This dissertation is a long document and to make it more manageable I posted it in sections. You can find these sections on the accompanying web pages. This is also true for the list of references. A summary of the research itself is on this page.
Rationale for Andrew Schoolnik’s Dissertation Research
Social justice is a core, founding principle of social work (NASW, Advocacy, 2016; NASW, Social Justice, 2016). Social work has always maintained a focus on aiding marginalized and oppressed populations (Murdach, 2010). This makes social workers unique among helping professionals (NASW, Advocacy & Organizing, 2016). Social work’s inception coaligned with the height of the early twentieth century Progressive Era (Gil, 1998; Murdach, 2010; Talbot & McMillin, 2014). Indeed, one of social work’s founding mothers, Jane Addams, practiced progressive politics (Keyssar, 2000; McGerr, 2005). The principles identified in the 1912 Progressive Party Platform are vibrant and alive today in the National Association of Social Workers’ contemporary policy and advocating efforts (“NASW, Affordable Care Act,” 2011; “NASW, DC,” 2013; “NASW, Ethics,” 2016; “PBS,” n.d). Social justice reform efforts shared by social workers have taken place on a macro stage and have been designed to aid oppressed populations. The marriage of these two entities – social work and progressivism – has led to over a century of shared social justice endeavors and successes. These endeavors included government sponsored reforms in arenas of housing, economics, suffrage, and children’s labor laws (Gil, 1998; Murdach, 2010).
Social work’s belief in the strong influence of the social environment is rooted in the framework of association, which occurs when all people interact regardless of social differences (McGerr, 2003). Through the decades, social work has drifted from its roots of progressive social justice and association. During this time, the profession has moved towards direct clinical practice (Kam, 2014; Mizrahi & Dodd, 2013; Specht & Courtney, 1994). This shift emphasizes aristocratic individualism with its social isolation, which is the antithesis of the social solidarity of association (McGerr, 2003).
This dominant trend toward direct clinical practice has been identified in a host of research exploring social work student interests (D’Aprix, Dunlap, Abel, & Edwards, 2004; Fogel & Ersing, 2016; Weiss, 2006). Additional research has noted a corresponding trend toward direct practice among schools of social work (Funge, 2011; Lane, 2011; Regehr, Bogo, Donovan, Lim, & Regehr, 2012). The study of this trend has led to questioning the congruence of school of social work applicants and the profession itself (D’Aprix et al., 2004; GlenMaye & Oakes, 2002). If social work detaches from its longstanding history of advocating for the social justice of the oppressed, then social work will no longer be unique; the distinction between social work and professions purely of psychotherapy blurs. Social work’s abdication of social justice practice to non-social workers, therefore, leaves the work of advocating for the oppressed to those lacking a social work education and its valuable, corresponding skills.
If incoming social work students are not philosophically well suited to the values of social justice then new strategies to identify and recruit more appropriate applicants must be implemented. There is a gap in the literature with regards to learning of the pivotal development experiences of social justice advocates. This research void specifically includes learning of the life path that one takes which leads him/her to having an interest in social justice advocacy. This dissertation aims to address this gap in the literature. By filling this gap, innovative new strategies can be employed to successfully identify and recruit social justice advocates to the profession of social work.
Purpose of Andrew Schoolnik’s Dissertation Research
The purpose of this study is to learn of the seminal experiences in the development of social justice advocacy practitioners. This study endeavors to learn of the possible experiences, relationships, and life encounters that create a desire in people to feel compelled to engage in social justice activities. Through learning of the characteristics and features of social justice advocates, and specifically the influential experiences that led them to their social justice interests and beliefs, schools of social work will become better informed to target, recruit, and engage the next generation of social justice advocacy practitioners.
This study employs a qualitative phenomenological methodology and the findings of this study will ensure that oppression can be fought by people eminently qualified to take on the challenge – those with a social work education. This will also assist the profession of social work to stay connected to its social justice roots rather than continue on a potential path toward a psychotherapeutic vacuum that often abandons the principles of social justice. Schools of social work being able to better ensure student congruence with social work values secures the future of the profession. In the phenomenological tradition that dates to its founding, this dissertation is written in the first-person (Findlay, 2012).