Survey Associates.

Survey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) online

. (page 103 of 109)
Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesSurvey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) → online text (page 103 of 109)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Our very approach to our day's work is different. See the
city social worker breakfast on coffee and toast, as often as
not at the corner drugstore, then push her way into a
crowded bus or street car lucky if she can grab a strap be-
fore someone else gets it. Watch the rural worker, on the
other hand, as she breakfasts on liberal country fare we
still like our hotcakes and sausages and do not hold very
much with the notions of "continental breakfast" before
she pushes off down the road in her old jalopy.

When the urban worker reaches her office she, likely as
not, must wind through a maze of windowless partitions,
until she comes to the stall devoted to the segment of social
service which is her job. Here she concentrates on the spe-
cific difficulties of the clients that fall within her segment,
somewhat as a scientist scrutinizes the specimen under his
microscope. She will not, it is true, think of her client apart
from his family and possibly his setting, but her concern
seldom goes beyond that. The problems of community inter-
pretation and cooperation, and of administration of policies
and procedures are dealt with largely by executives located
in other stalls remote from the scene of her day-to-day job.
She has little to do actually with the framework within
which she functions.

The rural social worker has no segments in her job. She
must be administrator, community interpreter and organ-
izer, as well as case worker for a multiplicity of social ser-
vices. As a matter of fact, rural workers say they have so
many things to do that by the time they have figured out
how to do them, they have no time left to analyze what
they are doing. In other words, they say, they have so much
to think about that there is seldom time to think what they
are thinking about!

That is one of the reasons, I believe, why rural social
workers, out on the firing line of challenging, pioneer jobs,
hesitate to contribute to formal discussions of social work
to the extent of their practical knowledge and ability. An-
alyses of theory, piece by piece, bit by bit, leave us pretty
cold. "So what?" we ask ourselves, as we turn back to figur-
ing out how to get old man so-and-so to patch his roof be-
fore winter meantime taking no part in the conversation.
Another plausible reason why we have been backward in
putting ourselves forward is, I believe, the growing empha-
sis on the importance of professional study at a school of
social work. Now any rural social worker worth her salt
would like nothing better than to get away for a year or
two of study, but given the circumstances of her life and

the exigencies of her job she might as well reach for the
moon. Just the same, the constant hammering on the sine
qua non of formal professional education does get under
our skin and often leads us to hold back in the presence of
our presumable betters.

No school or college claims to accomplish the entire edu-
cation of any individual student, and no school of social
work claims to furnish the complete training of a social
worker. The best that any school can do is to equip a work-
er with tools which are not ends in themselves, but useful
only as they serve the situations to which they are applied.
Delicately wrought tools wrongly applied are sometimes
much less useful than "homemade" ones. The young worker
whose psychiatric conjectures raised a fine lather of possi-
bilities as to why Mellie Griffiths was always too early or
too late for appointments failed to discover the simple fact
that Mellie had no clock.

In the rapidly changing world of social work, formal
professional education and this is not to belittle it can-
not be geared to equip all social workers with all the knowl-
edge and techniques needed to administer the broadening
area of social services in varying situations. A large part of
the education of social workers today, even those coming
out of the professional schools, must and does take place on
the job.

To make this education on the job valuable both to work-
er and work, we rural workers must shed our inferiority
over lack of formal training and turn our minds to the
meaning of all that we experience as we go along. Only
thus will we acquire the judgment and ability to decide and
act in terms of situations, in short to shape our tools to our

WHEN a worker thinks through to the reasons for suc-
cess or failure in a situation, she begins to shape her
tools. I recall a worker in our county who, after many suc-
cessful meetings with a community council, was suddenly
faced with a failure. The people were quiet; discussion
lagged; there was none of the usual cheerful, hearty give
and take. Puzzled, she suddenly realized that all former
meetings had been held in the school assembly room, while
this one was in the church. The people were not accus-
tomed to participating in what went on in church and the
worker had not been able to break through this condition-
ing. Thereafter, you may be sure that in arranging a meet-
ing she considered the possible effect of environment
which is a good group work tool for any social worker's kit.
A rural social worker who was unable to get the interest
of his community group told me how he finally figured out
the reason, for his failure. He knew all about the value of
cooperation, and the necessity of carrying the community
and the county commissioners with him, but his most in-
gratiating efforts fell flat. It was only as he thought
through his failure that he realized he had been trying to
carry the group along in his way, instead of facilitating th



group thinking from which and only from which could
come true group decisions. He was able to see that there
could be no sense of real participation in any group that
merely followed his or any one person's ideas. Thus from
studying through his failure, this worker arrived at sound
conclusions as to the value of group interaction and its prod-
uct, creative thinking.

In addition to critical analyses of experience and per-
formance, we rural workers need to be critical of reading
material. All too frequently we accept the printed page as a
guarantee of infallibility. When we find that our experience
does not coincide with the professional text, we are apt to
assume that we are at fault. We need to have confidence in
the value of our own experience, and to have the courage
to test social theories critically in the light of it.

A STUDY group of rural workers found that the meth-
od of having reports on books brought in by individual
members was unsatisfactory. The members listened to the
reports but did not seem to reflect on them, or to relate the
content to their own experience. As an experiment each
member purchased a copy of the same book, so that it could
be studied critically page by page. They took six months to
read and discuss one book on interviewing, but every meet-
ing was an exciting event with every statement of the
author analyzed and sometimes challenged, and every the-
ory examined in the light of experience. New theories were
tested in practice, and reports made on the results. I suspect
that few social work texts ever have been analyzed and
tested more rigorously by students and practitioners. I al-
ways have wished that the authors of that particular book
might have sat in at the dissection. It would have been by
way of education to them, as it was to the study group.

In spite of many limitations in the way of formal educa-
tional resources, rural social workers have rich opportuni-
ties to learn. There is something so real and simple, and
yet so wise, about rural people that every contact with them
is instructive yes, even in such a matter as courtesy. A ru-
ral worker conferring with a county commissioner noticed
a blackened pipe on the floor beside his chair. She called
attention to it, thinking he had dropped it. "Let it lay,
Ala'm," he said, "I'm sore tempted to smoke if it's in my
hand, and I don't want to do you the dishonor of smoking
in your presence."

Sage counsel and good technique may be gained from cli-
ents who have had to think through their own situations
for many years in the face of almost insurmountable diffi-
culties. At a meeting of social workers, which had been an-
nounced in the local papers, a client appeared a tall, rug-
ged, weather-beaten, old ranger. "Ladies," he said, "pardon
me, but I heard about this meetin' where you're thinkin'
what to do for us folks on relief. It come to my mind that
the best way you folks could help us is to get us together,
and then help us to figger through for ourselves."

Aware of rural people's sensitivity to artificiality and
unneighborliness, the rural worker easily learns to watch
his own "little ways." The man from the city who hung
a "Do Not Disturb" sign on his office door for several hours
every day, in order to work uninterruptedly, soon found
himself the object of a buzz of gossip and learned to do
his work with all doors and even windows wide open. The
district worker who installed a buzzer signal system in his
office, discontinued it when he saw that it affronted the
democratic sensitivities of his helpers.

Because of the multiplicity and complexity of their duties,
rural social workers learn to share and delegate responsi-
bility. In order to survive in their jobs, they must have the
capacity participation of their staffs. Take the matter of
office management, for example. A county director found
herself so swamped with office detail that she was able
to do little else. Her three office assistants, local highschool
girls, showed small interest and less responsibility in their
work. But when the director put the office problems before
them as a group responsibility and invited each girl to con-
tribute to their solution, the young workers responded. In
a short time the office management required little more than
general supervision from the director.

Because rural life is elemental, the rural worker learns
to think in terms of pretty basic values. There is the matter
of local leadership, for example. A city worker may go
through life believing that leadership rests with certain
traditional "key" people; prominent business men, news-
paper "philanthropists," big contributors, scions of "old
families," high officials, and so on. Nothing can happen
without those certain people, she holds, while at the same
time admitting that very often not much happens with them.
In rural parts, however, leadership never is static. Of course,
education and position carry prestige and the cultural pat-
tern of a particular group often has weight. But the reac-
tions of the led are clearly in evidence in rural communi-
ties and often create a shift in leadership values to which
the social worker must be alert if she is to capitalize them.

When a state supervisor asked a county worker to call
a meeting of the "key" people in the community to discuss
certain policies, the rural worker asked, "Key to what?"
The banker is an important person and no doubt holds the
"key" to a lot of farm mortgages, but the farmers them-
selves are the important "key" to their own problems. The
president of the Ladies Aid Society in the county seat is not
a "key" to what the farmers' wives think and feel.

AS her education on the job progresses the rural social
worker discovers that the artistry of leadership lies in
ability to let initiative unfold in a group, within the de-
mands of the situation. She may call a meeting and present
problems, but she will not expect dominant personalities to
push her program, nor gain objectives for her. She will let
leadership, whether it be of ideas, mores, individuals or
groups, arise naturally in the situation, within the self-deter-
mined objectives of the group itself. If she furnishes any
personal leadership, it will be in the form of a contribu-
tion from her experience and understanding.

We rural social workers have to get our social work edu-
cation more or less on the run, out of the job itself, by re-
flection on its whats and whys, and by continuous critical
examination of our own functioning in relation to the feel-
ings and attitudes of clients, co-workers and community.
We do not have to go away to school to get it ; it is right
under our noses from morning till night. In our daily ex-
perience is the stuff of real education, with the key to its
acquisition our own capacity to know it when we see it, and
to take it, even on the run.

This is the third of a series of articles by Miss Strode on
"the processes and problems of social mark where the county
is the unit of service and practice runs out over the back roads
to the villages and remote farms." Coming next month: Get-
ting Along With the Bosses.



Porter Lee, Social Work Philosopher


THE word that Porter R. Lee is to
lay down the task he has carried,
since 1917, of guiding the New
York School of Social Work is sorry
news indeed; but mitigated for his pro-
fessional friends by the knowledge that
retirement, for PRL, will not mean in-
activity. It is a fair prediction that re-
quests for counsel, study and expert ad-
vice will make as many inroads on his
new leisure as he is able to permit.

Porter Lee was twenty-four, just out
of Cornell, when in 1903 he attended the
New York Summer School of Philan-
thropy, which offered the only training
for social work then available in the
United States. Nine years later, when
the school had become the New York
School of Social Work directed by Ed-
ward T. Devine, he returned as instruc-
tor in social case work, coming from
what is now the Family Society of Phila-
delphia, where he had succeeded Mary E.
Richmond as general secretary. Mean-
time, he had been with the Buffalo Char-
ity Organization Society, under the in-
fluence of its general secretary, Frederick
Almy, an early liberal among social

vine as director of the school. Since then,
he and one other Edith Abbott of Chi-
cago stand out as the two people who
have most influenced training for social
work. Under Mr. Lee's direction, annual
attendance at the New York School has
grown in round numbers from 400 to
1500. Its graduates have pursued their
profession in every state of the union and
in many foreign countries. What it has
meant to work under his direction is ex-
pressed in a passage from a letter sent to
him by members of the faculty of the
school :

"As our supervising officer you have
been thoughtful and generous; as our
leader in the discharge of our profes-
sional duties you have encouraged us by
your imaginative insight; you have won
our gratitude by your respect for our
personal and professional independence;
and we recognize with appreciation the
wisdom and scholarship that have en-
abled you to make so fine a contribution
to the field of education in social work.

". . . By your leadership and by your
personality you have deserved and you
possess our respect, our devotion and our
affection. Your standing with us is as
unique as it is solid and enduring."

But Mr. Lee's influence has not ended
with his students and fellow-teachers.
The profession of social work in general
has looked to him for thoughtful clarifi-


Porter Lee

cation of its problems and ideas. Out of
his many writings, space permits comment
only on two, both of which have power-
fully affected social work thinking. The
Milford Conference report, "Social Case
Work: Generic and Specific," which ap-
peared in 1929, while the product of joint
thinking, was distilled and drafted into
its final form by Mr. Lee. In stressing
the essential oneness of social case work,
under varying auspices and with varying
clientele, the report marked a great for-
ward step in professional integration.

During that same year, 1929, Mr. Lee,
as president of the National Conference
of Social Work, delivered at San Fran-
cisco an address, "Social Work: Cause
and Function," which has become another
benchmark in social work thinking. Social
work, he said, had originated in reform
movements, the early impetus of which
soon evaporated unless the area gained
was organized in orderly fashion, to be
carried on as the continuing function of
voluntary or governmental agencies. "The
emblazoned banner and the shibboleth
for the cause, the program and the man-
ual for the function ; devoted sacrifice
and the flaming spirit for the cause, fidel-
ity, standards, and methods for the func-
tion ; an embattled host for the cause,
an efficient personnel for the function."


wisdom, gives the new, technically-trained
social worker his charter and his justifi-
cation. Since Mr. Lee's words were
spoken, the entire face of social work
has changed, yet nothing in the paper is
outdated or calls for revision. Validity
in the face of undreamed-of change marks
the conclusions of a really great scientist
or philosopher.

During the twenty years that Mr. Lee
has served as director of the school, he
has been called upon for numerous and

important additional services. During
1921-24, for example, he directed two
studies of national agencies for the Na-
tional Information Bureau. In 1930 he was
called upon to represent the profession on
the President's Emergency Committee
for Employment. It was while prosecut-
ing a study of social work in Australia
and New Zealand for the Carnegie Cor-
poration in 1936 that he was overcome by
illness (which he had hoped by the trip
to avoid), the effects of which now force
him to curtail his activities.

During Mr. Lee's first long illness,
some ten years back, a year's rest from
administrative work was enjoined by his
doctors. What to do with all that time?
PRL decided he must develop a hobby,
and methodically set about choosing one.
It must be remote from social work; it
must give opportunity for creative effort;
it must have a background in science; it
must possess a literature. The avocation
which met these tests was, he decided,
cooking; and he proceeded to become dur-
ing that year and afterward, one of the
country's most skilled amateur cooks ; a
connoisseur of foreign cuisines, and in-
ventor of new dishes. Perhaps he can now
complete his cookbook which has been in
preparation for many years. Certainly he
now can enjoy his garden where his zest
for creative experiment has made him an
amateur plant-breeder.


tence, and balance of mind, Porter Lee
has dominated physical weaknesses and
escaped "invalid psychology." This nega-
tive statement gives, however, no clear
picture of the man of warm sympathies,
genial humor, and that "sweet reason-
ableness," which has solved so many
snarls of conflicting personalities and de-
sires. His gift for working with people
has been exemplified not only in his pro-
fessional contacts but also in his home
life, and in the upbringing of his four fine
children. Everywhere, he brings out the
best in other people.

Friends who have heard him give char-
acter impersonations say that a great
comedian was lost to the stage when
Porter entered social work. His skill as
a raconteur always produces the apt illu-
stration, and his easy informality of ad-
dress puts him in quick rapport equally
with large audiences and with small

We began with Porter Lee the educa-
tor and philosopher, and with the quali-
ties which will bring him lasting reputa-
tion and honor; but we end with Porter
Lee the highly-civilized human being, and
with the attributes which endear him to
his hosts of friends and fellow workers.


Here in Washington

By The Survey's

WITH several months of employment gains behind and with prospects for
further improvement ahead, many persons, even here in Washington,
assume that relief loads now can decrease rapidly. A little sober reflection
indicates the over-rosiness of this view. Approximately a million names were
added to industrial and agricultural payrolls between June and September, but
there are still more than eleven million unemployed. Most of the recently reem-
ployed have not come from relief rolls ; the "last fired, first hired" policy contin-
ues to hold in industry and many of those laid off during the past several months
have been able to tide over without re-

course to relief. Recent increases in re-
lief have been due largely to the exhaus-
tion of resources of workers laid off
earlier in the year, and to the usual sea-
sonal increases in need. These factors
will continue to operate for months to
come; the seasonal peak in relief usually
does not arrive until February or March.
Furthermore, it is reliably estimated that
there are a million employable families in
the country who are in need of relief but
who are not getting it because of inade-
quate local relief and WPA funds.

In September nearly 6.9 million house-
holds with 21.9 million persons received
relief or emergency work. The combined
load has risen steadily since September,
but is still below the all-time peak of 7.9
million households, including 27.7 million
persons, reached early in 1934 during
CWA days.

The hope that relief ever again will
shrink to the proportions of pre-depres-
sion years seems unrealistic in the light
of previous history. Recent studies show
that the relief burden has been growing
steadily as far back as reliable figures are
available. For example, figures for six-
teen large cities which have compiled
careful records show that relief expendi-
tures in 1929 were 1000 percent higher
than they had been in 1910, in spite of
the prosperity of the war and post-war

MS: At the present time railroad work-
ers are protected under two social insur-
ance systems, unemployment and old age,
both administered on a national basis and
both relatively new strands in our fabric
of social services. Yet these workers do
not have the protection of the social in-
surance device of workmen's compensa-
tion which has existed in many of the
states for twenty-five years or more. The
Employers' Liability Act of 1908, the
only legislation covering occupational ac-
cidents in the railroad industry, is badly
outmoded and because of its inadequate
and uncertain coverage and substantive
defects often results in a complete denial
of justice

For a long time many railroad workers
were not in favor of workmen's compen-
sation because they hoped for better


awards through jury cases. These hopes
were derived from the spectacular dam-
ages awarded in a few isolated cases
which obscured the many cases in which
recoveries were small or non-existent. It
now is apparent to them that the com-
pensation system is a more adequate meth-
od for dealing with occupational acci-
dents. During several past sessions of
Congress, Senator Wagner of New York
has sponsored a bill establishing such a
system for the railroad industry. It is ex-
pected that the bill will be introduced
again at the coming session and that it
will receive serious attention.

pressure in the states is likely to center
around proposals for extending merit
rating plans which promise reductions in
tax rates as a reward for stabilized em-

Labor is interested in shortening the
waiting period; the establishment of mini-
mum benefits in some states and raising
them in others. There may be some ef-
forts to soften the disqualification pro-
visions, especially those relative to labor
disputes and voluntarily leaving work.
Labor is especially interested in proposals
to simplify state acts so that workers may
better understand their rights.

Payment of unemployment compensa-
tion benefits commences in two new states
in December and in eighteen other states
in January. The last two states to qual-
ify, Illinois and Montana, will start pay-
ing in July.

ceive most serious consideration long be-
fore they are introduced into Congress.
That was the case last session with a
bill to extend federal aid to the states
for parole, probation, and prisons which
meet federal standards. Although the
Budget Bureau finally turned thumbs
down on the plan it was strongly sup-
ported by state prison officials and the
American Prison Congress. The measure
probably will be reintroduced in amended
form to grant aid to states which im-
prove their probation and parole systems.
Work is progressing rapidly on new

Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesSurvey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) → online text (page 103 of 109)