I like to be human because in my unfinishedness I know that I am conditioned. Yet conscious of such conditioning, I know that I can go beyond it, which is the essential difference between conditioned and determined existence. ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom
I teach because I search, because I question, and because I submit myself to questioning.
~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom
My perspective on social work has been shaped by my work roles, the agencies where I have worked and primarily, the clients I have served.
My first real job after my Bachelor’s degree was a Head Start teacher. I learned from 3 and 4 year olds that I could not teach if I couldn’t connect with and engage each child in my class. I learned to create an environment of collaboration so my classroom was supportive and fun. The Head Start model also includes the concept of “shared governance.” I learned from the parents–housekeepers, migrant farmworkers, people living in deep poverty–how to organize, lead and create a sense of community.
“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move toward freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.”
– bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representation
Like bell hooks, my worldview is framed by a love ethic. As a social worker, I believe it is my heart that is my greatest asset as a teacher and a leader. It is also the only path I have found toward empowerment. Parker Palmer in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy states,
Will the heart break open or apart when it encounters life’s demands? Everything depends on the qualities of the heart on which those demands are laid and on how it has been formed or deformed. Is it an experienced heart, a reflective heart, a heart made supple by inner exercise and responsive engagement with life? Or is it a heart grown brittle from being wounded, unattended and unhealed, sheltered and withdrawn, a heart more prone to shattering in the face of yet another demand? (p. 72)
Today in our small group class discussion we spoke about what it means to be a social work educator/leader.
These are some of my thoughts still lingering from the discussion:
The importance of position and intersectionanality–as leaders and educators we need to be able to reflect on our position and articulate it clearly to our students, clients and peers.
The sense of “calling” to the profession some of us feel originates from our upbringing, our spirituality and our values. For me, this precedes the NASW Code of Ethics in terms of shaping how we practice. The idea of a calling can also be a hindrance if it limits who we think “should” be a social worker and how much we should be paid.
Social justice is a personal process that begins with an “I & Thou” relationship with our clients. We embody social justice when we begin by acknowledging the humanity of the person in front of us. At the same time, the magnitude of injustice in our society feels oppressive. I continue to struggle with the weight of the task–how do we make our American society more just? How do we raise the critical consciousness of our students, our clients & our communities?
I struggle to be an empowering leader. I can only do so by starting with my own fallibility, my humanity. I strive to be a leader in social justice work and I do so by raising my own critical consciousness and by making the small choices against oppression each day.