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Notes on trust 3-3

alesnick's picture

It's natural to not trust large groups of people -- natural to be uneasy

when you can't get a read on it all

Have you ever felt comfortable speaking in front of a large group?

Trust difficult to define

Can't blanketly trust large groups of people, can trust individuals

If we look at our peers as individuals, rather than a group of classmates -- look at is as 20 individuals, rather than a goup of 20 people -- maybe that could allow for more trust

Have a conversation, then greet each other on campus

individual relationships make it easier to trust the group as a whole

A lot to ask is bringing personal stories into the classroom, beginning with smaller groups, then to the whole group

Have taken multiple classes with the same people -- i know more about their stories and have learned their learning and speaking style -- so i judge less

importance of learning people's learning styles -- notice the way others engage in the class

We don't trust ourselves -- we 

You don't need trust to share something -- you can put it out there anyway

calue in hesitation and reluctance

I haven't had a lot of experience in classes like this b/c I'm hesitant to frame my arguments -- like to practice in small group -- "am I going to say this the right way?" Reluctant sometimes

I'm afraid of talking in front of large groups of people, when they are anonymous -- we know that this group is not anonymous

We're all taking an education course, passionate about that subject . . . 

Have places in step that foster disagreement, places to challenge each other?

What do we already disagree about?

Sometimes it's not about trust but about self-consciousness (in the larger group) -- I need to think thoroughly before I speak out -- talk with a partner before larger group -- I get feedback from my peers

What activities the class does make us more comfortable/trusting -- varying activities ==

Talking about heavy topics in a way that is light, less tense

mixing up rhythm of the class more











a.path's picture

Before I start, I just want to say that I left this class session right before the class-wide conversation that followed the two-person mini-conversations leading up to it. But with these notes and my own thoughts, I trust myself to surmise its relevance. In fact, just this statement of preface leads me to believe that trust in oneself should be of primary precedence, only to perhaps be followed by trust within our classroom. It doesn't seem, upon first encounter with the question of why there isn't enough trust in our classroom, an issue that lingers excessively on a student's mind, this being indicative of the fact that perhaps a student's priority is not tackling the ways in which their classroom can be most conducive to inspiringly deep and prompting brewing of thoughts and ideas. To a certain extent, the student trusts the teacher to perform several simultaneous levels of consciousness that can cater to ensuring that the lessons and curriculum are moving forward, observing and taking account of classroom dynamic, both as a whole and within smaller pockets of discussion, and developing and proceeding according to what resonates as generative and enriching improvement. All of which are enormous tasks in and of themselves, and it is rather halting and refreshing to be asked directly and head-on to consider what perceptions of trust are for this class.

I want to launch, here, right into what originally prompted the following exploration. Weeks ago, Alice compiled a document of our class' responses to the online reflection survey. A handful of the comments addressed frustration, to varying degrees, for not knowing what was expected or being asked of in terms of content for the first paper, not being sure what the professor was looking for, wishing the essay prompt was more directive and concrete. The amount of this sentiment struck me for two reasons: 1. I immediately ignored this concern and reflection because I myself have been ignoring essay prompts and assignment instructions pursue my own agenda since middle school (then realized this is indicative of several things that are not most relevant to every other student), and 2. This sentiment and concern I have heard voiced in a number of courses at Bryn Mawr since my freshman year. These two things are now inspiring me to further interrogate this through writing, and how it relates to trust in the classroom.

I have observed in various classes that are constructed on an aesthetic of open-mindedness and permission to follow your trains of thought where you trust them to take you, a professor will assign these open-ended essay prompts, a "write what you feel that you need to write and explore," pushing an agenda which seeks to stimulate an unlearning of traditional student work that revolves around regurgitation, uncreative production, and uncritical thinking. The agenda is admirable, and instilling discomfort or challenge within a student is not necessarily a hostile concept. The potential resultant friction occurs when a student, introduced to a "there is no wrong answer" framework, finds that their work is inevitably critiqued, criticized, ultimately deemed "wrong," as if the promise made to them, by an authority they've not historically been permitted to allow distrust, has been broken. This all happens in the blink of an eye for a student who has gone through this, and throughout all the open-ended-induced uncertainty there's still been no space to be critical or suspicious, especially if these thinking-based operative modes are still young and new.

I have witnessed professors who perform a kind of sit-back-and-relax demeanor, chuckling and light-heartedly entertained by students engaging in the struggle to best exhibit critical thinking and open-mindedness free-spiritedly and calculating what it means that they can be origins of their own thought trajectory, that if it occurs organically, it cannot be wrong or incorrect. I recognize that my language and wording are perhaps rather extreme, but I am coming from a place of witnessing subtle, brief, and poignant performances of in fact all these sentiments, always faint and fleeting, like a spider web which is only caught by the eye when the breeze glides just so, and the sunlight twinkles ever so slightly in the beautiful silk embroidery, inspiring all at once inspiration and dread.

To describe this more succinctly, this dynamic is akin to and collaborating with the dynamic of a professor declaring their misgivings with number-based rating scales of student achievement and performance, giving numerical grades when they can never fully encapsulate the value of the work itself. After this declaration, however, grades are administered regardless, and though it is generative to be critical about grading systems, oftentimes for students whose prior academic experiences did not involve alternative and holistic measure of their own achievement, it can be conflicting, discouraging and frustrating to be ultimately held to an institution's standards while conducting coursework that seeks to dismantle, unlearn, and counter those same institution's standards and modes of operation.

This is, of course, not to say that open-minded and open-ended assignments and guidelines - if believed in wholeheartedly - will only evoke impeccable pieces of work. It is perhaps more the abruptness and halting nature of having a number stamped on a paper after being encouraged delightfully to take risks and confidently follow your thoughts. Again, I recognize the tone of potentially excessive urgency I may be conveying with this, but just as student reflection questions are set up to prompt a deeper investigation of underlying affairs in one's mind, a discussion on trust within the classroom deserves taking steps back and observing patterns which have all too well become as common as flipping on the light switch upon entering the room, arranging the chairs in a circle, pulling out a notebook or computer for taking notes. The fact that these patterns - specific to this class and this style of creative and open-ended pedagogy - are extensions of a less-forgiving foundation of classroom culture and choreography, is indicative of how far back an interrogation of trust must begin. Behaviours that reflect lack of honesty and transparency not only prevent trust, but also keep shut the door for the possibility of it occurring to every student that trust is a potential component of classroom culture.

To take a step back for myself even in this moment, I acknowledge that somewhere along the way of my education I must have subconsciously taken my naiveté and developed it into unquestionable and often stubborn trust in my own intellectual agenda and thus never been prompted to question why risk-taking isn't always the initial design of any assignment, or why the task could be foreign, stressful, and onerous for another student. Perhaps, ironically narrow-minded of me and definitely indicative of various privileges that have been afforded to me though various aspects of my identity. Perhaps, being queer and genderqueer to the temporally fullest possible extent, being culturally a foreigner, but still white and able to blend on a dynamic of visual commonality, which is enough of a privilege in an academic environment that then allows my queerness to subconsciously create the margin in which I can ignore the rules with little to no qualms. However, there is something distinct, I must note, about my experience with the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program while living overseas, the details of which I won’t go into entirely here, in that the mechanism used to both teach and assess learning was unlike any other I’ve observed. To outline it briefly could potentially assist in addressing the conflicts of trust and lack of consistent transparency in classroom progression.

The IB had standardized content guidelines, learning goals, and detailed rubrics, but because of how global and international both the location of and student body within schools that offer IB, these rubrics and guidelines are vague enough in their requirements that the assessments of student achievement are open-ended in a different way than I’ve observed in courses here. The program inspires liberty for students and teachers to elect context that is most applicable and appropriate, but also trust in the responsibility that students have to exhibit mastery and comfort of that required content. In this way, the liberty and availability of choice requires the student to gauge which context will serve them best to show that they are competent with the theoretical content and how to apply it to real-world contexts of their choice. I wholeheartedly recognize that the IB is not perfect in all aspects of its pedagogical implementations, but the dynamic of student liberty with simultaneous responsibility represents a level of trust that is central to the education platform.

I wonder if a liberal arts education, commonly occupying the post high school space in a student's life, is such that liberty of election is so differently manifested in each of the various disciplines and areas of specialization. In our own class, assignments are in fact outlined in ways that encourage incorporation of lived and literary contexts, but I wonder if the dynamics foster distrust or wariness because of the lack of transparency about the ways our work in this class seeks to provide commentary or instigate change in the institutions that host us. Being aware that this campus is no completely radical exception to the imperfect spaces we are working to empower ourselves to critically interrogate - perhaps this awareness isn't as strongly voiced as are the desires to inspire and fortify empowerment in all the learners within our reach.

Before I get too lost in my own semi-abstract musings, I just want to re-focus on the initial prompt: that of questioning trust in our classroom. Having trust in an environment requires trust in one's own discomfort and tension. One student, one body, cannot possibly contain every perspective, every nugget of information that complicates an exploration, anticipate every response and comment to their own utterance. Perhaps hesitation in confident participation stems from a quasi-debilitating self-awareness that each body and mind is incomplete, not fully knowing, and not fully capable. This self-awareness is encouraged, certainly, to inspire humility and recognition of all our capacity to learn and grow more; however it simultaneously calls attention to all the reasons a student should not have perfect trust in themselves. It is a fascinating experience, to be called to observe all the wealth occupied by our very life experiences and concurrently to observe how much wealth everyone around us in the classroom contains. The space is of unfathomable wealth, and yet, one is halted in conflict and uncertainty of which sentiment most strongly beckons and warrants adherence. Fascinating, that anticipation of disagreement is both used as reason to be distrustful of one's own contributions to class conversation, and reason to encourage any and all contributions. Every student's mind is following their own individual timeline while gauging the community's timeline and the choreography is such that the community's timeline presents as elusively as the difficulty in discerning the reputation of trust in the classroom.