth in its name. I cannot pretend to such familiarity with the literature of social work as to warrant me in passing an opinion as to how far its periodical or its book literature is impressive, scientific, or professional in quality; but I believe the point is one which might be profitably considered by those who wish social work to be taken as seriously as medicine or engineering. At the moment, therefore, it may be -observe that I am not endeavoring to be very positive - it may be that social work will gain if for the time being it becomes uncomfortably conscious that it is not a profession in the sense in which medicine and engineering are professions; that if medicine and engineering have cause to proceed with critical care, social work has even more. The father of the late President Oilman was once asked whether his son Daniel had "chosen his profession". "I don't know," he replied, "Daniel is always working rather than professing." But after all, what matters most is professional spirit. All activities may be prosecuted in the genuine professional spirit. In so far as accepted professions are prosecuted at a mercenary or selfish level, law and medicine are ethically no better than trades. In so far as trades are honestly carried on, they tend to rise towards the professional level. Social work appeals strongly to the humanitarian and spiritual element. It holds out no inducement to the worldly, - neither comfort, glory, nor money. The unselfish devotion of those who have chosen to give themselves to making the world a fitter place to live in can fill social work with the professional spirit and thus to some extent lift it above all the distinctions which I have been at such pains to make. In the long run, the first, main and indispensable criterion of a profession will be the possession of professional spirit, and that test social work may, if it will, fully satisfy.