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Loneliness and Solitude in Education

How to Value Individuality and Create an Enstatic School


Julian Stern

Analysing loneliness and solitude in schools and exploring how to deal with them is a vital task. In recent research for the author’s Spirit of the School project, a number of pupils, teachers and headteachers described times when they felt lonely and times when they felt the need for healthy solitude. The causes of loneliness are numerous and its consequences have a significant unrecognised impact on education. How do schools deal with people when they are lonely, and how can they overcome loneliness? How can they create opportunities for healthy solitude, a welcome alternative to loneliness? Schools can sometimes try to include people by being intensely social, but end up making them feel even more excluded. A school that teaches solitude well and helps individuals deal with loneliness can be called an ‘enstatic’ school: a school in which people are comfortable within themselves. The objective of this book – the first comprehensive study of the subject – is to help us all understand loneliness and solitude and thereby to reinvigorate debates on personal, character and values education.
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Chapter 10: Into Great Silence



Into Great Silence

I enjoy solitude when I am alone around the house … with no-one to tell me to shut up— PHILIPPA (aged 12–13)

Introduction: Quietened by Bodily Delights

It was Augustine, no less, who described his infancy in this way: ‘I knew nothing more than how to suck and to be quietened by bodily delights, and to weep when I was physically uncomfortable’ (Augustine 1991: 7). Augustine was very careful in his writing, and we should note that this is described as something he ‘knew’. For the rest of our lives, we know how to be quietened, but how often do we forget how important this is, whether quietened by bodily delights or by curiosity or love or sadness. Troubles are subject to ‘the talking cure’, and we are encouraged to express ourselves, loudly and proudly; many of us fill in the gaps with loud television programmes or music. I am a huge fan of talking cures and of self-expression, and most of my solitary times (including writing this book) are accompanied by music. But I am also a fan of quietude. Many people and many schools seem to have forgotten this quiet way of life. It is sad that something learned as an infant could be so easily forgotten. Solitude is a form of disengagement, and disengagement can be ‘perceptual, cognitive, emotional, [and] actional’ (Koch 1994: 52, quoted above in Chapter 4). Although silence is defined in...

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