Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Can't We Be Critical Thinkers as Well as Hopeful? Response to Hoffman and Albers

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Can't We Be Critical Thinkers as Well as Hopeful? Response to Hoffman and Albers

Article excerpt

Critical discussion of ideas is vital to the growth of knowledge. In this spirit I respond to Hoffman and Albers's letter. In their first paragraph Hoffman and Albers state that "whether or not these questions [posed in my editorial] are the best questions to ask about the EPAS at this time is not at issue." I thus assume that they agree that these questions are reasonable ones to pose.

A first requirement of dialogue that forwards the growth of knowledge is accurate description of diverse points of view. Accurately representing arguments and counterarguments is important so that one can see their defects and their possibilities. Hoffman and Albers misrepresent what I wrote at many points in their letter. They attribute words to me that I do not use and arguments that I do not make. They distort my arguments and then attack the distorted versions; that is, they rely on straw man arguments at a number of points--a classic informal fallacy ("imputing to one's adversaries opinions a good deal more extreme than those they have set out and are willing to defend," Engel, 1994, p. 173). For example, I do not make assertions or claims as they allege (see their pp. 183, 184), I make suggestions (e.g., see my p. 234). I don't request "proof," as the authors allege in a number of places. All my suggestions are guesses subject to critical discussion and testing.

I do not "admonish the accrediting body" (p. 181), I critique a written document. I at no point "insist that specific curriculum content ought not to be included unless it can be proven that the content helps clients meet the out comes they value" (p. 183). My critique does not, as the authors allege, turn "on a thesis that, in order to prove its worth, the EPAS should first be tested to determine whether or not it can be empirically shown to help clients" (see their first paragraph.) I never said anything about "a massive study of the effects of social work education" (p. 185). (I refer them to my Fall 2001 editorial, "Evaluating the Quality of Professional Education: Options Galore," for examples of steps toward critical appraisal of what students and social workers do to what effect.) I never said we should put "social work on hold until the study is completed" (p. 185). What I do suggest is that we should be honest and clear about which statements in the EPAS are aspirational and which are not so we do not mislead ourselves or others who may read the EPAS, and I suggest that evidentiary criteria should be considered when drafting accreditation guidelines. What I do say is:

   Evidentiary status should be a key principle guiding educational policy and
   accreditation standards, that is, inclusion of content, formats, and
   structures that have been found via critical appraisal to result in
   knowledge, skills, and values that maximize the likelihood of helping
   clients while minimizing harm and honoring the code of ethics in the
   process. (p. 28)

I go out of my way not to use the word "proven" (which they in error attribute to me a number of times) since I am not a justificationist--I don't think anything is "proven." Belief in "proof" reflects a justificationary approach to knowledge in which certainty is assumed to be possible. I do not think knowledge can be gained by piling up observations, and I do not think that there is certain knowledge; indeed history illustrates this (e.g., see Popper, 1972).

Hoffman and Albers state, "She criticizes the statement [EPAS] because it doesn't have a section on `outcomes clients value.'" (p. 181). My argument is far more wide ranging. I suggest that clients were ignored in the entire EPAS, not just in one section. They state that "clients per se are not included because the statement [EPAS] is about social work education" (p. 182). Isn't the purpose of social work education to prepare social workers who help clients attain outcomes clients value?

I do "distrust" surrogate measures (p; 185) and encourage others to do the same if such measures are not highly correlated with outcomes. …

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