Week 15

  • Do the kinds of social work talked about in these readings differ considerably from your social work education? How?  Why do you think that is or isn’t?

My social work education through school and through hands-on work experience have been quite different. Besides this class, my social work schooling education has predominantly been Western-focused. However, in the field, I have mostly worked with Pacific Islanders. As we have come to find out over the course of this semester, many non-western cultures have an entirely differently approach to life, social work included. This is why it’s important to not only be culturally relevant but also culturally responsive. When I think of the two Tongan terms, fakafekau’aki (connecting) and fakatokilalo (humility), I can easily connect the work my field experience. I worked with a lot of first and second generation families where homeland ties were still very prominent. Many times, my clients would ask, “Oh, do you know so-and-so?” as a way of building trust we me and making connections in their minds as to who I knew. Luckily, my work as a home visitor was pretty lax and so with people’s permission, I was able to share whom I’ve worked with in the past. In terms of humility, I could see firsthand the effects of paternalism, living in Hawaii had on many of these immigrant families. They saw me as a “teacher” or a “professional”, someone omnipotent and perhaps to be feared. I think that structurally-speaking, many folks have been told for so long that they don’t know anything or that their way of life is no longer relevant so it was just easier to succumb to this train of thought. This is when it is important for us workers to step down, be humble, and know that we have the burden of being responsible in handling these situations. I found that the more I respected their traditional hierarchy (respect your elders), the more I was granted respect in return. In contrast, my supervisor had a very different outlook. Since I started off kind of young and fresh out of undergrad, she told me that if anybody were to question my abilities, I should just rattle off a list of my qualifications. This approach is definitely from a traditional, Western way of knowing and would not be well received by my Pacific Islander clients. Maybe in some Western cases, it would “work” because schooling and knowledge can sometimes be seen as the be-all and end-all of power.

  • What do you think of the metaphor of the “tree” for social work education?

I understand the idea of “knowing your roots” and “knowing where you came from” but I think the metaphor is a little kitschy. If the roots, trunk, and branches are supposed to represent the past, present, and future of social work, I don’t think this is the metaphor we should be using. If the roots keep informing the trunk and branches, we can expect more of the same old song. We need new, creative ideas to create more theories in indigenous social work practice. What I did particularly like about the metaphor was the idea of uprooting the system, however.

  • How do you think learning about decolonization and other ways of knowing has impacted you personally and professional?


Last year, I helped Hawaii Community Foundation choose their scholarship recipients. We reviewed applicant’s credentials and then ranked them from “most deserving” to least. Originally, I was looking for the folks with the best grades, essays, and SAT scores. After understanding more about the impacts of colonization and other ways of knowing, this year when I volunteer, I will be ranking the “most deserving” using different criteria. I will be looking for stories of hope and inspiration, granting people scholarships on potential rather than substance.


5 thoughts on “Week 15

  1. Lauren,

    I truly respected your last paragraph regarding your paradigm shift in deciding who is “most deserving.” I also think that there is too much value placed on the final product, like grades, test scores, and essays. Although these things are appropriate for measure success in some ways, I think progress, overcoming adversity, and motivation are better indicators of success. I think your construct of “most deserving” promotes growth and gives people, who would otherwise be overlooked the opportunity to succeed. Props to you!

    Regarding your analysis on the tree symbolism, I have a different opinion. I think this is the first time I have ever disagreed with you on a concept, respectfully disagree, OF COURSE. I think the roots or history of anything is super important, which you mentioned in your first sentence in the tree paragraph. The thing about history is our interpretation depends on the current zeitgeist. Thus, it’s the lessons that we absorb from history that are important, more so than the actual historical acts. The roots won’t change, but our interpretations of the roots will, so I don’t believe it will be the same-old-song, but rather new growth.

    I hope all is well,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, Lauren:

    Wow! You’re so brave in putting it all out there this week!!!! I’m realizing more and more as I read others perspectives that I need to stop being so agreeable to what I read and use more of my critical thinking skills. My counterpoint to your argument about the roots of the tree is that the roots are the origins of the tree and it is how the tree stays grounded…it’s the foundation. The stuff above ground can be shaped and modified to how we want it to look (bonsai tree art as an example)…but I agree, sometimes the roots of our practice don’t serve us! I don’t want to perpetuate Eurocentric thoughts into my practice, but it’s imperative that I know where it comes from and what it is in order for me to avoid continuing to see the world and practice under these paradigms…but how do you change the foundation without radical movements that end up killing the tree (and our practice)?

    I remember how proud I was when I earned my BA in psychology and sociology….I felt like I was on top of the world! I mean…even in the Wizard of Oz, the scarecrow is STOKED to get an education!! But sadly, to his discredit, his knowledge about how Oz worked was always questioned…even though he was “made in Oz.” As much as I LOVE learning, I hate that we need to have the letters after the name in order to prove we know a thing or two about working with humans…it’s odd in so many ways to me that the Western way of knowing is by the coveted piece of paper we earn at the end of paying all of this money to learn…but I digress.

    I also believe in experiential learning and demonstration of that experience to the field…I appreciate the bravery in your paradigm shift to reviewing scholarship applications in the future. Many of my youth are not perfect on paper, but I watch how they interact with other humans and they deserve the A+ in life! (Lord knows they have taught me a thing or two!)

    Thank you for pushing me to think critically,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your post Lauren! I always think its interesting how we learn things in school only to find out they those tools are somewhat useless. I keep a list of “unfortunate facts” on a tab on my computer and I share it with people I supervise. Concepts like “Some people’s time is more valuable than others” and “It really is who you know” and “Not all feedback is worthy of implementation, acknowledgement, or action” are lessons that I never heard in my education, yet are extremely important. The part about “who you know” is a less that fits for indigenous methods of social work. If you are unable to connect with a client from a different background, then good luck helping them achieve their goals while being fully honest and cooperative with you.
    I also was not a fan of the tree model. I thought it was cheesy as well. The piece that I think remains valuable is knowing the historical roots of something as that has a cultural lineage and possible trauma in itself. In looking at the roots we see that not of the western modalities were terrible, many were founded in good intention without malice. I liked your piece about how to apply this directly in your life with the scholarship program. The kids that do well, grade and score wise, are usually students that come from structured homes with supportive parents. I applaud you in striving to focus on potential (as a long time individual that failed to reach that potential).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lauren- What a privilege to sit on the Hawaii Community Foundation board that awards scholarships. i like your change in thinking oh how you award them from here on out. I work with at risk hawaiians and they all struggle to understand why there is funding for students that go to Kam schools but here is very little for them as they are “under achievers”. its got to be a struggle to decide whether to fund those in need or those most likely to succeed.

    I also agreed with you relative to the use of the tree in social work. i love the symbolism of the tree but in my perception social work needs to have a worldly view that incorporates all cultures and ethnicities and the tree didn’t seem to fit for me in this instance. Thanks for your post -Josh-

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your insights on paternalism and humility really struck me. I think that is why classes like this are so important! The approach of listing your qualifications…honestly, I don’t know of any community except middle class whites where that’s a successful strategy. Just saying…


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