Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Some Changes

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Some Changes

Article excerpt

This issue of the Journal introduces a new version of the Point/Counterpoint section, one among other varieties that will appear from time to time. The new version included in this issue consists of an invited commentary on a peer-reviewed, accepted paper and replies by both authors. The basic purpose of the Point/ Counterpoint section remains the same: to encourage critical appraisal of alternative views on controversial issues related to social work education. When I became editor of the Journal, a number of articles were already accepted (e.g., see last issue as well as articles in this issue except parts of the Point/Counterpoint section). One such article was on theory by Bruce Thyer. I invited Professor Thyer to participate in a dialogue with Professor Gomory, and he graciously agreed.

The dialogue concerning theory in this issue takes up considerably more space than the usual Point/Counterpoint. One purpose of expanding the varieties of Point/Counterpoint is to provide the room needed to unfold arguments, counterarguments, and related evidence concerning controversial issues and, in later issues, to draw on scholars outside of social work as well as inside the field. Social work and its clients can only benefit from building on the talents and literature within our profession as well as on the talents and related literature outside of social work. One criterion that will be used to identify potential topics and contributors is the neglect of opposing views on an important topic. For example, I haven't seen any critiques in social work of Yehudi Webster's book Against the Multicultural Agenda (1997).

Council on Social Work Education accreditation standards require schools of social work to help students acquire critical thinking skills. I assume that the purpose of this requirement is to help social workers to arrive at well-reasoned beliefs and actions that help them to provide effective, efficient, ethical services to clients. The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics calls on social workers to draw on practice/policy-related research findings in their work. Doing so effectively requires critical appraisal skills to review research and theories. Thus, both in our code of ethics and our accreditation standards, critical thinking and appraisal skills are emphasized. Such skills are closely related to questions about knowledge and how to evaluate it--for example, questions about what criteria to use to evaluate theories.

Students, as well as professors, are bombarded with claims about the accuracy of practice/policy-related theories. Many claims overstate the evidentiary base of preferred views and understate the evidentiary base of competing views. Consider, for example, claims regarding the NIMH Multimodal Treatment Study for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (MTA Cooperative Group, 1999) and critiques of this study (e.g., Breggin, 2000). Different views about the role of theory and how to test theory have implications for decisions social workers make about what research findings apply to clients and also influence what researchers do. A relativist may argue that all views of knowledge and ways of testing knowledge claims are equally valuable and informative. A logical positivist might argue that we can only test what we can see. Such assumptions will influence research methods selected.

Charles Peirce suggested four different ways of justifying beliefs. One is the method of tenacity. Here

   we merely cling tenaciously to our customary beliefs. We may not know how
   we came to have them, nor do we care. Our primary consideration is to avoid
   the anxiety of doubt which would threaten us if we were to admit for a
   minute that there is any degree of uncertainty about our present state of
   knowledge. (Atkinson, 1964, p. 64)

A second method is authority. We may not care how the authority arrived at his or her opinion. A third method is that of a priori reasoning. …

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