This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
There is a growing awareness of the crucial role that trust plays in every aspect of a school’s functioning, especially in student outcomes. Trust is a willingness to make oneself vulnerable to another based on a belief in that person’s benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. As citizens across the globe have become increasingly distrustful of their institutions and leaders, the trend away from trust creates a special challenge for schools because trust is so fundamental to their core mission of educating students. The philosopher Annette Baier observed, in Moral Prejudices, that we tend to notice trust as we notice air: only when it becomes scarce or polluted. These days, it seems evident that trust in our society as a whole has indeed been disrupted and is in scarce supply. As contemporary society has grown more complex, as changing economic realities, changing demographics, and changing expectations in society have made life less predictable, as acts of terrorism and large scale shootings even within the sanctuary of schools have entered our collective consciousness, we are beginning to notice trust much more. There are a number of things that make cultivating and maintaining trust in schools challenging. These include the effects of the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and other new forms of information, and the propensity for negative gossip to spread more rapidly and further than positive news.
Trust matters in schools and in our world because we cannot single-handedly either create or sustain many of the things we most cherish. Parents send their children to schools, trusting that they will be safe from harm, as well as guided and taught in keeping with our highest hopes for them. Schools are also invested with a significant share of a community’s collective resources in the form of tax dollars, school buildings, and local employment opportunities. In addition, schools are charged with keeping and promoting a society’s shared values and ideals. They foster and protect the collective ideals of respect, tolerance, and democracy, as well as the vision of equity of opportunity. Indeed the future of a society rests with the quality of its schools. It is evident, then, why trust has become such a pressing issue for schools in these challenging and turbulent times.