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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 3: The Science of Loneliness and Solitude: Psychological and Evolutionary Accounts

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CHAPTER 3

The Science of Loneliness and Solitude: Psychological and Evolutionary Accounts

I have felt lonely when my dad died and I felt lonely for a while— KIERA (aged 12–13)

Introduction: A Healthy Concern

Coming to understand loneliness and solitude is harder than might be expected. This chapter provides a broadly scientific account of loneliness and solitude, notably, the views of psychologists and evolutionary biologists. Some scientists see the suffering in loneliness as having evolved to help people survive as social animals. Others look to more individual causes. Scientific approaches overlap with philosophical and other approaches (considered in the following chapter), and the boundaries are a little blurred, but it is worth considering here how some scientists have studied the topic, their methods of working as well as their conclusions.

For a long time, there was all too little scientific study of loneliness. There has been even less scientific study of solitude as distinct from loneliness, and the two concepts have often been conflated by scientists. Yet over the last 40 years, and even more over the last 20 years, interesting work has been done and this has recently gained a high public profile because of its perceived connection to health. For example, a scientific understanding of loneliness in old age led to the setting up of the ‘campaign to end loneliness’, which quotes Holt-Lunstad in saying that ‘lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking...

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