The bad kind of trust fall

Posted 2/28/18

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple weeks about the concept of institutional trust. Yeah, I’ve been working on other things, too. At any rate, the reason I’ve been thinking about this …

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The bad kind of trust fall


I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple weeks about the concept of institutional trust.

Yeah, I’ve been working on other things, too.

At any rate, the reason I’ve been thinking about this is that it seems to be failing right now, on just about every level of society. Let me give you some examples.

From the trivial: the Denver Broncos. There is a huge debate raging right now on sports talk radio about what the Denver Broncos should do with the Number Five pick in the upcoming NFL draft. There are a million ideas, but they all eventually came back to this problem: after the debacle that the last few drafts have been (last year only one draft pick even contributed, and, at that, he was a weak point), does the fan base trust John Elway to do the right thing with those picks? The Broncos, over the last two years, have lost a good bit of institutional trust.

From the purely local: I was always taught, from a management perspective, to “under-promise and over-deliver.” This, it would seem, is especially true coming from institutions that have a monopolistic relationship with the public. So, what do you suppose happens to institutional trust levels when a school promises a community one thing as they’re selling their program, and then, behind closed doors, chooses a lesser iteration of that program? That’s exactly what happened at Drake Middle School this week. Five weeks ago, when the middle schools were talking to elementary families about the transition to a three-year middle school, Drake sold the community on the idea that students would have a seven-class schedule with three electives. Which, of course, is brilliant! Middle school kids need choices and variety to keep their brains engaged and to start discovering who they are. Then, with no community input, the staff voted last week to revert back to a six-class schedule, eliminating many choices for students, and only communicated this to the public through a “Friday afternoon news dump.” You want to know why the charter and option school movement is so strong in Colorado? Because decisions like this erode institutional trust with the public schools.

To the tragic: I am a huge fan of any man or woman who has, as part of their work wardrobe, a bullet proof vest. The very idea that there are people who hug their children goodbye from behind Kevlar fills me with awe. Heroes, all. So, I was shocked and devastated (much like the sheriff) to learn about what seems to be a completely inadequate response from the first responders on the scene in Parkland. The failure to engage the shooter cost lives. And all this only after both local law enforcement and the F.B.I. failed to heed multiple warnings about the shooter. Cops are human, and, I will grant them grace that they make mistakes. But, when we’re being told by some that the only way to deal with violence in society is to let the police do their jobs, and then something like Parkland happens, you can see why institutional trust might be a dodgy proposition.

The problem with institutional trust is that, once weakened, the fabrics that hold society together start to unravel. Maybe not so much with the Broncos — they go out and have a great year this year, and all will be forgiven. With the schools? Who knows. Maybe they will be responsive to a parent outcry aimed at either the school or the upper administration. But, then, maybe not — they are probably correct to assume that they can weather any protest. After all, most of those students don’t have that much choice about where to go to school.

But, society in general? Law enforcement is one of the few public institutions that still command widespread support. I shudder to think what happens if that support drops to the levels of, say, Congress.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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