Educating Social Workers for Social Justice Practice: A Field Education Model

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Academic social work has an obligation to educate students in matters of social and economic justice. This obligation is both traditional to the profession (Ehrenreich, 1985; Specht and Courtney, 1994), and acute in the present period of growing national and global resource disparities. Effective social justice education requires two complementary components – conceptual knowledge in the form of well-designed coursework, and direct experience in the form of supervised field education in an appropriate setting (Goldstein, 2001). The latter component, challenging to provide, is generally the more commonly neglected. The paper describes field experiences offered to social work students by the Family Network Partnership (FNP), a community based youth and family service agency operated by the School of Social Work in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA. Students are immersed in a community context of poverty, high rates of crime, family disruption and poor housing stock, minimal public services such as transportation, and a general paucity of resources. Justice education in this context is guided by four principles – resource provision; rights education and activism; reconciliation of structural conflicts; and responsibility for self-empowerment. The student learning process itself is conceptualized as a three stage “pedagogy of engagement” adapted from Kolb’s (1984) framework of experiential learning – (1) revelation and dissonance, (2) integration and linkage, (3) consciousness and commitment. The outcome of the learning process is, ideally, a professional identity as “social work citizen,” i.e. a professional whose work bears an inherent and irreducible reference to social and economic justice concerns in the “public world” (Fisher and Karger, 1997).


Keywords: Social Work, Social Justice Education, Field Education
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Educating Social Workers for Social Justice Practice


Dr. Michael Forster

Director and Professor, School of Social Work, University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA

Michael Forster is a professor of social work and currently the director of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he has been since 1994. He is co-founder and director of the Family Network Partnership, a community-based juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention agency in Hattiesburg, Mississippi affiliated with the School of Social Work. Before joining the USM faculty, Dr. Forster served for fourteen years as a direct service social worker, supervisor and administrator in Chicago child welfare organizations. His master’s degree in social work is from the University of Illinois at Chicago, home of Hull House, the birthplace of the “settlement house” movement in American social work.

Ref: L08P0208