Social Work Researchers Have a Responsibility to Educate the Public

Jun 30, 2011

A recent editorial in Social Work Research urges social work researchers to more actively aid resistance to media bias and polemical attacks. Matthew O. Howard cites recent public attacks by Glen Beck on Francis Fox Piven, and the subsequent threats on her life by some of Beck’s listeners. Piven herself analyzed the social situation that gives rise to such irrational demagoguery, and maintains that it results from the difficulty the public have in understanding the complexities of legislative and governmental policies. Piven calls the gap between legislative complexity and public comprehension the “blank space in the democratic process.”

Howard urges social work researchers to help “reduce the blank space” in US democracy. He suggests a two-prong approach:

  1. Social work researchers can rigorously analyze proposed policies, and translate them into easily grasped language; the translation of the policies and the communication of the analysis can be facilitated by the fostering of public intellectuals within social science fields
  1. Social work organizations could jointly develop strategies to combat the ‘personal invective, ad hominem attacks, policy distortions, and other malign activities of right-wing extremists,’ using radio, the internet, and television.

Howard calls for social scientists and social work researchers to enter the public arena and challenge the misinformation spread by demagogues. Doing so is part of the service to disenfranchised populations and individuals.

Other highlights from recent NASW journals include:

Janet M. Liechty notes that one-third of the adult US population lacks the health literacy sufficient to manage their own health care, and calls on social workers to incorporate health literacy tools and concepts into their practices with clients (Health and Social Work, May 2011)

Sara Sanders and Peggy Swails analyze how hospice social workers find meaning in working with cognitively impaired individuals experiencing late-stage and end-of-life dementia. They note that while this is a growing need in the US, few social workers express an interest in pursuing a career in this area. (Social Work, May 2011)

Joelle D. Powers, et al., call for the building of a database of evidence-based best practices to be used by school social workers as an aid to their social work practice in the school environment. (Children and Schools, April 2011)

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