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A profile in social justice

A group that did good 'without doing evil at the same time'

A profile in social justice

(Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images )

"Social justice" has come to mean redistribution of wealth. It didn't happen in a day. The organized practice of good deed-doing in this nation began with no indebtedness to higher education. By the end of the 19th century, social work agencies started training programs. Then they hitched their wagons to universities, and undergrad programs in social work sprang up. These soon took it upon themselves to define professional standards. In 1952 a single accreditation agency was presiding over all social work education programs.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) saw what was happening: "The upsurge of political activism during the 1960s increased the NASW's (National Association of Social Workers) involvement in issues such as civil rights, a guaranteed income, birth control, and welfare rights. This trend was accentuated in the 1970s."

The camel's nose slipped further under the tent when the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) started promoting what looked like a litmus test for national education programs-evaluation of students' "dispositions" toward such vague ideas as "social justice" and "diversity." The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) complained to the federal Department of Education, and NCATE dropped the language.

Blink your eye and "the term 'social justice,' which once meant the obligation to offer charitable help to orphans, widows, the poor, and the homeless, has become a roomy term that encompasses a set of political mantras about racism, sexism, and the rest" (Ashley Thorne, NAS). You may be shelling out 40 grand a year to have someone teach little Johnny "the historical and current grievances that social groups considered 'oppressed' should hold against those who are to be perceived as their 'oppressors'" (Sandra Stotsky, University of Arkansas).

With our nation's economy presently lurching into the abyss, "charity" toward our fellow man will be more needed than ever. Who should dispense it-the government, or you? If you don't, they will be happy to. When the smoldering embers of mob envy are cynically stoked by the very people who stand to gain by the stoking of them (President Obama came to my fair city of Glenside, Pa., in March to whip up hatred toward the "haves," this time in the form of insurance companies), let us beware lest the shadowy forces that have patiently laid in wait to see the victory of socialism (Oops, I mean "social justice") have found the wedge they need.

Like 21st-century America, 19th-century England was the worst of times. Ten percent of England's population (3 million people) lacked the basics of food, shelter, and work. William Booth described government remedies as "well meaning, but more or less abortive attempts to cope with this great and appalling evil" (William & Catherine, Trevor Yaxley).

Booth devised a strategy (In Darkest England and the Way Out) that was based on seven foundational principles. The first was that any plan for helping poor people must deal with the heart of the man. Another was that the help (a "hand up," not a "hand out," he called it) must not cause further harm: "Mere charity . . . while relieving the pinch of hunger, demoralizes the recipient; and whatever the remedy is that we employ, it must be of such a nature as to do good without doing evil at the same time."

In phase one, Booth and his helpers established institutions to rescue and provide immediate necessities and temporary employment and to teach godly principles in living. His Salvation Army opened workshops, where work included brush-making, carpentry, upholstery, sandwich-board carrying, and more. Unwanted items from homes throughout London were collected. The Army opened England's first labor exchange (two full decades before the government thought of it), a legal aid service, and a missing persons bureau for locating loved ones.

"By the end of 1890 The Salvation Army social work entailed thirty-three rescue homes, thirty-three slum posts, ten prison-gate brigades, four food depots, five shelters for the destitute, a house of alcoholics, a factory, and two labor bureaus." All this was done in the midst of a raging public debate over political theories of welfare, and opposition from noise-makers of the "social justice" crowd who thought that charity was the government's business.

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