Back to school – not quite

Fotosearch_k4396891Next week will see me back in the classroom working alongside third year social work students at CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) exploring the issue of how social policy impacts upon our everyday choices. I am teaching this one course this semester. It’s been a while since I have been in a direct teaching situation – I did a three-year stint in the Department of Social Work at the University of Canterbury from the mid to late 90s. I met with the students last Tuesday as part of their mihi whakatau for the year and am really looking forward to engaging in such timely and critical conversations.

Some people have asked me what interests me in being involved in teaching social policy. My answer is simple. From the time we wake in the morning to the time we go to bed (and through the night) different policies impact on our lives. Society is rule governed and so it is always fascinating to explore and contemplate how these rules are made, what frame they are made from (different theoretical traditions), and the differential impact that these rules have on different groups within society. We experience social policy in very different ways depending upon our individual situation. When we analyse problems the frame we take is so critically important to the solution. The very definition of what the problem is and how it is represented, e.g. problem gambling, drug use, family violence, health inequalities, along with the assumptions we make, will impact on what we see as the resolution. What is left out is almost as interesting as what is included. Who has voice in dictating the problem and whose voice is not listened to are critical questions to ponder?

Within the current policy environment there is much for us to interrogate, to explore, and to wonder about. I am particularly interested in the impact of state policy alongside local body in the form of local council and health authorities, and human service agencies, and how these intersect. I am also very interested in how we address the challenges facing Christchurch at this time. We are now two years post major disruption due to the Christchurch earthquake and we are now seeing issues of housing displacement, arson, increased risk-taking behaviour in the form of drink driving or drug taking, family violence, and school amalgamation. Alongside this we have changing demographics of Christchurch in terms of a preponderance of male rebuild workers flooding a city with limited amenities. What are the implications for sexual safety for women is one question to ponder along with the potential for a two stage economy – those earning high wages and those not. The mining boom in Australia has been grappling with this issue for some time. In all this is a truly wonderful time to be exploring social policy in a very pragmatic manner.

My goal by the end of the year with this group of graduating social workers is that they will be able to appreciate the impact of social policy on the very fabric of people who come into contact with social workers. Social work has a strong tradition of social justice and advocacy for those who are often displaced or marginalised within society. Our social contract through welfare provision has always to be fair to all members of our society. Social work has often been that voice – these students are the change agents of the future – what a privilege for me to be working with them.

Published on Sunday, February 24th, 2013, under What Ken thinks

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