Civic Engagement and Social Action in Social Work Education
This banded dissertation comprises three scholarly products that address the importance of civic engagement and social action in social work education. Throughout the banded dissertation, the conceptual lens of critical social theory, which presupposes that education is fundamental to democracy, provides a framework in which to consider social work educators’ responsibility to effectively prepare students to engage in a broad range of civic activities, including social action, in order to address crucial social problems.
The first product, an exploratory historical research study, provides historical context with an examination of the role of social work in a democratic society from the perspective of Marion Hathway, a prominent social work educator, scholar and activist during the 1940s. Hathway’s arguments that social action is a part of all social work practice and that social work educators have a responsibility to prepare students for participation in social movements continue to resonate today.
In the second product, a conceptual paper, the author considers the ways in which her own experiences as an observing participant in environmental justice activism – including an arrest for civil disobedience – have impacted her teaching. Potential pedagogical benefits that can result from social work educators’ collaboration with grassroots activists are presented, such as the ongoing development of practice wisdom, the value of providing activist role models, and the creation of pathways for students’ experiential learning. The third product of this banded dissertation is an overview of a peer-reviewed workshop presented at the annual conference of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD) in 2017. In this workshop, the author discussed practical lessons learned as an activist, and the challenges and rewards associated with inviting students to observe and participate in environmental justice activism. Resources to create a toolbox for activism strategies and tactics were also provided.
Civic engagement has long been recognized as a fundamental responsibility of the social work profession. By serving as activist role models, and providing experiential opportunities to learn how to effectively engage in a broad range of civic activities, including social action, social work educators can engage, inspire and empower students in order to prepare them for the level of civic participation that will be necessary to advance human rights, social, economic and environmental justice.