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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 7: Solitude is for Geeks: Science, Technology and Counting Up to One

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CHAPTER 7

Solitude is for Geeks:Science, Technology and Counting Up to One

I enjoy it when I am doing a test, it makes you feel happy in your own company which is nice— LYNDA (aged 12–13)

Introduction: No Geek Tragedy

In science and mathematics, along with related subjects such as technology and computing, there is a long tradition that is still just about alive in schools. The tradition is of focused individual work in solitude, in a way that connects children and young people directly to nature, the material world, and absent people. An echo of that tradition is the stereotype of the solitary, often lonely, people attracted to such subjects: ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds’. A ‘geek’ is ‘a person who is knowledgeable and obsessive about computers and related technology’ (SOED 2007), whilst a ‘nerd’ is a more general ‘insignificant … person who is boringly … studious’ (SOED 2007). Why start a chapter on science with such stereotypes? Well, it is because they echo a real tradition that stretches well beyond schooling. There are some equivalent traditions in other subject areas. In the study of literature, people may be described as ‘lost in a book’, religious groups may be seen as providing a home for the lonely, and historians can be accused of living in the past because they cannot cope with the modern world. But in science, the stereotype is particularly worth exploiting, as there emerged in the early 2000s the wonderfully...

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