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Doesn't a social worker visit families and write records?"

"Oh yes, of course. Mary says the difference is not in
what they do but in the way they do it. Like sending for
the doctor when the baby swallows a safety pin, instead of
letting the neighbor woman shake it by the heels."

"Does it matter as long as the safety pin comes up?"
rumbled the man from behind his newspaper.

Miss Bailey, hoping her ears didn't look the way they
felt, devoted herself to her salad like a cat to cream.

"But it doesn't always come up by heel-shaking," an-
swered the woman in blue. "Then you wish you'd sent for
the doctor. I'm for the idea of social workers being espe-
cially trained to do social work. I learned on my hospital
committee that just any old body shouldn't be turned loose
on people because they're poor and in trouble. But I get
all muddled over who is and who isn't. Here's this pro-
fessor and composer and what not speaking as social work-
ers, and here's Mary Martin actually doing the job and
denying that she is one. Does that add up ? Why would it
get her in bad at her office to be called a social worker?"

"I asked her that, but she wasn't very clear. Apparently
it would be violating some unwritten rule, like a college
freshman wearing a derby hat. It just isn't done."

"Of course it doesn't add up," the man came out from

behind his newspaper, "and the reason it doesn't is because
the social workers I mean the big shots, the leaders are
doing so much star gazing. I hear 'em speak around at
meetings. Nice fellas, full of their stuff. They want to make
this thing a profession through their special training schools
and that's all right by me but they haven't kept their
eye on the ball. They insist on especially educated and
trained workers; but their schools can't supply 'em, can't
turn 'em out fast enough. They've bitten off more than
they can chew, and they're as self-conscious about their
standards as a boy in his first long pants. The way I see
it the social workers have the standards and the Mary
Martins have the jobs."

The man retreated to his paper and the woman in blue
came back into the conversation.

"What about Mary? Will she have to keep on being
an aide forever? Can't she be promoted? What does she
have to do to get to be a social worker ?"

"We-ell, she says she might be promoted, but it isn't
likely the way things are now. And to be a social worker
she'd have to quit her job, which she can't afford to do,
and go back to school for goodness knows how long. Most
of the special schools of social work won't take anything
but college graduates. It seems pretty hard to me, but she
doesn't seem to think it's unreasonable. Says that no pro-
fession ever grew up without growing pains, and that the
doctors wouldn't be where they are if their leaders hadn't
dug in their heels and stood their ground for standards of
education and training. She says that the profession of social
work was growing up in a perfectly orderly way until the
depression and the relief business threw onto it a load it
wasn't strong enough to carry. She says that social work-
ers really don't consider themselves a mystic fraternity but
that unless they have principles and fight for "em, they'll
never get anywhere. Mary's an awfully reasonable little
thing. It's a pity she can't be a social worker she'd prob-
ably be a good one."

"Bet she is right now." The man came out from behind
his paper again, this time to stay. "You girls through your
Kaffee-klatsch ? We're coming to a station. Let's get out
and stretch our legs."

MISS BAILEY paid her check and made her way to her
own car. She didn't know who these people were;
she never would know. The things they had said were all
of a piece with other things she'd been hearing of late, some
of them thoughtful, some of them plain dumb, but all of
them indicating a confusion from which, she admitted a
little ruefully, she herself was not wholly free. Was it true
that this young earnest profession had bitten off more than
it could chew in insisting on trained workers which it could
not supply, on standards of performance which it could
not enforce? She told herself quickly that it hadn't tried
to do either of those impossible things, that it had recog-
nized its own limitations in numbers and in authority. Its
role had been that of protagonist for principles in the valid-
ity of which it believed with almost evangelical fervor. The
charge that its stand was motivated by self-interest, or by

M \Y 1938


inflated professional ego, didn't seem worth arguing about,
though a lot of people spent a lot of breath doing so. When
social workers asserted that social work should be done by
people qualified and trained for the task they did so not
because they were protecting themselves as a tight little
guild, but because the accumulated experience of many years
demonstrated that the public interest in this as in other
areas is served better by orderly procedure rooted in tested
principles than by hit-or-miss dabbling.

Miss Bailey did not fool herself by thinking that each
and every social worker was a perfect exponent of pro-
fessional principles and practice, but she was prepared to
stake her reputation, such as it was, on the integrity and
sincerity of the professional body as such.

What then was the matter? Why the confusion? Why
were social workers being "slapped down" by legislatures,
belittled for their claims to particular skills, to authoritative
status? You could say quite rightly that their insistence on
decent relief standards had irritated the taxpaying public,
that their insistence on competent workers had irritated the
incompetents and their friends, but there seemed to be more
to it than that.

The fields and woods through which the train was roll-
ing were stirring with hints of spring but Miss Bailey had
no mind for them. She was thinking thoughts of her own,
asking herself inelegantly, "What's all the shooting about
anyway, is it our principles or is it us?" And, ungram-
matically, "Who is 'us' anyway, is it who we say we are
or who we seem to be?"

Miss Bailey wasn't going to argue principles even with
herself. But asking, "Who is us?" she let herself go.

First off there were the people whose claims to the pro-
fessional status of social worker were supported by mem-
bership in the American Association of Social Workers with
its requisites of special education and experience. No one
who admitted the validity of the professional principle
would challenge this group's claim as its exponent. To be
sure not all the members possessed the requisites now de-
manded of newcomers. The association had started from
where social workers were some twenty years ago and had
raised its standards gradually, at each step blanketing in
its going membership. Miss Bailey herself was a member
only by virtue of one such blanketing, and she and a lot
of other middle-aged social workers would have to die off
before the whole membership measured up to its self-im-
posed standards.

BUT what about the Mary Martins, the thousands and
thousands of her kind whom events had swept into
the practice of social work and kept there? According to
Mary, "the reasonable little thing," they never could be
social workers or advance very far professionally because
they hadn't gone to special schools or worked in "accred-
ited" organizations though no one was very clear just
what "accredited" meant. In a word, they couldn't qualify
for the American Association of Social Workers. But not
all the thousands were as "reasonable" as Mary. They
didn't bother much about status. Maybe by book and can-
dle they were not social workers, but whose book and can-
dle was it, anyway? "Forget the book and candle," they
said in effect, "let's come down to earth. We're doing the
work, and doing it effectively at least we continue to have
the jobs so if we aren't social workers what are we, and
anyway, what of it?"

Miss Bailey suspected that "What of it?" was a fairly

popular answer to professional claims, but there was an-
other element in the picture which must not be overlooked
the growing union movement among the people with the
jobs. Vigorous, aggressive, frankly protective in their goals,
the unions were gaining adherents not only from newcomers
but from old-timers restive under the limitations of the old
tradition of "service" and the insecurity that had attended
professional advancement, standards or no standards.

A3 Miss Bailey saw it the unions were a logical develop-
ment out of the events of the last half dozen years
that had thrown great numbers of young people, recruited
to relief work, into close relationship with the tragic situ-
ation of the unemployed. Sensitive and themselves insecure,
they could not be content merely to minister to that situ-
ation, coolly to dole out inadequate relief by rule and rote.
They had to do something about the situation itself, if only
to raise their voices. Logically enough they had organized,
not only to make their voices more effective in behalf of
the unemployed, but presently because "but for the grace
of God there go I" to protect their own security.

"So now, along with the AASW and the more or less
meek Mary Martins we have before the public as practicing
social workers a lot of people, organized and "articulate,
following the general techniques of social work but con-
cerned less with their individual effectiveness or professional
identity than with their group strength as a union and
their identification with the whole labor movement. Shades
of the founding fathers or better, mothers ! What a change
from the dear dead days when 'the cause' compensated for
working conditions that didn't bear mentioning; when so-
cial workers were 'noble' and clients 'worthy.' "

With a grin to herself Miss Bailey recalled the story
relayed the week before by a friend from the West. The
family had applied for relief, ran the tale, and in the regu-
lar routine a visitor went to the home. A man opened the
door. "I'm Miss So-and-So from the Welfare," she ex-
plained cheerily. "We heard you were in some difficulty and
I've come to see if we can help." The man looked her ovea
silently, then swung the door to a crack and demanded,
"Do you belong to the social workers' union?" "No-o-o,"
replied the visitor, "but I belong to the American Associa-
tion of Social Workers." "Huh!" was all that got, and
then: "Listen sister, we're union folks here and we don't
want anything but union social workers. You go back and
tell your boss that. And say, you tell him to send a CIO
worker, we don't want any of your AF of L's."

Musing on the scandalized tone in which her friend had
added, "And he actually did," Miss Bailey speculated on
whether social work, if and when unionized, would prove
itself as effective as social work professionalized. Certainly
it would be different ; maybe it would be better, more at-
tuned to those whom it served. You couldn't tell. A lot of
traditions had gone out the window of late and maybe the
tradition of social work as service with just a dash of dedi-
cation should go too.

Undoubtedly, somewhere in the course of change, the law
would step in and define the social worker by the process
of licensing as it has defined the doctor, the teacher, the
nurse, yes, even the barber. As long as social work was
practiced under the wing of privately supported agencies
the standards of its personnel were their own business.
"But now," Miss Bailey told herself, "it's different. So-
cial work isn't under anyone's wing any more. The public
pays the piper and calls the tune, and sooner or later, as a



ical outgrowth of merit systems if nothing else, it will
call for a licensing of social workers so that it will have
ic check on what it gets for its money when it hires us."

Why hadn't social workers themselves in the course of
their aspiring pressed for licensing as the outward and visi-
ble sign of training and experience? Miss Bailey had asked
that question in more than one little group of serious think-
ers and the answer invariably was, "Because we're not
ready." Meaning, or so Miss Bailey gathered, that the
public, through its elected representatives, was not "far
enough along" to accept the standards of education and
training which the social workers held fundamental. That
was true enough, but meantime the procession was moving
on, qualifications for social work positions under merit
systems were being written into law and, except in a very
few places, the standards promulgated by the professional
body were notable for their absence.

Miss Bailey hoped she would live long enough to see how
it all turned out. Resolutely she opened the detective story
with which she had expected to beguile the journey. But
try as she would she could not let go the bone that her din-
ing car companions had thrown out. "If I can't decide who

'us' how in the world could they and their kind be ex-
pected to know? And anyway what we are is a good deal
more important than who we are."

What social workers are, Miss Bailey well knew, usual-
ly is defined by a leap from the particular to the general.
To the whole practicing body are attributed all the virtues,

more often the faults, of the individual whom the person

aking has chanced to encounter. With a wry smile Miss


Mental Hygiene
Listed by GEORGE K. PRATT, M.D.

The Connecticut Society far Mental Hygiene

A MIND THAT POUND ITSELF, by Clifford W. Been. Double-
day Doran. 1923.

Because this recital of the experiences of a recovered mental
patient became the symbol for a world-wide movement in
the field of the humanities.

THE NORMAL MIND, by William H. Burnham. Appleton.

Because it succeeded for the first time in integrating and
oncilmg the viewpoints of pedagogy and psychiatry.


Thorn. Appleton. 1927.

Because it has given thousands of parents a better under-
standing of children.


E. Williams. Farrar and Rinehart. 1930.

Because it has contributed a new and penetrating under-
standing of its field.


Davie.. Crowell. 1930.

Because, for the first time, it collected scattered viewpoints
and consolidated them into a logical whole.

1937 BOOK


Doubleday Doran.

Because it gives us for the first time an adequate account
of the evolution of the treatment of the insane.

M\Y 1938

Bailey recalled the diatribe of a man who knew her well
enough to speak out.

"The trouble with you social workers," he had said, "is
that you know too many of the answers and know 'em so
darned well that all you have left for the rest of us is pity
for our ignorance. You're just natural born looker-down-
ers. You don't look down on the poor any more, but you
look down on each other and on people who have a different
answer from yours. The children's workers look down on
the family workers, and the family workers on the group
workers and the group workers on the psychiatric workers
and the psychiatric workers on everybody. Talk about
the Cabots or was it the Lowells? speaking only to God.
They haven't a thing on you social workers."

Then there was another speaker-outer who had said :

"The trouble with you social workers is that you don't
know that society has concerns broader than the segment
where you fight V bleed 'n' die. You magnify the impor-
tance of that segment and of your own way of treating it.
Things have to be done your way or not at all. And the
higher your personal standards of performance the stiffer-
necked you are. You talk a lot about teamwork but you
always reserve the driver's seat for yourselves. You've got
a lot of fancy tools but compromise isn't one of "em."

Miss Bailey had laughed it off. The line defining com-
promise as strength or weakness was too fine drawn for her
dialectics. Both these men, she told herself, had generalized
from a limited and evidently unfortunate experience. Un-
happily that kind of experience seemed to be rolling up
into a fairly sizeable ball of public opinion. She would have
choked before admitting that any large majority of social
workers were opinionated and rigidly uncompromising, but
if there were only a few it was worthwhile to ask how they
got that way. What about their professional education?

THE schools of social work had had a weary struggle to
build up the ground on which they stood. Miss Bailey
had heard the story many times from the people who them-
selves had made the first tentative beginnings, and always
she had marveled at their vision and their fortitude. It was
only forty years ago, she reminded herself, that the begin-
ning had been made and for at least twenty years there-
after there had been no very definite agreement as to funda-
mental purpose or educational method. Even yet, some of
her faculty friends had confided, it is a continual struggle
to give the work genuine graduate caliber and even yet it is
a good deal a matter of opinion as to what constitutes the
body of knowledge essential to professional practice, with
the tendency, it sometimes seems, to widen rather than to
deepen its content.

Such a lot of things social workers need to know these
days! Miss Bailey felt her head swim as she ticked them off.
Sociology, because they must understand the functioning of
human beings in modern society ; psychology and psychiatry
to understand the wellsprings of human action ; economics
to understand whence come unemployment and poverty.
They must understand political science, and the various
theories of taxation ; they must have a backlog of the history
of philanthropy, public welfare and labor relations. At least
a smattering of principles of medical practice and of law.
They must have a grounding in generic case work and on
top of that a grasp of whatever specialty they elect for
themselves. And besides all that they must have practice,
held work under meticulous supervision.

"And then they go out as 'trained,' these young people


from the schools, slicked over with knowledge and full of
vocabulary, to agencies none too sure of their place in a
shifting social scene, to the realities of relationships, public
and professional, which they have barely glimpsed. Is it any
wonder that some of them take refuge in a kind of profes-
sional ostentation that makes them pretty hard to live with ?"

F late years Miss Bailey had heard the schools criti-
cized, often by their own alumni, for their lack
of adjustment to a changing world "in-growing" and
"myopic" were the words, with passing allusions to "living
in an ivory tower." The schools, ran the comment, clung to
the traditions of private social work in big cities, and their
graduates were unequipped for the realities of life in the
wide open spaces of the public scene, "The schools simply
don't know the way the wind's blowing."

Naturally the schools had trained for work in the cities ;
until recently the cities were about the only places that had
any social work to train for or in. But it was sheer nonsense
to say that they didn't know the way the wind blew. What
they had done was to refuse to be blown off their course be-
fore they got their bearings on a better one. You might not
agree with that stand, might wish for a little more action
on the quarterdeck as the winds veered, but you had to ad-
mit their right to steer their craft, foul weather or fair.

As a matter of fact the schools never had been as rigid
as their casual critics claimed. They had stuck to their edu-
cational last, limited always by money, and by their slow
and slightly reluctant acceptance by the world of higher
education ; but their whole development had been through
a healthy process of experimentation still going on. Only
last week the American Association of Schools of Social
Work had announced a three-year project of development
and research turning on their responsibility for preparing
workers for the expanding public programs of welfare and
social insurance, with a review of their own standards of
social work education.

The schools had never made a virtue of numbers, had
never aspired to "turn 'em out" fast enough to do the whole
job of social work. "And suppose," Miss Bailey's thoughts
ran on, "just suppose that by some magic they had been
able to turn out overnight enough graduates to do the job
as it broke say in 1933? Would they have gotten it to do?"

She cogitated on that for awhile and decided, "Probably
not; at least not if the democratic process prevailed. We,
the people, were not educated to it. Too many of us were
still in the old poor law stage of social work to have turned
to the professional social worker in the emergency as we
turn to the doctor in an epidemic." But then, if that were
true, why were the schools being pressed to "turn 'em out"
now, pressed to find short cuts to vocational proficiency,
pressed to lend themselves to a type of training on the job
which had little relation to the process of professional edu-
cation? "Is it possible that we, the people, have accepted by
and large the principles developed through the professional
practice of social work while shrinking from the profes-
sional social worker and the authoritative status she seems
to represent?"

Running back over recent events Miss Bailey spotted
evidence that seemed to bear on her question. Certainly the
whole FERA had been in the pattern of modern social
work methods; certainly the framework of the assistance
services under the social security act is fundamentally that
of modern philosophy and practice. The prevailing current
in the new and expanding public welfare services is toward

personnel equipped for its task. To be sure there isn't]
enough personnel so equipped and we don't always like the
specimens we get but no one can deny that there is ai
growing acceptance of the principle of training. Look at the^
efforts of public welfare officials to evolve a form of in-
service training that is realistic and really trains ; look at
the crowds that flock to institutes of one kind and another
whenever and wherever one of them shows itself ; look at
the number of colleges that are attempting, somewhat
fumblingly perhaps, to set up courses of training for social
work ; look at the way the neophytes in the calling hav
grasped at any glimmer of light and leading on their jobs;
look how the unions have written into their platforms "a
comprehensive training program at agency expense
agency time."

Perhaps the pressure on the schools to "turn 'em out
faster" wasn't to be regretted after all. . . . Perhaps it
a good healthy sign of a changed public attitude towar
the practice of social work, an acceptance of the principle
of special training. Perhaps the schools by holding fast to
their educational philosophy and refusing to become diploma
mills would be the lever by which standards everywhere
would be raised until professional practice actually matched
professional aspiration. Miss Bailey hoped she would live
long enough to see how that turned out, too.

"But meantime," she asked herself, "where are we?
Who is a social worker anyway? Blessed if I know. The
American Association of Social Workers has set up as a-
professional definition certain measures of educational back-
ground and approved practice, and in spite of a lot of
howls, some of them from within, has gained steadily in
membership and in prestige. It doesn't quite rank as a
learned body, but just give it another generation! The
neophytes, more especially the unions, aspire to more train-
ing and education but want to write their own philosophical
ticket. They're social workers as the public sees it, and the
sins and successes of anyone of us are charged up to all of
us. And don't forget all those who get tagged as social
workers because they speak up for WPA or are on some
committee or other. They come into the whole picture like
the barking dog in the old riddle just to make it harder.
Well, it's beyond me. I don't wonder that the dining car
man grumbled in his so-to-speak beard."

The train was slowing to a stop and Miss Bailey reached
for her hat. Her wits would do with a little fresh air.

PACING the station platform she smiled to herself, "Up
to your old tricks, aren't you Amelia? Talking to
yourself and getting practically nowhere. That meek little
Mary Martin made the whole point when she said, not so

Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesSurvey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) → online text (page 47 of 109)