Following Finland

Crossing the pond: Trust vs. Mistrust

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Pre-post two-minute brainstorming video.

In the late 1950s, psychologist Erik Erikson (yes, his real name) put forth his theory on human development, essentially identifying a series of stages that all humans go through on our way to forming our identities and learning how to navigate life on earth.  Erikson asserted that during each stage we experience a crisis and how we resolve (or do not resolve) each crisis will shape who we become and how we might live later.  The first stage, Trust vs. Mistrust, occurs during the first year of life in which each of us has to figure out whether the world is generally a place in which we can feel safe and secure or, instead, a place in which we will feel endangered and live in fear.  The way the crisis is resolved hinges on the relationship with our primary caregivers, usually our parents, so that we can learn to trust by being loved.  Such trust then results in the possibility of hope.

Which brings me to Finland as I have been witness to myriad examples of trust in this society over the last few days: a landlord leaving her baby in the buggy in front of her tenant’s house (albeit with a baby monitor) while she went in to meet with her tenant for an hour; everyone weighing their own produce because there is not an inherent assumption by store staff that someone might pilfer an extra pineapple; everyone skating, walking, playing on gigantic frozen lakes (sorry to all my Minnesotan friends: this is new to me and as a Jersey girl with not-too-frigid winters I had never walked across a pond in my life… until yesterday!); and most importantly, why I’m in this far-flung place to begin with, ways teachers approach school with students.

In a conversation with Leena, a social studies teacher at the Normaalikoulu (a high school designed to train student teachers), Leena referred to the concept of trust at least half a dozen times during our meeting today: “Schools trust teachers,” she said.  “Students do well on the PISA [international standardized test] because we still have a society of trust.”  She added, “Look around and see how students leave everything around when they go to lunch.”  As I begin my journey into the Finnish education system, I will seek more examples of trust both in and out of the classroom and see what I can incorporate into my own future teaching.  I would hope that one day all of my students can utter that same statement that Leena did and have it be resoundingly true: “We still live in a society of trust.”

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