Justice and Forgiveness

***trigger warning for animal violence***

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts and connection of justice and forgiveness. Much of what has sparked this idea is Michael Vick’s–convicted felon and Quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles–successful return to the NFL. He is a polarizing person these days. People continue to raise concerns about his successful career in light of his being convicted of engaging and financing dog fighting ventures. His conviction brought with it a 23 month prison sentence which he served and probation which he is currently serving (ends in 2012). He has been convicted of  heinous violent crimes. He has admitted to directly participating in dog fighting and the execution of 6-8 dogs by hanging or drowning. Terrible, terrible things.

I cannot nor would I ever defend his crimes or conviction, but what I’ve been thinking about is this idea of (and not just of Vick) about life after the crime and punishment. I’m thinking about the role of forgiveness in allowing convicted criminals to re-join society.  We have a justice system that provides sentences for criminals to serve in order to pay the debt for the crimes committed. Too often we hear of stories of how convicted criminals cannot find jobs upon release from prison because of their criminal background. They have a difficult time re-joining society because of the barriers of criminal histories. And I’m thinking that forgiveness is missing. In order for our justice system to work, we as a society have to accept that 1) people make mistakes, 2) people can change, 3) that serving a sentence for crime should pay the debt for the crime, and 4) provide for forgiveness to people after serving time. If we are unwilling to accept these ideas then what is the point of having people serve anything but life sentences? If they are continually punished for their crime after they have served their sentence, why bother letting them out of prison? Again, this is beyond Vick, people are continually held hostage by their criminal backgrounds which limits the opportunities for change and success. I’m not advocating for forgetting or not holding people accountable for the heinous crimes they commit, but what I’m arguing is to truly have justice, if the punishment for a crime is less than a life sentence than we need to learn forgiveness so that people can move beyond their mistakes and allow for successful transition back into society.

Masculinity and team building

Much of my research is centered around the idea of engaging men to prevention violence against women and children. As part of my learning about male engagement and gender justice, I’ve been exploring ideas of masculinity, gender and sex roles, socialization, etc. So, of course, I filter many of my interactions with men through this lens.

Recently, I was at my daughter’s cross-country end of the year banquet. This was her first year in cr0ss country and my first experience in the foray of school athletics. I have been so impressed with her coaches and their work with the girls that I beam with pride at every meet. The head coach has a team philosophy in that all girls work together (varsity and junio varsity), they cheer every runner to the finish line, and any win is a win for the entire team (47+ girls). Basically he (the coach) fosters a family environment for the girls where community and team work are priority. Of course, I love this. I love the idea of healthy competition joined with community and team building. Isn’t this what sports should be about?

Okay so back to the banquet. The banquet consisted of both the girls and boys teams’, their families, and the coaches coming together in the high school cafeteria/common area to share a meal, watch a slide show of the season, and celebrate the successes of both teams. As we finished eating, the slide show began–ladies first. The slide show consisted of sweet songs by the Taylor Swift like performers, with 2 slides for each female runner–one of a picture of them with their stats and then another with cameo pictures. After the girls, then the boys slide show began. I was immediately struck with the fact that the first song was “Eye of the Tiger.” The boys slide show consisted of only pictures and what I would label more aggressive or adrenaline soaked songs.  I notes this to myself and thought hmmm…interesting.

Then the awards ceremony begins. Again, ladies first. The head girls coach gets up and presents the awards. He notes that the team voted on some awards and the coaches picked some based on stats. Then the boys coach gets up to present the awards. For almost every award the team voted on, the boys coached trumped their choice and chose his own winner. Again, I noted this in my head.

Finally, we get to the part where the captains get up to speak about the year and thank the supporters. This time, the boys go first. The first a boys’ captain speaks about how hard it was to have “little 7th and 8th graders running around” and that sometimes they get “out of line” in which he “must smack them.” The audience laughs. He then goes on to say talk about how the coach shakes his head at these 7th and 8th grades and basically says “do what you have to do.” I was struck with horror. Then one of the girls’ captain gets up to speak. She begins with talking about how much of the team is like a family to her, how much fun they had, how much she will miss the team after she graduates,  the support of the other girls, and hastily remembers to thank the coaches and parents before finishes. Wow!

There was such a startling difference in the obviously different approaches by each coach. I’m so surprised. I’m not sure why though. The overly macho and aggression in the boys team versus the girls team probably isn’t new. And I know that coaching philosophy plays a huge role in the mood and attitude of the team. I feel sad for the boys that their experience isn’t more community based. I wonder what they are missing. I wonder how it would look if they were coached using the same philosophy as the girls’ coach uses. Would there be drastically different attitudes and results? After all, the entire girls varsity team competed in state with 2 girls qualifying individually and 1 coming in first place. The boys had 2 boys qualify and 1 coming in the 4th place.  I think both teams did well, but it says something when a whole team qualifies to compete together.

Cultural competency and othering

One inherent assumption in many of the definitions about cultural competence, is that we are to teach, learn, understand other cultures so that we know how to work with them. The issue begins with this “we.” Who is the “we?” An issue with cultural competence is the assumption that workers need training to work with the “other” or policies need grooming to make them cultural sensitive to be acceptable to all.  This “othering” is problematic for me. This “othering” is similar to the concept of stigmatization. By placing separate efforts/classes/trainings in cultural competency, we are stigmatizing the work with different population groups.

It makes me think about how unwelcoming professions, classes, and work places must be to these “others” if we have special classes and training on how to work with THEM.  According to Link and Phelan, “labeled persons are placed in distinct categories to separate ‘us’ from ‘them'” which is what we are doing by creating separateness in teaching cultural competency.

It  is well understood that the focus on cultural competence is to bring attention to the historical lack of focus on anything other than white, middle-class, male values in order to serve a wider population in the most effective and pertinent manner. However, when we teach how to work with the other, I wonder if we are teaching that others do not belong. So, my question is how do we incorporate all types of diversity throughout our education in order to prevent “othering?” Not specific classes on cultural competence or diversity, but inherently and explicitly acknowledge in all practice, methods, and research classes the differences and similarities in working with a broad or distinct population. The prevention of “othering” groups may increase the inclusion of more diversity within the professions which will continue to increase the mainstreaming of cultural competencies in general education and training.

Quick thought…

I’m reflecting on the idea that social work should be more about creating tools that empower people to help themselves rather than helping people directly. Not sure I can buy into the NASW slogan of “Help starts here.”  Should social work focus more on empowerment rather than helping? Or do I just have a negative attachment to the word “helping?” It just seems so paternalistic.

For-Profit Colleges aka Career Colleges

I’m liking all the attention for-profit colleges are getting from Washington. It’s an issue that has been bothering me for many years. Here’s a post I wrote back in 2007 at my other site:

Troubles Grow for a University Built on Profits

Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times. It’s about the rise in for-profit private colleges and the problems students are having. This is another subject that I am quite passionate about. As lower-skill jobs are being eliminated and dislocated workers need retraining, we are seeing a rise in these for-profit colleges that cater to adult learners. I think some of the recruiting tactics are borderline predatory because they mislead low-income individuals into believing they will obtain their degree and a high paying job. But the problem is that many of these “schools” are accredited to qualify students for financial aid and giving out degrees, but they are not accredited by a professional association. For example, my college is accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and/or some regional variation and the social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. This means that my degree is social work meets the quality standards set out by the CSWE. It also means that my degree is valid and accepted by employers and other colleges nationwide (and worldwide). Now, let’s take the the University of Phoenix (the subject of the Times article). They are accredited by the U.S. Dept. of Education and/or some regional variation, but not with Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business which is the accrediting agency for business schools. So, when a student leaves U of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree that person may have a difficult time getting a job in business because their degree is not valid with the AACSB. They may also have difficulty in getting any of those credits transfered to a traditional college. So, then they are left with thousands of dollars in students loans and no high paying job. It’s sad. It’s worse when I know someone is enrolled in such a program and there isn’t anything I can do to help them. It goes back to the old adage that if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

NPR Story

As I was driving through Itasca State Park on Friday, I heard a disturbing story on The World for NPR about the Marines in Afghanistan training Afghan soldiers. The Marines were joking about how they were unable to pronounce the names of their Afghan colleagues, so rather than trying to learn to pronounce the names the Marines gave them new names. These new names were various references to they way the Afghan soldiers looked or on United States movies. One Afghan soldier was given the nickname “Toothless”  another was given the name “Pedro” because the Marine claims that the Afghan soldier looked Latino. The NPR story wasn’t about this terrible cultural insensitivity, but about how the Marines were having difficulty training and trusting the Afghan soldiers they were training. Sadly, I think NPR and the Marines missed a possible connection between the insulting nicknames and the difficulty in the collaborative process. I wonder how much training and education the Marines get on the collaborative process and building successful teams through support and respect rather than intimidation and mockery.


As I was sipping my coffee this morning, reading my way through my Google reader, I was happy to see so many stories on International Women’s Day. Granted, my Google reader is stacked with feminist bloggers and organizations working to end gender based violence so it was bound to be that way. Inevitably, many of the stories surround the issue of gender based violence. I started noticing the different methods of addressing gender based violence–service provision or macro-level change. These are not mutually exclusive nor all inclusive. Just two areas on a continuum.

Many of the service provision stories come out of the United States whereas macro-level stories tend to come from abroad. This seems to be a common theme around issues of social change. I’m taking a social welfare history class right now. We are currently discussing the professionalization of social work. It’s something my cohort has been discussing for the last year and half.  What did social work lose by choosing professionalization?

In the U.S., professionalization has moved social work through social reform to social work through social service. I think the definition of social work as social service provision has narrowed the field–in thought, in action, and in development of social workers. We have plenty of micro-practitioners interested in providing individual service and a dearth of macro thinkers to develop innovative ideas for social change. I’m not saying we don’t need both because I truly believe micro-practitioners are important to social work practice. However, I’d love to see a lot more focus on macro level changes. More social workers interested in what is now considered radical practice.

Debunking learning styles

Some say learning styles are myth, others say they’re magic

Without having read the original research article from this report (I know–bad academic), I’d have to agree with the reported findings. I’m currently taking a teaching methods class which places a lot of emphasis on learning styles. The emphasis on learning style makes learning  scienitifc and easily applicable to all subjects when I just don’t think this is the case. I think what is being lost in the emphasis in learning and/or teaching styles is: subject content and relationships. My learning style tends to vary with what I am learning. There are some subjects where I am a very verbal learner and others where I like to have more reflection. However, what always increases my ability to learn, is the level of engagement with the instructor. If the instructor is approachable, creates a safe learning environment, and is excited about teaching their subject it will reflect in the way they present information and engage their students. As I begin my teaching career, these are the things I hope to bring to the classes I teach.