The day prior to beginning graduate studies in social work at CWRU (1988), my incoming class was required to attend an 3-4 hour seminar. The first 90 minutes were taken up with teaching us how to speak and write in ‘gender neutral language.‘ I remember thinking at the time that the exercise smacked of an arrogant effort to make sure we social worker students would be politically correct in our verbiage. Nowadays, I have no regrets about having sat through those 90 minutes 24 years ago. “Man” is not the same word as “people” or “humanity.”
The second part of our prep seminar had us watching the 1957 classic movie, 12 Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda with an all-star cast to back him up. Why did the faculty of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences (CWRU) deem this movie worthy of viewing by 40 or so green social work students?
12 Angry Men is about a jury that must decide the guilt or innocence of a young man accused of murder. At the outset of their deliberations, 11 of the 12 are quite sure that the accused is guilty. One man, known only to us as juror #8, played by Henry Fonda, isn’t so sure. (SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN’T YET SEEN THE MOVIE, DON’T READ THE NEXT SENTENCE THAT GIVES AWAY THE ENDING.) Over the amazing hour and half of the film’s duration, we watch juror #8 slowly, methodically, patiently and with courage, raise enough doubts about the accused man’s guilt to win him an acquittal.
So what the heck did the movie 12 Angry Men have to do with becoming a social worker? If I had define social work in one sentence it would be:
A social worker has the responsibility of empowering people to make informed, appropriate decisions that are of benefit to them personally or the community in which they live.