Social Studies Teachers' Trust in Institutions and Groups

Civic Development in the Era of Truth Decay

by Julia H. Kaufman, Laura S. Hamilton, Lynn Hu

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Research Questions

  1. How much trust do social studies teachers place in institutions (e.g., organized religion, news outlets, government)?
  2. How willing are social studies teachers to accept recommendations from various groups (e.g., doctors, religious leaders)?

Teachers' trust in institutions can influence their ability to counter Truth Decay—the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life—in public school classrooms. This Data Note, one in a series, describes how social studies teachers for kindergarten through 12th grade responded to questions about their trust in institutions (from the federal government to news and social media platforms) and their willingness to accept recommendations or information provided by members of particular groups (from scientists and medical doctors to journalists and scholars).

Key Findings

  • Fewer than half of teachers expressed trust in nearly all of the institutions they were asked about (from religion to the federal government), with the exception of secondary teachers' ratings of their trust in national newspapers. But fewer than half of teachers rated their trust in nearly any institution as greater than a 3 on a scale of 0 to 6, where 3 equals "neither distrust nor trust."
  • The most-trusted institutions, according to social studies teachers, were organized religion, national newspapers, and network television, although secondary teachers were generally more likely to indicate trust in a variety of institutions than their elementary counterparts.
  • Majorities of teachers indicated willingness to accept the recommendations of medical doctors, scientists, and scholars, although secondary teachers were more willing to accept recommendations from a variety of groups than were elementary teachers.

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