I have been working in the field for a while
now and one of the things I used to appreciate was how, in many ways,
the field was ‘jargon-free’, or at least the jargon was easy to
But lately I have been coming across a lot of words and concepts that I just don’t understand. Like I read somewhere the other day, about things like postmodern counselors, and politics of mutual liberation, and about some conference concerned with the intricacies of embodiment and, elsewhere, I read other words and phrases referring to ideas and concepts that I just don’t understand.
Now, granted, most of this writing is coming from people who work in academic environments so it probably does not get out to the field very much.
But here’s my question – why are people speaking about our work in a way that makes it so hard to understand what they are saying? Is it the old ‘academic tower’ thing – are we developing our own ‘elite’ – are the people who are talking about oppression, putting themselves above everyone else?
Or am I just dumb?
No field is jargon free-that is a myth. Our field
has lots of jargon that sounds natural to us. Terms we have borrowed
from developmental psychology like attachment, development, transition
to adulthood were not common ways of speaking about young people 40
years ago. The notion of relationally based work is also jargon – what
exactly does that mean? Whole books are written on it. These ideas were
also first developed in the "ivory tower" by psychological and
phenomenological researchers and theorists and then gradually adopted at
the level of daily practice as ways to describe what we were doing.
Without a doubt there is a new language evolving in our field. As one of
those "guilty" of using the new "jargon" and working in the "ivory
tower" I can say that the new language is very meaningful to me as I
think about what we do. I should note, however, that while I currently
work in the ivory tower I spent over 25 years in the field working in
all aspects of care and my interest in this new way of speaking and
thinking is based out of that experience. In fact I began writing in the
"new jargon" while still working in the field (for 10 years in fact). It
is not a question of intelligence or jargon, in my opinion. It is a
question of what descriptions work for you. I hear from the field that
many workers are finding these new descriptions useful – others are not
and others are overtly hostile to any new language. I hope we can be
generous and recognize that all our descriptions are "jargon" – some is
just more familiar than others. Some works for us and some works for
others. However, it is useful to be familiar with many descriptions if
one wishes to have the maximum flexibility in working with others. The
more descriptions, the more options for practice.
You are not alone, I have no idea what those words mean. My plan was actually to look up the words on Wikipedia and post the results here, so I would sound very intellectual. Unfortunately, I don't understand the explanation by Wikipedia either.
I guess we'll just work with the children.
Werner van der Westhuizen
As co-chairs of the upcoming Child and Youth Care in Action Conference at the University of Victoria, we couldn't help but notice the reference to our conference program and some of the specific themes we hope to explore during our conference. Given that one of our intentions in hosting this conference is to create a space for lively dialogue – where we get to explore our differences based on an ethic of hospitality, openness and generosity – we welcome the conversational opening provided by this anonymous post.
The poster asks the following question: "why are people speaking about our work in a way that makes it so hard to understand what they are saying?" We agree that this question is important, and we would like to engage with it. In fact, this would make a great topic for a roundtable discussion at our conference and we'd love to include such a session in our program! We're already imagining all sorts of creative possibilities that this question could spark.
While we realize that this is not the forum for an extended commentary and we recognize the inherent danger of responding in a way that sounds "too jargony," this post has really animated our thinking. We are also aware that this is not the first time that this topic has surfaced on this listserve. We would like to take seriously the questions that have been raised and we offer a couple of initial responses as a way to extend this dialogue even further.
First, as educators, researchers and practitioners, our use of 'unfamiliar' language is purposeful. We live in a very complex world – one that inherits many contradictions (for example, we go to war to bring peace to the world). And the work that we do is also filled with complexities, especially when we take into consideration the current demands of neoliberalism (i.e. the current era of efficiency, productivity, corporatization, competition and privatization). Simple language simplifies ideas – neoliberalism does not
simplify but rather thrives in complexity. Therefore, we believe that our language needs to capture that complexity to engage in its challenge.
Second, we have designed our conference program in a way that invites multiple perspectives, theories and approaches for working with children, youth and families. We believe that our work demands that we view children, youth and families within their ecologies. Our social realities are different than before, so we need new ideas to understand the workings of our contemporary contexts.
We welcome further conversations from other listserve subscribers. Dialogue and debate, we believe, will enrich our field. Again, thank you for initiating this critical and, perhaps difficult, discussion.
Jennifer and Veronica (Co-Chairs of Child and Youth Care in Action Conference).
I am new to the field of Child and Youth Care, as I am currently in school studying in the Child and Youth Care Counsellor Program. I am having as much trouble understanding "jargon". After reading reports and assessments on children and youth I find it hard to understand the short hand version of "notes" that are being taken on these children. I find it impossible to understand a report with AWOL, IED, MLD, RSW and YP. It takes me longer to look up the terms than it takes to read the report. Although I understand some short hand or "jargon" is necessary it is getting to the point where the report is too confusing and complicated to read. Am I the only one who thinks this?
Lacey Dawn Bowness
Well, an interesting discussion, and I find I want
to step into it.
As one who, sorry to say, finds much of the 'new language' beyond my realm of experience, I, too, struggle at times to understand what is being said. And I do want to understand, because it is possible that what is being said is important. Sometimes, as Hans implied, I find myself on the outer edge of the new (and, Hans, by the way, I appreciate the respectful position you took regarding 'to each their own way of seeing', in your posting). I am sure there was a time when 'developmentally appropriate', 'coming from your centre', 'attachment behaviors', ‘life space’ and the like were new, new, new – and had I been involved in reading about them from this distance I now experience with the ‘new language’, I might have been shaking my head going 'what?'.
So, like I say, I appreciate your position, Hans, – and by the way, yours, too, Werner! But, in a way, it does not help me with this struggle.
I have wondered about this issue of language for a while. While I recognize the North American and European tendency towards linguistic complexity, I wonder if it is not isolationist and dividing? If I am often confused, I wonder how many others are. If I don't understand, I wonder if there are others in the same position. I acknowledge that is a very ego-centric position, but I don’t think, based on conversations I have had with others, that I am really alone in this confusion.
I guess one could argue that it is my job to do what is necessary for me to understand better. But I revert to the old idea that if you want someone to understand what you are saying, it is the speaker's responsibility to communicate in a manner that is understandable by the listener. And I remember Adrian Ward saying something like ‘training for people in this field should look and feel rather like the practice’. We talk about it all the time in our field when we are discussing interactions with children, youth and families, so why should it be different when we are trying to communicate with each other? If you want to be heard, speak in a language which resonates with the listener.
I read, for example, the posting from the folks who are hosting the conference referred to in an earlier posting, and I wonder about a number of things, including, for example, why they want to 'engage with the question' rather than, for example, engage with the person who raised the question? I wonder why they position themselves as they do – e.g., 'we would like to take seriously the questions that have been raised' – is there another way to take anyone’s questions? Are there some questions that are below, or beyond, the dialogue? Less worthy, perhaps? Further, I might offer a question in response – if your use of 'unfamiliar language’ is purposeful, then to whom are you speaking – obviously not to those, like me, who do not understand. In simple terms, it seemed to me that you were 'talking down' to those of us who do not use this language every day and do not, for example, subscribe to the beliefs that you posit – unlike the posting from Hans who invited us all to be ourselves.
I think in many ways – although perhaps not – that this speaks to the original poster's point – if one speaks in an unfamiliar language and expects the listener/reader to 'simply understand' is this not actually assuming a position of cultural superiority in which ‘intentionally unfamiliar language’ is supreme? Are those who choose to communicate with this language not positioning themselves as 'superior' and in offering "leading conversations" are they not implying they are 'in front of the rest'? But maybe that is my own defensiveness.
I agree that we need new ideas to understand the new realities of our existence. It has always been, and will always be, that way. But should these new ideas not be transmitted in a manner which invites, rather than discourages, participation? If you isolate yourselves with your language, like 'embracing the intricacies of embodiment' (I must confess, I still do not know what that means) are you not separating yourselves from those involved in the everyday? Does language such as this invite the participation of the larger group? I don’t think so. Rather, I suspect, it does just the opposite.
As for whether or not the 'discussion' is 'difficult', I cannot even imagine why one would think so. Discussion, debate, challenging have always, in my experience, been a part of this field. It is part of the reason why we have grown, as a Child and Youth Care field, as we have. I want to be clear here about something – my comments are not directed simply at those who are organizing the conference. They simply offered me the opportunity that I have been looking for, for a while. I respect their willingness to ‘put this out there’ to encourage discussion and debate. And that is what I am trying to do here – enter into the debate with passion.
I just want to close with this thought – although all of this is probably already too long . .. a few of the characteristics of our field, as I know it, involve things like 'meeting them where they are at', 'being 'developmentally appropriate', etc. And I wonder if the communications in this 'new language' take those into consideration. Now, I know there are others out there who are also interested in this discussion – you know who you are (C, K, H, E, G, L, M, B, J, etc., etc. – I could probably go through the alphabet)- and I hope you will 'engage with the dialogue'. Or ‘engage with me in dialogue’.
1) Nonsensical, incoherent, or meaningless talk
2) A hybrid language or dialect; pidgin
3) The specialized or technical language of a trade
We have all three in the field of child and youth care.
I believe that many writers, educators, and some practitioners in the field make an earnest attempt to create jargon as a way to accurately express what they perceive and observe in the field. They appear to attempt to create labels that will help to explain or act as a reference point for the theory, concept or technique they wish to discuss. It is my experience that most of these terms generated by the field, having stood the test of time, make important contributions to the practice.
I also believe that some disciplines and their writers, educators, and practitioners use jargon in an effort to create a form of elitism so that only they can speak and understand the language. In some cases it appears to act as a buffer for insecurity or is used to elevate. My experience with this type of jargon is often one of frustration and confusion.
Finally there are those that create jargon to be noticed or to have their cause noticed. The word or phrase acts as a banner or buzzword to draw the reader’s attention. Most of these, along with being meaningless, only confuse and in some cases embarrass the reader. This type of jargon used as a gimmick is not helpful for the field and does confuse the reader.
Myself I try to stay within the confines of the English language making bicycle and refrigerator my big words. I do use child and youth worker jargon in my writing, teaching and even at times in my practice if the word or term would help the child or youth better understand my meaning. I am for a universal language that appears to be developing and flourishing in the field. One that embraces the field’s terms of reference along with those of related disciplines. The social service network that we work with closely and depend upon as part of the treatment delivery team (there’s an old one).
I hope that all social disciplines continue to work
towards a more universal way to discuss the phenomena of human
experience. Then, at least, we can understand each other and, if we work
hard enough, the people who rely on us for help will also be able to
First, let me say, no you are not dumb, you are actually very attentive to what is happening in the field of Child and Youth Care and I commend you for being courageous enough to bring forth this topic.
I have worked in the field of Child and Youth Care for almost a decade (primarily in school-based environments) and I am currently a Masters student in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria.
I plan to speak as part of a round table discussion
about "this new jargon" at the Child and Youth Care in Action conference in April. I plan
to take an ethical stand in our field using some of the new jargon which
hopefully will bring about respectful conversations for creating ethical
sustainability in our field – sustainability that is always becoming – always in process – always transforming never stagnant.
I must state that when I was first flooded with the "new jargon" during the first year of my Masters – I resisted like crazy...however, that was because I no longer viewed the world through the same lens and did not know what to do with all of the change happening inside of me (self-doubt). Having support and and a desire for psychological flexibility – I am now energized by all the changes that are happening "through the use of this jargon". What I am continuing to learn is language is an art-form that is captured during various times over the course of history – it is a creative process allowing one to think differently about issues that are so important to our field – it is a way to step outside of dominant "truth regimes" situated in language that dictate the "right and wrong" ways to practice in our field. For me, dominant or taken for granted language situates some of the people we "care" for in "abject or abnormal" categories of existence – when in fact, I know some of you reading this will agree when I say "they don't belong there – 'they are misunderstood, marginalized, silenced".
Thank you Hans and Veronica for responding to this important post from the perspective of the "ivory tower". Your work, research, and support is vital to the changes that need to occur to creatively help "us" shift "ways of understanding" human flourishing.
I am beginning to see this new languaging even in the school I work within. It is exciting to see this evidence of much needed change in alignment with an ethic of care that draws many of us to this field.
I invite openness and willingness to learn some of this "new jargon" (psychological flexibility) and hope I was able to show rather than tell of its significance to the field.
I look forward to entering conversations with some of you in April at the conference.
I agree. Child and Youth Care work, like any other professional discipline, has got its own jargon. Confusing as some might be, will depend on who is reading that particular jargon. Terms like phenomenological approach, life space work, and work in the moment are all terms commonly used in the Child and Youth Care field.
However, the issue raised by Lacey Dawn is true as
well. Child and Youth Care should easily be understood especially by those who render
services to children and youth at risk. For one who has been in the Child and Youth Care practice for years will probably have no problem with Child and Youth Care jargon ... but
hey, there is a way of simplifying terms. It is of critical importance
to realise that in our practice there are three levels of workers
according to Jack Phelan: levels 1, 2 and 3 where those at level one
would still need our support in terms of comprehending Child and Youth Care complexities.
This then translates to the fact that how we perceive Child and Youth Care jargon depends
on where we are in terms of our professional development and experience
as well. I think Lacey Dawn's concern is a genuine concern that should
not be ignored to the detriment of many Child and Youth Care practitioners
Hi guys, well said Kiaras, the Animals and Feire in one post, I know I could be your friend. The point he makes exactly nails the magic of our work. Yes, we require a solid understanding of the core concepts in order to communicate across professional boundaries and manifest enough competence in the eyes of others to ensure that we get results for our kids, but we must equally get alongside and see the world through the eyes of the 'other' and value their expression of life in all it's rich form. We are the conduit between realities and we need to be ever conscious of the power inherent in that role.
I often struggle with how I process other's pain,
sanitise or take the edge off when I really believe that those holding
the purse and power strings should get the full existential howl from
the depths of their being. Perhaps Janet Newbury and Kiaras have hit on
a way of presenting a dual narrative that offers a less mediated way of
presenting people's lived experience.
I am cautiously wading into the quagmire to share my thoughts about the use of jargon in our field. As a long-time child and youth care practitioner and current PhD student at UVic, I am fortunate to have a unique vantage point in the middle of this debate. My perception is that this issue originated not so much because of an aversion to new ideas but to the use of language that is not typically used in the field (yet) and therefore not familiar to many practitioners.
New ideas are important to any field – if we want to do the best possible job we can, we must always be open to exploring innovative and potentially better ways to engage and intervene with young people and families. Along with new ideas comes new language. Ideas and language, however, are not the same thing – and I do recognize the irony in having to point this out in the midst of a discussion that originated with postmodern and poststructural "jargon."
It is possible to discuss very complex ideas using very simple language. It is also possible to discuss very simple ideas using very complex language and (I imagine I have been doing this a lot lately) to use very complex language without fully understanding what you are actually saying.
I agree with Kiaras when he talks about the importance of us learning to understand each other. I disagree, however, with his assertion that understanding is not a function of the complexity of language. I believe, as Thom has pointed out, that our choice of language can either enhance or limit understanding. And I think that gets at the crux of this discussion.
Here's an example of what I mean: Right now, I am immersed in the ideas and language that are the focus of this discussion thread. When I am conversing with my fellow students or the professors in the program, I will (tentatively and self-consciously) use this language – because I am trying on new ideas and ways of expressing myself, and I know , since we are immersed in this together, that they will understand what I am saying (if I actually get it right).
When I go back to work next month, I will not talk this way to my colleagues
- because they do not speak this language. It would be disrespectful for me to purposefully converse with them using words they are not familiar with.
What would be the point, other than to demonstrate how much wiser I have become? Because I know they're all smart people, however, who are open to new ideas and willing to try anything that might improve their practice, I will share my new knowledge with them. I will explain the concepts and theories using "plain language," and then introduce the jargon. This should help to open up a dialogue, allow for a lively exchange of ideas and information, and eventually facilitate understanding and learning – on both ends – which would be my ultimate goal.
This approach is no different than the one I would use when introducing new ideas to the young people. To deliberately use language that they don't understand would only block communication – why would I do that? To increase understanding, in any situation, the questions I ask should be: Who is the audience? What is the purpose of this communication? What is the message I want to communicate? The answers to these questions will help to guide me in deciding what kind of language, or jargon, I should – or should not – use.
If we want to engage practitioners and academics in a new discourse, a vibrant exchange of exciting ideas (which I think is a necessary and important initiative), everyone must first feel welcome to participate in the exchange. If the invitation is worded in such a way that I do not even realize I am being invited, a barrier to communication has inadvertently been erected. Interpreting my subsequent lack of involvement as an unwillingness to embrace new ideas or an inability to think complexly will further add to the distorted communication and misunderstanding. And on and on it goes.
We are child and youth care workers. We all have a role to play in the continuous growth and evolution of the field – whether as students, practitioners, supervisors, managers, trainers, consultants, or academics.
Underpinning this entire discussion, the reason we are all passionately and courageously engaged in this exchange, is the desire to provide the best possible care to the children, youth and families we are privileged to encounter on a daily basis. We struggle through this type of discourse, with each other, so that we will become better equipped to help our "clients" (there's a loaded word for you) with their struggles. I think that's language we can all understand. Perhaps we can just start there.
Hello. I just wanted to comment that I really appreciated reading Kiaras Gharabaghi's commentary. He writes beautifully and I particularly appreciated the "translations" of some of the things we say to young people as CYCP's and then how they interpret our responses . All rang so true!!
Thank you Kiaras!
Bingo. You've pointed out the negative reactions that many of us (mostly with 30+ years in the field like myself) have to the language being used in parts of the field. I'd probably add self-indulgence and possibly obsessing as further reasons why people are speaking this way. But, since language is like any other behaviour, it can be used to impress, show membership in a group, indicate being up-to-date ("with it"), etc., etc.. The biggest issue though for me and those like me, is the relevance of the language to the realities of the work and the field.
As for having our own jargon, I think it's inevitable, and ultimately necessary since child and youth work involves a unique perspective, basically that the daily environment/milieu, and particularly the social spects of that environment, determines behaviour. For instance, I still haven't found a suitable word for what seems to be a basic element in CYC work – the point at which the child/youth comes up against a meaningful (for them) piece of the environment. For example, some autistics find sign language easily understandable but not spoken words. Or, a sexually abused teen sees a nicely decorated bedroom as a trap rather than a resting place. What do we call those meaningful pieces of the environment? "Stimulus," "interface," "interaction," "connection," "contact point," etc. doesn't quite do it, maybe "nexus" but then we're back into words that look like they're chosen for effect as much as to communicate. I'd like to call the most meaningful ones, "bangs," and lesser ones "hits," then maybe "grazes" or "nicks" - common words but with special meanings for us, which is probably a definition of .... jargon!
Hopefully, as the field develops we'll get concepts that are clearly based in the work and less on other disciplines and what's fashionable. In the meantime, I'd say consider yourself honest, insightful, and refreshing rather than dumb.
I’m not sure where I stand on this one. I suppose I’d like to draw a distinction between jargon and words and ideas that are maybe not that easy to get a hold of but may be necessary to do justice to the complexity of child and youth care. There might be a bit of self-justification going on here as I’m writing this post on a train back from London where I’ve been presenting a paper on the relevance of the philosopher Aristotle to residential child care. Aristotle, of course, wrote in Ancient Greek and to represent his work I have to use terms such as eudaimonia and phronesis.
Now, I can understand practitioners thinking that
this is self-indulgent nonsense and I might have thought the same were I
still in practice. Until I unpack such words and realize that they
reflect ideas of what a good life or human flourishing or happiness
might be and what kind of practical wisdom we might want Child and Youth Care workers to
be able to demonstrate in their practice. At the same time I myself felt
a bit out of my depth at the London event which was attended by
professors from across Europe, for they spoke of literatures and ideas
that went over my head. Were they using jargon or is it just that I am
not yet initiated into their ways of thinking? I suspect the latter
might be the case.
I must admit that, like Thom, one of the terms I have struggled with is that of embodiment. But I reviewed an article recently that spoke about the gnawing in the gut that social workers can feel when they go out for a visit into an unknown situation. Maybe this is embodiment and if it is then maybe it does reflect senses that are real and need to be named somehow.
So, to conclude, I don’t think we do justice to Child and Youth Care when we use language that seems deliberately to complicate or is other-worldly. On the other hand, I don’t think we do it justice, either, if we shy away from complicated words and ideas. What we do need to do, though, is to ground such words and ideas in the everyday experiences of those who still work in the field and in ways that those who work in the field can make sense of.
Last week I posted a message under this thread that included a careless remark (with reference to bicycles) that should not have been part of any message, was hurtful to colleagues, and that distracted attention from my main point. The problem was compounded by my failure to check the history of the thread, and so my flippant remark was too easily – and erroneously – attached to valued colleagues.
My apologies to them and to you.
Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to post reactions and responses to the use of jargon in general in the field and, in particular, the use of language in the Child and Youth Care in Action conference flyer. As a member of the conference organizing committee, I’m following the discussion with great interest and intrigue. Angela Slade’s reference to the need for psychological flexibility and I would add, linguistic flexibility, certainly resonates for me and it seems that the use of language has been provocative and somewhat confusing. One of my mentors, Vance Peavy repeatedly warned me that in order to be understood you have to know your audience and take responsibility for the words (and ideas) you choose to use. Towards the end of his life, however, he was sometimes accused of only speaking to practitioners. So while speaking to one group, he lost the attention of another. This was not our intent.
Audience, therefore, is critical and we wanted to speak to those practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and program directors, who are struggling with many of the trends that are affecting children’s lives:
budget cuts in programs, a narrow interpretation of what counts as evidence, over reliance on prescription drugs, and increased reliance on diagnostic categories, racialization and discrimination, violence, hatred, and cruelty, to name just a few. Couching these social conditions as part of a “neo-liberal” agenda helps us to understand that we are not being overly sensitive (or paranoid) but are working in a system that is favouring bottom line profits over human well-being. One of our challenges, however, is how
to avoid dividing the world into binaries: them versus us, good versus evil?
What kinds of theories might be sensitive (or
elaborate) enough to consider the context in a holistic way? What
kinds of theories or discourses might be helpful in order to understand
the “ecology” of children’s lives so that we can truly engage in the
lifespace. For several decades Child and Youth Care writers have been exploring the
lifespace as if it is depoliticized, as if it’s a neutral space where
children can be anyone or anything they want with the right kind of
caring relationships. What I believe the conference is trying
foster is a wholehearted endorsement of these traditional or inherited
perspectives as well as an invitation to articulate and propose other
explanations and opportunities for Child and Youth Care theory, research and practice.
I love what Jacques Derrida has to say about holding both perspectives:
“This is what deconstruction is made of: not the mixture but the tension
between memory, fidelity, the preservation of something that has been
given to us, and at the same time, heterogeneity, something absolutely
new, and a break” (p. 7). Although some of these theories may not be
harmonious with each other, they can still learn to be good neighbours.
So back to the issue of audience. Sometimes I find that my students reject these newer ideas because they worry that it will create too much distance between them and the people they work with. I think these are very legitimate concerns. One student told me recently that if he ever used a formulaic paraphrase (“What I hear you saying. . . “) or a miracle question with his street involved youth, he would lose all credibility and trust. What I try to convey, as do most of us who teach, is the need to be sensitive to language, and the need to be multi-lingual. I know this has been written about by several Child and Youth Care authors, but it seems particularly important that we all learn when and where to use certain words and not others. What a great opportunity to have a Child and Youth Care audience to float some of these newer theories, their particular languages, and their potential implications for practice.
As conference organizers we tried to stimulate some thinking both to affirm and critique some of the more recent theories, the “posts” as some call them. We imagined that the conference would be a place where such debates could happen not at the exclusion of other kinds of theories (traditional, developmental Humanistic, etc) but in order to elaborate the paths we’re on and to try to collectively figure out where we might imagine going next. Gerard Bellefeuille and Francis Ricks kicked off this process when they named their edited book: On the Precipice. Presumptuous? Maybe? Intriguing and exciting? Yes, absolutely!
So what I’m left with after reading some of the responses is a certain amount of disappointment that some members of the Child and Youth Care community might feel excluded, “talked down to”, or made to feel “dumb”. This was certainly not the intent of the conference organizing committee, nor was it to position some as “insiders” and others as “outsiders.” When Thom Garfat ended his interesting and thoughtful response by citing a series of initials, I definitely experienced the effects of insider knowledge so I am acutely aware of what exclusionary practices do to people and their desire to participate.
I could continue to engage with the interesting posts (yes, and interesting people) but will leave room for others. I go back to the issues I cited at the beginning. We are in the midst of massive changes in politics, both here in Canada, and globally that demand that we work together to tackle the most pressing issues facing children, youth and families. It will take all of us, all of the theories and explanations we currently have and can create in the future, and all of the available research, policies and practice we can imagine. There are so many influences that impinge on our work with children, youth and families. Hopefully we can all feel inspired and invited to participate in continued, “lively” debates.
UVIC School of Child and Youth Care
Before this topic winds down or heads in other directions I just wanted to say thank you for raising the issue. It focussed a lot of things for me and spurred me into submitting an article to CYC-Online. It was also further encouragement to me to work on a book about real/actual CYC. Maybe by the time I'm finished it you'll no longer be anonymous and I can mention you in the acknowledgements.
Dear Colleagues and Friends
Just a quick note to mark my dismay over some of the hostility on this thread towards those of us who would choose to speak in a language unfamiliar to others of us. I am amazed at some of the blithe assumptions about motivation that verge on character assassination that have been posted. In some respects the dialogue has veered dangerously close to the "English" only discourse in the US. Why can't they just speak English!
I don't see why anyone should be required to speak in any particular kind of way about the work we do. It seems to me that we would welcome a plurality of voices and descriptions of our field – even if they are unfamiliar to us. If the University of Victoria sponsors a conference that uses language that is unfamiliar to us, I would suggest that we respond according to our level of interest in what they are offering. Why should a different perspective, set of descriptions, or choice of language be anything other than interesting or not interesting? If its interesting and unfamiliar, go and learn. If its alien and uninteresting go to a different conference. I believe there should be room enough in our field for a range of conflicting and competing descriptions
I am not arguing that we all get along. We can disagree, fight and fuss all day long. I rather like that. What I am worried about are the attempts to intimidate, dismiss, hold to a different standard, or silence voices that stand outside or challenge the mainstream language of our field.
As to whether intellectuals or academics should have a voice, they always have. Every single concept and idea used in the field today and in everyday life originated from someone thinking about what someone did and trying to describe it. Some of these descriptions become so familiar they begin to seem more real than new and unfamiliar descriptions, but they were all originally unfamiliar as well. To try to dismiss theory is a fools errand. It can't be done. All that can be accomplished is blinding oneself to the fact that what you do is theory driven already.
To anyone who thinks they understand the "real" work or has the "real" description. That is the formula for fundamentalism, fanaticism and fascism. I spent a quarter of my life in the trenches and I am still trying to figure out what we are all doing there. In my view self-reflection is a critical element of doing the work well. That's difficult to do when you have a big chunk of truth stuck in your eye.
In the end, this a call for us to be curious about each other. We don't have to like the various descriptions that are given of what we do. We should disagree and argue over what it means to do this work. However, we should strive to understand before critiquing and be sure we are not critiquing in order to silence another's voice. We should welcome all voices whether practitioner, youth, parent, intellectual, academic, politician, or anyone else who can enrich our dialogue.
Alien language is an opportunity to learn a new view
of the world. We should take as many of those opportunities as we can.
Thanks and hope to see you in Victoria
To catch up on this discussion . . .
Kiaras, one of my best friends when I was a kid was Imra – for the longest time I only spoke English and he only spoke Hungarian – he was one of those 'crawled under the wire fence' survivors. We had a great relationship, I loved being with him too, but neither of us was seriously hoping to educate the other, I think. Being with him versus helping him come along, or whatever, are different. But I am glad you learned to Foucault a little.
I remember one day when Imra and I were playing together before he started to speak English. He picked up a cat and, stroking it, said 'meow, meow'. I was so excited! I ran home and told my mother that cats spoke the same language in Hungary. My mother laughed and said something like "animals speak everyone's language. It is only people who can't do that."
I didn't know what she meant, of course, but I do remember thinking that this was somehow a profound thing she was teaching me. I'm still not sure I know what she meant, but now I am sure that it was an important lesson.
I appreciate the points made in this discussion about 'differences being diversity' (I know that's my interpretation of what was said) and Doug's point about phenomenology and 'leaving academics room to play'. And Jeremy's point about us 'marking the territory'. And the redefinition of some of this as the use of 'unfamiliar language'. And the danger involved in separating ourselves into categories with labels of exclusion. Well, there are so many valuable points being made that I am, frankly, grateful just to read them. I am especially liking the idea of multi-linguisity, which frames things differently for me.
One of the things I have enjoyed about this field is that I have been able to be a student forever – there is always something new to learn, some new idea being offered up to think about, some new insight knocking in my head (or some friend trying to knock some sense into it).
I guess I am getting on to being one of the older folks in our field and I am fortunate to have so many more modern colleagues and friends who try to help me keep up – or at least tolerate me as I puff along behind them eaves-dropping on their conversations in this 'new language'. So, who knows, Kiaras, maybe with time I can learn to Foucault-tu a little too. And in the meantime, I would appreciate any help I can get in assuring that I am understanding what is meant by what is said.
Yet, I must confess. . . I was in South Africa last week (I realize the privilege that is) as were a number of friends and colleagues. And perhaps because of this, I am having a constant juxtaposition in my head between phrases like 'a dual narrative that offers a less mediated way of presenting people's lived experience' (sorry, Jeremy :) with phrases like 'how can we help these people get the food they need'.
Many practitioners 'work at the coal face' as I have heard said in Ireland. They deal, daily, with issues of life (and death) and how to live with less pain (now) and how to find a way to crawl out of the depths of their (often) depression and despair and how they can claim a place in the world.
And, as anyone who works with kids knows, I am not just talking about South Africa – children in my country (Canada) suffer oppression, disconnection, hunger, disadvantage . . .children in Northern Quebec wander the winter streets at temperatures of minus 20 because they have no place to go, the migration of street kids to the warmer west coast is well documented come the fall, kids in downtown big cities are drawn into drugs and prostitution only to be discarded when they are no longer profitable, families in Ontario wonder how they will feed their kids, kids in Newfoundland wonder what future there is for them – the fact that we are an 'advanced' country does not mean that there is no suffering.
And along with this, child and youth care workers struggle, daily, with the issue of 'what to do' – like what to do when Mary keeps trying to kill herself; or what to do when Kim won't stop running to the streets; or what to do about the kid who' pain is so deep he is afraid to talk; or what to do when . . . anyway, you get my point.
So, here is my struggle – and I recognize I need help here and any help I can get would be deeply appreciated – how do conversations in this 'new language' which some of us struggle to understand, or the use of this new language, help the practitioner to deal with the realities of the encounter at the coal face? How is it helping to enhance practice on a day-to-day basis with those who need such support now?
Help me out here. Show me the ways in which this is meaningful in helping to elevate the pain we encounter daily. Help me understand how it helps the 'average' child and youth care worker be a more effective helper in the day to day. Or maybe this is all about the future – and if that is so, that's okay as long as we acknowledge it.
I want to be clear before I leave this post – I am not trying to offend anyone – and I do know that this media conveys only a part of the message sent, so I apologize if my words come out offensive. I see this discussion as an opportunity for me to understand a little better something which has been lingering for me for a while. Language is useful, theory is helpful, discussion is good – but how is this 'new language' and the debates which seem – to me at least – to be somewhat esoteric, helping those who a) are 'outside of the dialogue' and b) are busy trying to help the children find the food, the shelter, the safety they need now?
I think this conversation, this discussion, this 'engagement with the dialogue' has the potential to help some of us 'bridge' a little – and maybe if we can keep the discussion going, defining what we all mean as we go along, being as inclusive as possible, well, maybe it can help us reduce the potential for separation – and that would be, I think, a good thing – because, like it or not, I do experience a growing reality gulf between 'those who are doing' and those who are 'thinking about the doing'. And if we don't close this gap before it gets any bigger, then I worry for whether we will really grow or not as a field. There is, I sense, a danger of our field coming apart, and I would like it if we can, together, collectively, avoid this possibility.
Dear Doug and fellow CYC-NETers,
Thank you for your response to my post knocking academics in the "jargon" discussion thread. It was a bit critical/negative so I decided to make the next one more of a "here's what I'd like to see academics do" but it got fairly long so I submitted it as an article for CYC-online. Some of it addresses what you've written here under "Academics and practice." But to address your response directly, about your last paragraph: Yes, we run the risk of going down the road much of social work has. I suspect the social work situation is the reason for a lot of the new roles CYWs are moving into (in parts of Canada at least), because CYW training and field experience involves the kind of "practice with real people" that is missing in social work.
The article I submitted does try to address a number of your points about academics, etc. raised in the other paragraphs. To get past the problems of "it depends on what you mean by 'the work'," I gave a lengthy definition of what I mean by "child and youth care/work," essentially the traditional definition as found in The Other 23 Hours minus the emphasis on the residential setting. The two "scourges" of our profession as a professional discipline as far as I'm concerned are the pre-occupations with Child and Youth Care as residential, and as front-line only. If we were to go back to our (formal) roots in the 1950s it was obvious that Redl's etc. definition of child and youth work was more like, "the provision of a therapeutic milieu." The European roots in the 1940s (psycho-educateur) makes that kind of definition even more obvious. A therapeutic milieu can be created/ selected/ adapted in many more places than residences. And it certainly isn't all up to the front-line staff. Most experienced CYWs know what can happen to a milieu (good or bad) with a change in management, regardless of how good or bad the front-line staff are.
So, my suggestion is not to ignore/abandon those roots though they were residential, but to celebrate them by extracting the basic concepts and applying them across settings (call it "horizontally') and through the levels of a setting, from director to front-line staff ("vertically"?). I tried this in a fanciful way in "The Child and Youth Care 'SWAT team' and other thoughts on the future of our profession" (CYC-online, March '09).
As to why the academic/ intellectual work of developing these early concepts has not happened, I'm sure it has to do with some of the things you mentioned. So, as a kind of answer to the problems you raised about academia, here's some suggestions:
For those academics without a CYW background (but with access to the literature):
a. analyze the early writings in Child and Youth Care (Bettelheim,
Redl & Wineman, 23 Hours, etc.), pull out the basic concepts and apply
them/test them through time (to the present), or across settings
b. compare CYWs with other occupations/ professions to determine what is uniquely Child and Youth Care For academics (or students) with a CYW background:
a. don't be embarrassed by the dated "hokey" language of people like Redl, and things that don't sound as modern (or, is that "post-modern"?) or as grand as "ecological perspective," "reflective practice," "oppression" but get at the concepts underlying the language of early Child and Youth Care writers; you've got a better chance of being a Bronfenbrenner, Shon, etc. yourself in 10 years.
b. Practice "CYC guerilla scholarship" for example:
a. Convert other assignments to Child and Youth Care ones;
e.g., I did a course in "comparative education" by defining Child and Youth Care as
"social education" and compared present-day CYWs with Jean Itard who
practiced in the early 1800s
b. If your funding/ graded assignment is for something somewhat related to Child and Youth Care but based on others' concepts like "aggression (a psych concept) in teens" pick different settings (milieus), flip the independent and dependent variables around, and publish separately the flipped version as a study of milieu (a Child and Youth Care concept)
c. If you're having trouble getting your head outside of your Child and Youth Care experience/ assumptions (it's too familiar)compare CYWs/CYC work with something that contrasts sharply, like nurses in a long-term care facility for the elderly, or have a look at "relationships" between bartenders and their regulars at the bar, or sex trade workers that cater to a small regular clientele.
This last idea was suggested by an article in the Globe & Mail newspaper a few decades ago. It was about a young paraplegic man who had "graduated" from a psychotherapeutically oriented Child and Youth Care treatment centre (they were big on expressing and discussing feelings) who became a male prostitute. I thought it was an interesting way to use the relational skills he'd picked up in the centre.
I don't know how realistic it is to expect any of the suggestions above to be pursued, but I thought it worth putting out there. Sooner or later someone's going to see the apparent mundane work of CYWs as a rich source of ideas about human development/ behavioural change. Piaget did it with the mundane actions and thoughts of his children.