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Loneliness and Solitude in Education

How to Value Individuality and Create an Enstatic School

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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 11: Working Together and Apart: Schools, Homes and Communities

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CHAPTER 11

Working Together and Apart:Schools, Homes and Communities

I don’t relax at school because I feel I always have to be on my toes.— LAURA (aged 12–13)

Introduction: Spaces to be Alone and Together

The physical environment of the school is an important way of enhancing opportunities for both solitude and sociability. Typical classroom design has changed over the last half century from individual desks facing the teacher to clusters of children sitting around tables, although other arrangements can still be found in some schools. The older format of classrooms was good for a more authoritarian didactic relationship between the teacher and children, but was worse for child-to-child interaction. It was the influence of social constructivism (for example of Vygotsky and Bruner), and the consequent wish to promote discussion and dialogue, that led to more opportunities for children and young people to work together. However, the group work promoted by this approach to learning was not always so good for promoting solitudinous study such as reading – with children interrupted by other children, or encouraged to discuss what they are reading almost at the same time as reading the text (Senechal 2012: 72–74). Corridors and playgrounds can be better or worse for solitude, with better places being quiet corners, seating areas, and rooms available for reading or sitting and thinking whilst others are playing socially. The tendency over the years has been for more constructed and ‘social’ activities ← 161...

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