Gatekeeping in Field Education
Ginny Terry Raymond
Education for social work practice began as apprenticeships with seasoned practitioners. Eventually courses were taught to workers as in-service training in agencies, then later at colleges and universities. Summer courses evolved into a full, year-long program, then a two-year curriculum. Regardless of the amount or design of coursework, the practicum or field placement has remained central to education for social work throughout its history.
Many in the profession believe that the quality of the practicum directly affects the quality of the entire educational program and, eventually, the quality of social work practiced by graduates (Task Force 1983). Field education is the component of the curriculum that most clearly distinguishes education for professional practice from general or liberal education.
During the practicum the knowledge, values, and skills of the profession are applied in actual work with clients under the tutelage of a master. This is the doing component of professional education. Lodge (1975) refers to field education as both learning by doing and learning for doing and believed that other professions “looked to social work as a model in the use of the practicum” (i).
Schneck (1996) believes that the practicum “takes on a ‘larger than life’ significance in the professional development of our students. … Without a doubt, it is the primary means by which we prepare the next generation of social workers who will engage and assist people who live in a complicated, ever-changing, and problematic world” (vii). The field education experience and the field