Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bursting Bubbles

February 11

You would think graduate school is a real eye-opener and one would go in and learn a ton of new concepts, find out how people think and work; that it would be a real asset in the real world and help us professionally.
You would think.

Sometimes I feel like the social work school has done the opposite of opening my eyes. Don’t get me wrong; I was overjoyed in my first semester as I sat in classes where real people talked about things others scoff at. Professors and students all care about changing the world, making a difference, fighting for justice, believing wholeheartedly in spending their lives in a field that is low paying, high stress. Most of the time we speak the same language – so much so that we forget that the world outside isn’t quite on the same page. Most of them are not even in the same book.

It always amuses me when social work students get worked up about something (usually) benign another social work student said. Some of us justice-fighters tend to overdo things to a point when it is hard to utter a full sentence without offending some identity.

If sweet, well-meaning, empathetic (yes, social workers actually know the difference between sympathy, pity and empathy!) colleagues can offend righteous social work students – well, take a trip to the business school.

Not to perpetuate stereotypes, but really. Everything is different – from the seating arrangement to the very white teeth and dapper suit of the professor, to the students with their printed name plates and their hands perpetually in the air to make a mediocrely intelligent remark (really, they must have mad muscles in one of their arms because of all the class participation!). There is a definite competitive edge in the class (even though this is the tamer version of the business school since it is a class on social entrepreneurship!). Kids in this class start off a comment with “I DISAGREE”. Nobody talks like that in the social work school! We usually have similar opinions! And even when we don’t we would say “that is an interesting point, however” … We don’t even say BUT! We like to promote freedom of speech and opinions (usually. Unless you’re a Republican and then the process becomes more difficult but we still try really hard), we urge using words like “and” rather than “but”.  

This is a class where people will talk about “commercial projects” and argue in favor of for-profits rather than non-profits; where the marketability and sales value of an idea might be worth more than the social message behind it. Or if it is not then you have to make a pitch for why it is worth more than the money.

I guess I really do appreciate taking this course and stepping out of my comfort zone. It is uncomfortable, like a soap bubble bursting in my face and it stings a little. But it a clearer vision of what the world is like outside of the social work school.

There is some sidestepping to do, what with certain enormous egos taking up a lot of room in the class, and the ever-raised hands. But it is a good way to question concepts and ideas that I have come to take for granted, and even more important, find out ways to perpetuate social messages via people who might actually not care so much about the social part of it but rather the efficient, effective, money-making aspect. It seems contradictory for social work professionals to be well-paid, financially successful individuals (which of course is another debate) but it might be good to learn some sales pitches and marketing skills.

It is also good to practice our social work beliefs of freedom of thought and action. I mean it is easy enough to argue for equality of all opinions when we all have the same opinion. It is another thing to believe in the essential goodness of all human beings when they are ignoring racism and talking profits.

Yep. Some digestion is required for this class! And it doesn’t help that the professor deducts marks for being a minute late and has prohibited eating when the class is scheduled for all of the dinner period! And I am talking American dinner time to South Asian dinner time. Man. 

Social work classes are all about sipping your tea and eating your carrots dipped in hummus.

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