Putting Field Education in Context

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  • This article was downloaded by: [UQ Library]On: 24 November 2014, At: 16:56Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    Journal of Teaching in SocialWorkPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wtsw20

    Putting Field Education inContextSylvia Sims Gray MSW, PhD a & Lynn M. Nybell MSW,PhD aa Eastern Michigan University , 317 Marshall,Ypsilanti, MI, 48197, USAPublished online: 07 Sep 2008.

    To cite this article: Sylvia Sims Gray MSW, PhD & Lynn M. Nybell MSW, PhD (2007)Putting Field Education in Context, Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 27:1-2,213-232, DOI: 10.1300/J067v27n01_14

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J067v27n01_14

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  • Putting Field Education in Context:Preparing Students for Practice

    in an Urban Center

    Sylvia Sims GrayLynn M. Nybell

    ABSTRACT. Social workers in urban areas attempt to carry out the pro-fessions commitment to social change and social justice amid growinginequality, racial polarization, and a physical environment that reflectsfears and antipathy toward poor people who reside there. The authors ar-gue that changing urban conditions have prompted a need for innovativemodels of field practice that specifically aim to prepare students for socialwork practice in the city. The paper describes a mobile seminar designedto enhance the field education of students preparing for practice with chil-dren and families in Detroits inner city. doi:10.1300/ J067v27n01_14 [Ar-ticle copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service:1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: Website: 2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rightsreserved.]

    KEYWORDS. Field education, urban, city, race, space, inequality

    Sylvia Sims Gray, MSW, PhD (E-mail: Sylvia.Gray@emich.edu) and Lynn M. Nybell,MSW, PhD (E-mail: Lynn.Nybell@emich.edu) are Professors of Social Work, both atthe Eastern Michigan University, 317 Marshall, Ypsilanti, MI 48197.

    Sylvia Sims Gray acknowledges the support of the Skillman Foundation for theJames P. Comer Project in the Detroit Public Schools. Lynn Nybell acknowledgesthe support of the American Association of University Women American Fellowshipprogram for a Summer Publication award.

    Journal of Teaching in Social Work, Vol. 27(1/2) 2007Available online at http://jtsw.haworthpress.com

    2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.doi:10.1300/J067v27n01_14 213

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  • At the close of the professions first century, social workers wereprompted to take stock of collective accomplishments, lost opportunities,and future challenges. Several observers underscored the extent to whichsocial work is being reshaped dramatically in the context of economic,political, and social restructuring referred to as globalization (Hopps &Morris, 2000; Iatridis, 2000; Reisch, 1999, 2000). As members of a pro-fession rooted in the urban centers of the industrial era and steeped in amodern faith in the constructive potential of government intervention toameliorate the economic and social problems found there, social work-ers now confront a new order variously characterized as post-industrial(Bluestone & Harrison, 1982), post-welfare (Cloward, 1996; Kingfisher,2001), and post-metropolitan (Soja, 2000). Social workers in urban areasnow attempt to carry out the professions commitment to social change andsocial justice in the context of new forms of urbanization and dramaticallyreconfigured social policy (Jarman-Rohde, McFall, Kolar, & Strom, 1997;Reisch & Jarman-Rohde, 2000; Reisch & Rivera, 1999).

    The aim of this paper is to examine the need for innovative models offield education in urban centers and to describe one effort to address thisneed. The first section of this paper briefly outlines three discourses thatattempt to characterize the nature of change in the contemporary urbancondition, and suggests some of the implications of these changes forsocial work field education. The paper then describes a program de-signed and carried out by one of the authors [Gray] to prepare studentsfor social work field practice in Detroits inner city. In conclusion, thepaper notes strengths and limitations of this effort for improving fieldeducation for social work practice in urban settings.

    CHANGING URBAN CONDITIONS

    A literature in urban studies has burgeoned as geographers, urbanplanners, architects, sociologists, and anthropologists have attempted tocritically examine the new and unexpected city and regional structuresand forms that have emerged over the last 30 years (Soja, 2000). Someurban scholars have attempted to understand and analyze the forcesgenerating new processes of urbanization (e.g., Bluestone & Harrison,1982; Harrison, 1988; Harvey, 1990; Massey, 1984; Sassen, 1994) whileothers have attempted to describe the new patterns of urban form andsocial order that are emerging in the wake of globalization and economicrestructuring (e.g., Jackson, 1985; Kling, Olin, & Poster, 1991; Sudjic,

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  • 1992; Wilson, 1996). Other more interpretive works have examined theeffects of emerging geographical and social urban structures on the ev-eryday lives of individuals and communities in urban space (e.g., Davis,1990, 1998; Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Low, 1999). From the point of viewof social work, this burgeoning body of scholarship stimulates new waysto conceptualize the challenges and possibilities of practice in urban set-tings. While critical literature on contemporary transformations in citiesand metropolitan areas is much too extensive to adequately summarizehere, three important discourses are notable.

    First, urban scholars have noted pronounced changes in the spatialorganization of cities over the last 30 yearschanges that have modifiedthe urban condition and the ways we interpret it (Soja, 2000). Strugglesto represent these changes have spawned a new vocabulary as observersseek to encapsulate what is different about cities today. For example,Castells (1996) points to the emergence of megacities, using this termto underscore both the enormous size and the increasingly polycentricstructure of the worlds largest urban forms. In the United States, thereare now at least 40 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million inhab-itants (Soja, p. 236). As of the 1990 census, for the first time these mil-lion-or-more megacities are home to majority of the nations population(Soja, p. 237).

    With few exceptions, the most rapidly growing areas in megacitieswere in suburban rings surrounding the central city, a dynamic whichobservers have sought to capture with terms like the outer city(Muller, 1981) or post-suburbia (Kling, Olin, & Poster, 1991). Thesenotions point to the urbanization of the suburbs and the decline ofthe significance of the downtown or central business district in theolder urban core. Although decentralization of industrial productionand employment occurred throughout earlier decades of the twentiethcentury, it was only in the last third of the century that the regionalbalance of industrialization in many urban areas was reversed, as themajority of jobs and production became located in the outer ringsrather than in the inner urban core. It is this realization of the cityturned inside out that fuels perceptions that a new urban form isemerging (Sudjic, 1992).

    A second discourse centers on the concurrent and interdependentreshaping of the urban social order that has accompanied its geograph-ical transformation. One of the most profound findings in the study ofcontemporary urban transformations is that inherent in the new ur-banization processes has been an intensification of socio-economic in-equalities (Soja, 2000, p. 265). There is a great deal of evidence that

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  • supports the conclusion that inequality and racial polarization have in-creased in the last 30 years. For example, a report issued by the MiltonEisenhower Foundation 30 years after the 1968 Kerner Commission de-livered its judgment that the United States was moving toward two so-cieties, one black, one whiteseparate and unequal argued that this gaphas not only persisted but has become wider and increasingly urban inits expression (Soja, p. 266). The Foundations panel experts argue thatinner cities have become Americas poorhouses (Harris & Curtis, 1998).The forces that have turned the geography of the city inside out havealso turned it outside in as residents of the citys inner core are in-creasingly trapped in the urban core and treated as peripheral to thebroader society (Harris & Curtis, 1998; Soja, 2000; Wilson, 1996).

    This high degree of urban racial segregation has been accompaniedby a powerful dominant racial ideology that transposes negative racialstereotypes onto the residential space of people of color but not whites.Haymes (1995) argues that In the context of American cities the cate-gory of race is used metaphorically as a way to juxtapose the differentsocial spaces that make up the urban landscape, describing some asnormal and ordered and others as not (p. 4). The social constructionof racial segregation portrays urban deprivation as a moral problem de-flecting attention away from the power structure, creating and sustain-ing the inequalities dividing black and white Americans (Haymes, p. 9).Transposing negative stereotypes onto the residential space of blacksbut not whites incorrectly suggests that the urban problems are spatiallybounded in poor urban centers, rather than stemming from an unequaldistribution of resources and burdens across the metropolitan area.

    The third discourse describes the transformation of lived experiencesin the urban areas that have accompanied the geographical and social re-structuring of urban areas. The most influential writer in this vein, MikeDavis, has emphasized the intensification of social and spatial controlbrought about by privatization, surveillance, repression of movement,and security-obsessed design in the built environment of urban areas(1990). Davis presents this fortressing of city space as an integralpart of the latest phase of urban development, in the context of eco-nomic and social restructuring. In his work on Fortress L.A., Davis(1990) documents the proliferation of gates and security systems inmiddle-class and wealthy communities, the segregation of the down-town urban renaissance from the poor neighborhoods that surround it,the destruction of public space and amenities, and the celebration ofpoliced super-malls and mega-structures. The decline of public spacehas been accompanied by an erosion of the liberal vision of public space

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  • as a desirable location for the mixing of classes, races, and ethnicities.As a result, Davis notes the radical shrinking of public amenities, dere-liction of parks, segregation of beaches, and abandonment of librariesand playgrounds in Los Angeles (Davis, 1990, p. 227). He suggests thatthese public amenities are being replaced by upscale, pseudo-publicspaces that are full of invisible signs warning off the underclassOther (p. 226).

    Davis compelling depictions of transformation of urban space havespawned both admiration and debate, with some critics suggestingthat his insightful vision is too ominous or politically disabling (Soja,2000). However, his work raises important questions for social workabout how a security-obsessed and increasing socially and spatially in-sulating urban context transforms the possibilities and problems of theprofession. Davis illuminates the ways that restricted interracial and in-terclass contact in American social life has increased inter-group ten-sion and fear and created obstacles to alliances that cross race andclass linesdynamics of enormous significance for social work practice(Reisch & Jarman-Rohde, 2000).

    This spatial reconfiguration of urban life has been accompaniedby the growing significance of the media (Daskalakis, Waldheim, &Young, 2001). For example, observers of Detroit note that media cov-erage of urban events has come to supplant the lived experience of thoseevents themselves as suburban residents are afforded knowledge oftheir own (former) city streets not through lived experience, but ratherthrough coverage: the displacement of reality itself in favor of its televi-sual representation (Daskalakis et al., 2001, p. 133). Observers notethat many of these media images fuel an ecology of fear that per-meates metropolitan space (Davis, 1998) while others generate a nostal-gic (but powerless) lament for the city as it used to be (Daskalakiset al., 2001).

    The physical and social walling off of urban areas and the substitu-tion of media representations of the city for direct engagement with itmeans that most suburban residents have few opportunities to directlyexperience the material dislocation of inner city neighborhoods, tograsp the ordinariness of life there, or to witness ways in which urbanresidents resist the oppressive meanings and forms of the inner city byconstructing other images and representations of place. Neighborhoodcenters, day care programs, clinics, em...