The history of the modern social work continuing education and the intellectual and program antecedents’ of this Journal dates back to the 1970’s. The National Institute of Mental Health sponsored a continuing series of training sessions for new directors of social work continuing professional education. Several that were part of the NIMH group formed the National Association of Continuing Education Directors, which although not long lived, continued to emphasize social work continuing education Several members went on the create large and active CE programs.
But most importantly, during that decade a new source of funding for social work education came from the passage of Title XX of the Social Security Act that made it possible for state government entities including universities to provide faculty salaries as a match into a state’s request to the Federal government for Social Security funds. The match would earn Federal funds that could be used to support the intents of the legislation. These new funds made it possible for many Schools of Social Work to establish continuing education programs. The funds provided an infrastructure to create a variety of educational activities. Several state supported universities including the State University of New York at Albany, the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri, The University of Tennessee, and the University of Texas at Austin created large continuing education programs that provided educational offerings during the summer, the regular academic school year and contracted programs with specific agencies to produce some desired organizational change.
The Creation of the Journal
This burst of creative activities in social work gave rise to the Journal under the leadership of Thomas Kinney and William Reid in the late 1980s at the State University of New York at Albany. During those years the Journal established itself as the foremost voice of this rapidly growing dimension of social work and as a means of communication among scholars in colleges across the nation concerned with extending knowledge from social work and related disciplines and professions. Among the original Policy Board and Editorial Advisory Committee are people active with the Journal today, including Ronald Green, Seymour “Cy” Rosenthal, Paul Campbell, and Michael Kelly. After a decade at Albany, the Journal’s leadership was passed to Temple University with Seymour Rosenthal serving as editor. Like the Albany era the Journal was housed in a complex structure of research and service, the Center for Social Policy and Community Development that provided continuing education, training, research and technical assistance to individual practitioners, communities and social agencies. During Professor Rosenthal’s tenure the Journal expanded its scope to scholarship in other countries and changed the title from the Journal of Continuing Social Work Education to Professional Development-The International Journal of Continuing Social Work Education.
Now with the Journal moving to its third academic home it is a time to review the mission it serves and examine any changes that might be needed. The Journal has always reported on three broad themes. One is information about specific programs of continuing education. Thirty years ago these tended to be workshops often less than a day long and were directed to refreshing skills and knowledge for social workers or introducing a new topic such as work with refugee communities or a therapy modality. Today, licensing authorities stress continuing education as a requirement and professional associations have become the major providers of clinically oriented CE. However many Schools of Social Work continue to offer short courses and topical workshops.
A second theme was research about different means of delivering education. Continuing education has always been a laboratory for academic programs to try new modalities and structures of movement is the relatively recent call by several social work academics to substantiate the claims of social work practice with empirical findings rather than resorting to a belief in the wisdom of skilled practitioners. Its popular term is “evidence-based practice” and is an implied declaration that social work has overlooked or not resolved fundamental epistemological questions and, in the case of selecting scientific empiricism, has not done the hard work of creating measures, gathering data and establishing relative efficacy of theories and methods.
This summer and fall the academic programs of social work have been visited by harsh criticism from groups called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the National Association of Scholars (NAS), and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and in October by a column from a nationally syndicated writer appearing in the Washington Post. In the case of the criticism of groups like the National Academy of Scholars the charge may not be the lack of efficacy of social work theory and methods but its likely effectiveness. If poverty or crime is not best explained by resorting to intrapsychic causes but rather to environmental arrangements, then effective social workers will alter the community status quo and that efficacy may be the reason for these criticisms. Or perhaps the criticism refers not to the efficacy of social work but to its choices of unpopular clients. But inarguably one reading of these criticisms is that social work educators are imposing views on students rather than imparting knowledge.
Apart from these controversies of the moment, great advantage accrues to the social work program and to the social work professor of moving beyond the immediate classroom of the undergraduate or graduate student to the community to work with persons charged with addressing needs. Stepping away from this debate around teaching or indoctrinating that seems focused upon undergraduate and masters programs, the existence of continuing education programs in schools of social work requires faculty to teach independently employed professionals and lay persons. We think each of us and the general public can rest assured that participants in continuing education programs are not indoctrinated nor coerced in these educational programs. Indeed one of the more salutary impacts of continuing education is the fact that it demands that faculty relate to the views, power and needs of professionals and citizens active in careers and with vital concerns for their communities. When you teach in a continuing education program in social work you may be teaching a protective services worker who has had twenty years of experience working in troubled homes and providing testimony in court, a lawyer in an agency that may be the administrator and is wrestling with budgets, demands from staff and a vocal and powerful constituency, a police officer that is faced with neighborhood demands on police for enforcement, service and often concerns about racial profiling, a correctional officer that has served in a juvenile court and worked with troubled youth or adults in crowded, depressing and often dangerous settings, of a gang worker who knows what it means to come between threatening youth and work to lower tempers and forestall violence. Faculties do not intimidate and indoctrinate such students and through participating in continuing education learn a style of teaching that builds on critical thinking and genuine give and take between professor and learner. Faculties take these skills and orientations into the traditional classroom and treat students as persons soon to be professionals that must know and think, not cite some memorized cant.
The Cutting Edge of Change
We have learned in these three decades plus that Continuing Education is where many if not most innovations in social work education begin. Change in systems comes from the margin and Continuing Education sits at the margins between the academic institution, the world of agencies and the community. It rightfully so continues to be the “cutting edge” of innovation in the profession and in the academe.
Today social work is a far larger social and institutional enterprise than when it began its rapid growth in the 1960’s and 70’s. There are roughly 670 bsw/msw programs and about 40 doctoral programs. If one includes lay people and allied professions such as law, medicine, education, public administration, counseling, corrections, law enforcement, community planning, etc., then the audience of persons active in human services and consumers and contributors to continuing education in our field runs to several million in the United States alone. While the Journal cannot seek to be a vehicle that will touch all of these areas, it does suggest that the journal must respond by increasing the breadth of topics to be considered. There is much to continue but there are many new topics that the Journal will address in the coming years.