We found out this week that the people who run the University of Southern California think that the term “field” is racist. In the category of “You Can’t Make This Sh— Up,” a memo was sent out from the “Practicum Education Department” of the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work announcing the new name.
The memo literally says that they are making the name change “to ensure our use of inclusive language and practice. Specifically, we have decided to remove the term ‘field’ from our curriculum and practice and replace it with ‘practicum.’ This change supports anti-racist social work practice by replacing language that could be considered anti-Black or anti-immigrant in favor of inclusive language. Language can be powerful, and phrases like ‘going into the field’ or ‘field work’ may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign.”
If they are replacing language that “could be” considered offensive, then maybe they should also get rid of the word “department” as it has the word “men” within it. Women who take courses on this campus could be offended, thinking that it is only for men.
Then there is the School of Social Work. Many believe that the word “school” originates from the Greek word schole. At one point in ancient Greece, about 1 in 4 people were slaves. What about students who could be offended by the word “school” after learning about Greek history?
What about those students who could be offended by the idea of “work”? Many believe that it comes from the Greek word érgon. Or there may be others who believe that work is a remnant of a patriarchal society. Will they change the name yet again because someone else could be offended by it?
This continued line of logic is absurd. There is no comfort for those perennially looking to be offended.
Instead, how about spending some addressing some real challenges related to race and economic status? Research from the Brookings Institution shows that, of the people who graduate from high school, get a job, and wait until they are at least 21 and married before they have children, 98% live middle-class or higher lives. It is called the success sequence, and it works — regardless of race or income.
Sadly, too many schools in America are not giving students the tools to succeed in America.
At the Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education in Milwaukee, the minority enrollment is 99%, and 95% of the students are economically disadvantaged. According to U.S. News & World Report, their proficiency rates for mathematics, reading and science are all the same: 0%. Amazingly, the school has a graduation rate of 93%.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Statistics, only 17% of Black students in the country were at or above proficient in reading. Only 8% were at or above proficient in math. Yet the Black student graduation rate nationally was 80%.
In other words, the schools are not effective in teaching students to be proficient in reading and mathematics. Either students drop out of school early since reading is fundamental to completing other subject work, or schools engage in social promotion by graduating students who are not ready to enter the workforce. These are the real problems facing young people all across the nation.
Saying someone is going into the field of social work or the field of medicine is not racist. Dooming predominantly low-income Black children to a potential lifetime of problems by forcing them to go to failing schools is racist. Knowing that families with resources can afford to send their children to better schools, but low-income minority families often cannot — yet not doing anything about it — is racist. Blocking ways for them to have a choice to send their sons and daughters to better schools is racist.
Overall, we live in a world where virtual signaling is too often more important than actually doing things that are productive to address real issues. Working to provide equal opportunities is the path forward.
Looking to blame some for the challenges of others leads to resentment, not success. We need leaders who are focused on solving problems in ways that help all Americans get ahead.
Changing names and titles just because someone could be offended is not the answer. Loving your neighbor as yourself and treating them with respect is the way forward. As I recall, there was a guy about 2,000 years ago who spent a great deal of time sharing this message with both large and small groups of people. If we just listened to his good news, we would all be in a much better place.
• Scott Walker is president of Young America’s Foundation and served as the 45th governor of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.