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



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.

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