pedagogy · Teaching

Radical Trust Part 2

I keep thinking about this project I started, but I haven’t had time to come back to it.

In Radical Trust Part 1, I wrote about the concept of trusting those who have not yet earned it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this in relationship to pedagogy.

I’ve had many experiences in my 7ish years of teaching college level courses, and my nearly 15 years as a college student, speaking with other instructors and professors about their students.

It’s been interesting frustrating confusing to note the presence, or absence, of trust that surfaces in these conversations. Some instructors seem prepared, always, for the worst from their students: doubting their motives, their sincerity, their honesty. There’s no pattern to this. It’s not always experienced instructors or new instructors or instructors burned out from adjuncting that have these attitudes of mistrust. It’s instructors of all levels of experience and rank. That’s not what I’m really interested in looking at here, though.

Instead, I’m curious about what happens when we trust our students. When we give them challenges and trust that they will meet them. When we trust their motives, their sincerity, their honesty. When we assume, from day one, that our students care about their education, their peers, their classes, their towns, their government, the world.

I teach a profile essay in first-year composition (it’s part of our curriculum) and one semester I had 5 different students want to profile their generation. Almost all of their profiles took on the tone of a article finding yet another thing wrong with millennials. Only they were writing about themselves. About how useless they were, how out of touch with the world, how none of them cared.


In their literacy narratives, these same students had written about their hobbies, their failures and successes. These same students had written about learning literacy in volunteer work, learning literacy in coping with a friend’s illness, learning literacy in grief, learning literacy in broken homes. It didn’t line up. They couldn’t care about nothing, at the same moment that they cared so much.

Sitting there with young people who had written scathing papers about their generation because they had internalized all of this loathing for millenials, and basically become literate in the failures of her generation before they’ve even finished growing up, was heartbreaking.  In essence, they had not been trusted with the possibility of being worth anything, and did not believe they would be worth anything beyond their jobs and their earning power. No one had trusted them.

So what happens if we trust them? What happens if we trust our students? Trust our young people? What happens if we stop the “in my day” rhetoric and just focus on the people in front of us? And trust the people in front of us?

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