Social work / Page 4
Is social work a profession ? / 4
Espite differences of opinion about details, the members of a given profession are pretty well agreed as to the specific objects that the profession seeks to fulfill, and the specific kinds of skill that the practitioner of the profession must master in order to attain the object in question. On this basis, men arrive at an understanding as to the amount and quality of training, general and special, which should precede admission into the professional school; as to the content and length of the professional course. These formulations are meant to exclude from professions those incapable of pursuing them in a large, free, and responsible way; and to make sure that those potentially capable are so instructed as to get the fullest possible benefit from the training provided. A profession is a brotherhood, - almost, if the word could be purified of its invidious implications, a caste. Professional activities are so definite, so absorbing in interest, so rich in duties and responsibilities, that they completely engage their votaries. The social and personal lives of professional men and of their families thus tend to organize around a professional nucleus. A strong class consciousness soon develops. But though externally somewhat aristocratic in form, professions are, properly taken, highly democratic institutions. They do indeed tend to set up certain requirements for matriculation, so to speak; but democracy, I take it, means not the annihilation of distinctions, but rather the abrogation of gratuitous and arbitrary distinctions. If membership in a profession were conditioned on some qualification not essentially related to the activities involved—on birth or wealth or some other accident—professions could be fairly charged with being snobbish or aristocratic; but if qualifications are determined by the nature of the responsibility alone, and if membership depends solely on satisfying terms thus arrived at, then professions must be adjudged thoroughly democratic in essence. There is, of course, always danger that the interests of an organization may conflict with those of the body politic. Organizations of physicians, lawyers, and teachers may find the personal interests of the individuals of whom they are composed arrayed against those of society at large. On the whole, however, organized groups of this kind are, under democratic conditions, apt to be more responsive to public interest than are unorganized and isolated individuals. In any event, under the pressure of public opinion, professional groups have more and more tended to view themselves as organs contrived for the achievement of social ends rather than as bodies formed to stand together for the assertion of rights or the protection of interests and principles. I do not wish to be understood as saying that this development is as yet by any means complete. Such is far from being the case. Organizations of teachers, doctors, and lawyers are still apt to look out, first of all, for "number one". But as time goes on it may very well come to be a mark of professional character that the professional organization is explicitly and admittedly meant for the advancement of the common social interest through the professional organization. Devotion to well-doing is thus more and more likely to become an accepted mark of professional activity; and as this development proceeds, the pecuniary interest of the individual practitioner of a given profession is apt to yield gradually before an increasing realization of responsibility to a larger end.