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Contents of Education

The aims of teaching political issues in social work education vary. For example, Weiss, Gal and Katan (2006, 793–5) have found six different goals for social policy teaching in texts discussing the issue: goals related to factual knowledge, tools for analysis, critical thinking and social justice, the link between social work and social policy, intervention skills for policy practice as well as motivation, self-efficacy and self-confidence. The contents vary also depending on how policy practice is defined:

Policy-practice at the policy expert level requires knowledge of the legislative process and of interorganizational behaviour and change, the ability to analyze proposed social policy, skills in advocating and taking positions, research and needs assessment skills, and the ability to conduct policy evaluation and implementation analyses. At the other end of the spectrum, policy-practice at the personal policy level calls for, among others, the skills to operationalize social and psychological theory; to select appropriate theory and to link it to the real needs of the client; to translate a high level of self-awareness and selfconsciousness into thoughtful interventions; to choose interventions appropriate to the needs of the client; to manifest the awareness that intervention selection is a policy choice; and to make a commitment to change organizational policies and practices, which includes the willingness to develop the expertise to accomplish that objective. (Wyers 1991)

In social work education that also aims at political activity, there is a need for many kinds of subject contents. It is often emphasized that social workers need knowledge, skills and a value base in order to affect political conditions (e.g. Zubrzycki and McArthur 2004, 455–7). Policy subjects and social work theory
and practice should not be separated, as it often has been said to be done, but their mutual relationships should be emphasized and demonstrated (e.g. Mendes 2003, 220; Heidemann et al. 2011, 38). Knowledge is needed of, among other issues, the political system, law-making and information sources related to them, different political ideologies, the private–public division, the idea of the welfare state as well as on different organizations working with these issues (e.g. Sundet and Kelly 2002, 54; Mendes 2003, 224; Weaver and Nackerud 2005, 117). In addition to covering these arenas, social work education should deal with what kinds of political activities social workers working in different organizations can take part in by law (see e.g. Rocha, Poe and Thomas 2010).

Reisch and Staller (2011, 134–5) state how important it would be to familiarize students with the history of social welfare policy. Such a topic would make it possible to study the world as being something more than self-evident and allow the students to examine the social conditions of each time, different arguments and evidence. The historical approach helps students, Reisch and Staller suggest, to recognize the common arguments and recurring themes as well as the recycled ideas the interventions used are based on. The importance of analysing policy issues from a global perspective has also been highlighted: students should be challenged to question 'who wins and who loses as a result of social policy decisions at local, state, national, international and corporate levels, and how policy makers can be influenced by local, national, and international organizations concerned with human rights' (Rotabi, Weil and Gamble 2004, 70; for a global approach see also Swank and Fahs 2011).

On the other hand, the problem of teaching of political issues in social work education has often been criticized as a one-sided concentration on knowledge only, not on practical skills (e.g. Gal and Weiss 2000, 493; Mendes 2003; Zubrzycki and McArthur 2004, 452–3; Heidemann et al. 2011, 38). Lane (2011, 65), who emphasizes the ethical contents of social work education, points out it is not enough to tell the students about the responsibility of social workers to affect change. They should also be given tools, he argues, that make it possible to fulfil this responsibility. The teaching of those practical tools include, as Rocha (2000, 56) describes one policy practice course, 'developing persuasion skills, building task groups and coalitions, using the media, testifying before committees, organizing letter-writing and phone campaigns, and developing computer skills for policy practice'. It is also important to be able to plan strategically which techniques are best in the situation (Rocha, Poe and Thomas 2010, 319). In Lane's (2011, 61) study, social workers elected to public office were asked which skills they find useful in campaigning and holding office. The skills they mentioned the most often were communication skills and active listening. The possibilities and limits of new technology for advocacy should also be taken into account (Moon and DeWeaver 2005). Table 5.1 Summary of the contents of teaching regarding politically oriented social work

Knowledge of

Skills

• the history and idea of the welfare state and welfare systems

• political systems

• legislative processes

• relevant organizations

• political ideologies, viewpoints

• private–public division

• the possibilities and restrictions related to political action in different types of organizations

• information technology, media

• global perspectives on welfare issues

• information sources related to all of the above

• collecting information

• reflection, analysing

• communication skills, writing, speaking, listening

• developing dialogue between different viewpoints

• persuasion

• building groups and coalitions

• using media

• using new technology

• testifying

• organizing campaigns

• strategic planning

• analyzing proposals and effects of the decisions made

 
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