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Indoctrination into Inadequacy By: Bill Felkner
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"A college or university is a marketplace of ideas, and it cannot fulfill its purposes of transmitting, evaluating, and extending knowledge if it requires conformity with any orthodoxy of content and method." – The American Association of University Professors. I am a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Social Work (SSW).

I recently read an article entitled “Union U” by Steven Malanga, which discussed “labor-studies” and how these state run University courses involve working with unions to produce research and organize workers for political activism.  One class at a time lobbies officials and stages protests in the name of “education.”  It immediately occurred to me that my school is a labor-study on steroids, and it has the ability to take its agenda to other schools as well. 

My taxpayer-funded school proclaims it only teaches from a liberal/progressive “perspective.”


My taxpayer-funded school produces research to support this “perspective.”


My taxpayer-funded school demands political activism to advance this “perspective.”


“Cuba has a better health care system than America” is a topic of the day in my classes. Bush Lies is required reading. Political campaigning in class for leftist agendas and lessons in leftwing history are a pervasive presence.  Don’t misunderstand; I have had good professors at the college itself, but in the School of Social Work (SSW), even the good ones practice political indoctrination.  As one faculty member put it, “the SSW is not committed to balanced presentations, nor should we be.  We are not a debating society.”


The Rhode Island legislature – which is 85 percent Democrat in the House and 83 percent Democrat in the Senate – pass legislation that requires that administrative positions in the government’s welfare and social work departments be filled by SSW graduates - further perpetuating its leftwing “perspective.”


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the governing body for our profession.  Once “social work” meant government workers at the welfare office. Today it encompasses private clinical therapists, government administrators, policy analysts/researchers, and lobbyists. The NASW has a Code of Ethics that prescribes orthodoxy for the profession.  A committee chaired by Frederick Reamer, a faculty member at Rhode Island College, is responsible for the code. The “perspective” has been able to manipulate public policy and the legislature here in RI and throughout the country.  

In every state, social workers are involved with health services, labor services, foster care and welfare services.  They design, influence and implement policies in your state.  We are even taught how to create policy simply with our actions. Social workers, sent with their marching orders from Rhode Island School of Social Work, carry a single and persistent theme – the prescribed “perspective” is the only solution, regardless of the issues. You will see how this perspective, even in the face of “empirical research literature,” is taken from the classrooms and made into law.

How does this loss of academic freedom affect not only me but also Rhode Island?   Besides the loss of intellectual diversity that spawns creativity and empirical knowledge, it has a more tangible and costly influence to our economy and more importantly to the poor. One requirement of graduation is that we lobby the State House on social justice issues.  I selected the Education and Training bill, because it is the core of welfare reform, a career interest of mine.   


Welfare programs are “work-“ or “education-first,” further defined by “strict-“ or “lenient-requirements.” Rhode Island has a “lenient-education-first” model and the proposed legislation advocates more leniencies.  At first glance, statistics provided by the school seemed convincing in supporting this approach. However when I read the entire study I found it inadequate.


The Rhode Island General Assembly receives testimony from the Department of Human Services (DHS) on the effectiveness of Rhode Island’s welfare program. This testimony is driven by research produced within the halls of Rhode Island College, the same research used to solicit support from students. But is it valid?  


As stated in the department’s own work, “One limitation of this study is the problem of selection bias due to the use of a non-probability quota sampling strategy rather than random sampling.”   In layman’s terms - it’s survey material, not experimental data.  So I looked for more.


The US Department of Education and US Department of Health and Human Services commissioned random assignment design studies for the explicit purpose of evaluating the impact of welfare programs.   The Manpower Research Demonstration Corporation (MRDC) produced these reports.  


Results show the model promoted (and imposed) by the Rhode Island School of Social Work is the least effective and most costly. 


Virtually all variables studied (earning, poverty-reduction, job-security, self-sufficiency, effects to minorities, etc...) show “lenient-education-first” programs under-performed the other 3 models.


We all know the potential education can provide.  We want to believe “education-first” programs are effective - but the research suggests otherwise.  According to the MRDC studies, even in long-range terms, “This finding suggest that it is unlikely that the (education-first) program will eventually catch up to or surpass the (work-first) program with longer follow up. … the positive effects of work-first programs may persist or grow larger over time.”  


If random sampling studies are preferred - and are available - why doesn’t the school use them?  Is this state school in pursuit of knowledge or a political agenda? The answer is obvious.


Correcting for ideological prejudice is relatively simple if the will is there. A simple comparison to other states can identify solutions that work. The US Census supplied demographic data used in a recently released Cato Institute report that ranked states on a variety of issues.  With Rhode Island spending so much more proportionately on welfare compared to other states, it is both disconcerting and revealing to see rankings in the bottom 15-20 percent on most performance categories including ‘teen-pregnancy’ and ‘poverty-reduction.'


When I asked Linda Katz, Policy Director for the Poverty Institute, about these statistics, she said, “On the question of whether there is anything about other states in the Cato report that would be helpful to RI, my answer is “no.”


Dr. Pearlmutter, Academic Director for the Institute and SSW professor, acknowledged the benefits of other welfare models but said, “However, none of the findings indicate that earnings were substantial enough to lift people out of poverty.” 

This is true, but neither are the earnings that result from Rhode Island’s program. But the measure itself is misleading. “Earnings” are not the same as “income,” and benefits don’t end when earnings start.  Add programs such as childcare and food stamps - incomes reach 30-40 percent above the poverty line in states other than Rhode Island. 

The MRDC research makes very clear the comparative disadvantage of using Rhode Island’s education first program, “the (work-first) programs generally produced larger five-year gains in employment and earnings than did most of the (education-first) programs.”  (Links for studies at www.collegebias.com)


With Rhode Island ranking 3rd in per-recipient spending, 6th in tax rates, 46th in business tax-climate, and among the lowest in welfare efficacy (36th poverty-rate - 49th caseload-reduction - 46th teen-pregnancy - 41st job-entry - 40th earnings-gain), wouldn’t all of Rhode Island’s citizens benefit from more effective programs?  The poor become self-sufficient, funds become available for others, and taxpayers might even get a break.


Our policy class at the School of Social Work “teaches” that a comprehensive welfare state, one devoid of work-requirements, is the optimal form of government. Our professor flatly declared: "Students need to decide whether they agree with (my opinions) and whether they belong in social work." 


When I informed my professor that the research supported the opposite of what the school has asked us to advocate, I was told that the School of Social Work is a “perspective school” and that is the perspective they teach. If I lobby on this bill, I was told, I must lobby on behalf of the perspective the school mandates.


The response of my school to my suggestion that the empirical evidence did not support the perspective they were promoting was to forbid me to send any more emails on the subject. This was deemed best for my “individual learning needs.”   Face-to-face meetings were now required to set me on the right path again -- all during times I am scheduled to work. 


Lenore Olsen, chair of the masters program, wrote me referencing the discussions with Dr. Pearlmutter mentioned earlier.  In that email, Dr. Pearlmutter made the following statement in defense of her comment that other welfare programs didn’t produce “enough” income; “Bill, some of the questions you have asked require a knowledge and understanding of statistical and research techniques that other questions indicate you do not yet have.”


I responded to this patronizing brush-off bluntly. I'm told my response breached the conduct required by both the student handbook and the “Code.” They had found a way to put me on the defensive again. Let me take this opportunity to apologize; Dr. Pearlmutter, I’m sorry my attitude was inappropriate, perhaps more reflex than thought.  As a child having experienced poverty, I can attest it has left its mark. 


One more excuse; I didn’t learn about the world from professors, I learned out there.  Perhaps if I were placed in this environment of privilege and indoctrination at birth I wouldn’t have the life-experience that seems to be interfering with my “education.” 


However, Integrity and Competence are also "Code" values.  If the school continues to promote its misleading research, its commitment to these values should be questioned.  If the school continues to regard data subject to selection-bias as more relevant than that supplied by the MRDC empirical study, then its competence is surely in doubt.


Following these episodes, I received my grades. I won’t bore you by detailing the punishment I received for standing my ground.  I will say that some were not reflective of the quality of my work, but were strictly responses to my refusal to toe the party line.  

Here’s a summary of the system at work:

  • The school mandates the “perspective” to its students.
  • Human-service administrators are mandated by law to be social work graduates.
  • Graduates move on to work for organizing or human-service companies.
  • These human-service companies testify (using the organizer’s research) to the State House on how well their self-directed programs are doing. 

Rhode Island College marches hundreds of fresh college faces through politicians’ doors every lobbying season.  The school and Poverty Institute develop the research (marketing material) as well as the organizational infrastructure to send these troops out in productive and relentless waves.  How long can logic compete with an unending sea of idealistic students, funded by our taxes, motivated by grades, bound by requirement, held by tuition, and “educated” with a single perspective?


Academic freedom and intellectual diversity are not only essential for the progress and attainment of knowledge, but as Rhode Island has shown, also necessary for economic solvency and the moral fabric of our society.

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