“The Truth About Trust” – Book Review

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Trust is one of the basic components of daily life. Whether it’s trusting a spouse to remain faithful or an employer to compensate you for the hours you worked or yourself to stick to that diet, being trustworthy and ascertaining the trustworthiness of others are imperatives.

In The Truth About Trust, David DeSteno, PhD, explores the importance of trust in determining success in life, love, and learning, etc.. while also exploring the mechanics for how we perceive trustworthiness. As it turns out, the image in popular imagination of the human lie detector who reads miniscule changes in facial expression is mostly Hollywood myth. Another insight is that while we are prone to using past behavior (also known as reputation) in our quest to determine the level of trustworthiness of another, this approach is often ineffective because “human behavior is quite variable” (pg. 16) meaning past behavior does not necessarily predict future behavior.

For the purposes of this review, I’d like to look at two findings the book reports on that are relevant to my readership. The first insight is on the dark side of the biological hormone Oxytocin and how that effects parenting in light of peer orientation. The second insight is on the importance of respect in creating trust in a learning environment.

1. Oxytocin is a bonding agent that the body produces. The hormone induces labor and creates a strong biological bond between mother and newborn baby. The hormone is produced in physical interactions like hugs and even handshakes. It’s no wonder then that it has been hailed as “love glue.” Bu it also has some downsides which have only recently been explored. While Oxytocin produces warm fuzzy feelings for how one responds to someone in the “in-group” [such as a family member or good friend], it can also increase feelings of envy, discriminatory prejudice and judgment, etc., of  members of an “out-group.”

This is significant in light of the research of Dr. Neufeld. Firstly, in-group bonds between say middleschool friends can be quite intense but then too their harsh treatment of the new kid or the outsider can be equally intense. Oxytocin is involved both in the affections shown toward insiders and the hostility shown toward outsiders. Secondly, in Dr. Neufeld’s seminal work Hold On To Your Kids, he demonstrates that peer orientation can often result in a peer group replacing the attachment and loyalty of the bond to family (particularly parents but also siblings.) Again, Oxcytocin can work as two-edged sword, bonding kids to friends and pushing them away from parents. (Click here to read more about Dr. Neufeld on attachment.) Click here to access my series on parental engagement, an importance stabilizing force for mitigating concerns of peer orientation – or for more on attachment, click here and here.

2. On a more positive, but equally important note, The Truth About Trust presents research which empirically demonstrates that trust is essential for children to learn. One study, Young children’s selective trust in informants, authored by Paul L. Harris* and Kathleen H. Corriveau, found that preschoolers were able to choose between competing truth claims by selecting the source they found the more trustworthy. The two key takeaways were that preschoolers, with secure attachments, trusted primary caregivers over anyone, failing that, they trusted the source who was seen to be most like them (ie., culturally), and failing that, they trusted the source who had demonstrated the most reliability in the past.

The book also reports research which states that “Children actually remember information better – the same information – if they hear it from a trustworthy source as opposed to an untrustworthy source.” (pg. 74) Additionally (and significantly),  students respond better to teachers they trust than teachers they merely like (be a mentor, not a friend.)

Trusting someone is inherently risky and yet without trust, our society would not be able to function. The Truth About Trust doesn’t offer any fail-safe formulas or gimmicky manipulation tricks. Instead, the book walks through the various systems, conscious and subconscious, within us that affect how we trust, whom we trust, and how we ourselves act in any given situation. The main takeaway though is that trust matters and that when it comes to learning, trust that flows out of a secure attachment is essential. This is good news: as parents, it means nature is on our side. We can trust ourselves as parents and as a result of our love, our children can trust us, which provides our children with the support system they need in order to grow and develop into lifelong learners.

“Disrupting Class” – Book Review

Clayton Christensen (author of Disrupted Class) speaking at the 2013 World Economic Forum
Clayton Christensen (author of Disrupted Class) speaking at the 2013 World Economic Forum CC BY-SA 2.0 Source:

Once upon a time, computers were large, cumbersome, hard-to-operate, and expensive. Then Apple created a personal computer, broke into the market, stole the market shares from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and revolutionized the world. Well, not exactly. Apple didn’t compete directly with DEC – to do so would have been futile given the stronghold DEC held. No, Apple created it’s own market by creating its model IIe personal computer which was marketed to a whole different set of consumers – children.

The true story above is the perfect example of a potent form of change. Disruptive Innovation. Apple reinvented the game. At first, Apple’s product was not nearly as capable as the computers DEC was making, but over time, as the cost of building went down even as the computing power went up, people quickly realized the personal computer wasn’t just a children’s toy – and the world has never been the same.

On the back cover of Clayton M. Christensen’s book Disrupting Class are endorsements by: a former Governor, a press syndication service operated by the Washington Post, a Chancellor of Education, and the author of Good To Great (a staple in the business world.) And while the book is focused on “How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” (subtitle), it’s equally valuable reading for its insights into business as well as education. And its vision for the reinvention of schools is one that has many leaders, myself included, excited.

Disruptive Innovations happen on the sidelines; they create a new way of doing things and once that new way has fully matured, it displaces what once was. And thus Apple PCs replace the DEC minicomputer and Wikipedia makes academic print encyclopedias almost irrelevant.  The School Choice movement is a Disruptive Innovation. Nevada’s new Universal Education Savings Account legislation is a Disruptive Innovation. And schools equipped with software that adapts in real-time to the learning styles and pacing of each student while providing ongoing assessment of learning? Well, that’s a Disruptive Innovation that is waiting just around the corner.

Currently customization in education is largely conditional on financial resources. Wealthy families pay for tutors who customize their instruction for their pupils. School districts with ample financial resources offer more AP classes and extracurricular studies. Imagine then if barriers were broken-down and students from all backgrounds had access to education that is customized to maximize their learning.

Like all disruptions, student-centric technology will make it affordable, convenient, and simple for many more students to learn in ways that are customized for them. – Disrupting Class, page 92

Are you concerned that such an approach, which turns teachers into mentor/guide/tutor and places software at the center of learning might not be effective? Consider this area (one of many) where student-centric technology would be of benefit and would alleviate a major concern of educators, parents and students: testing:

When students learn through student-centric online technology, testing doesn’t have to be postponed until the end of an instructional module and then administered in a batch mode. Rather, we can verify mastery continually to create tight, closed feedback loops. Misunderstandings do not have to persist for weeks until the exam has been administered and the instructor has had time to grade each student’s test.

There is a lot more great information contained within the pages of Disrupting Class. I highly recommend that you buy a copy and read it. Here’s a link to the author’s website – and here is a link to his Twitter page.