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Alienation In The Life Of Students

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

To write about the monstrous sense of alienation the poet feels in this culture of polarized hatreds is a way of staying sane.
--Maxine Kumin

...there is no alienation that a little
power will not cure.
--Eric Hoffer

There is only one way left to escape
the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it.
--Roland Barthes

Alienation, the feeling of being a stranger or not belonging to the community, results from an inability to express one's self honestly.
In close relationships of family, school, and friends, alienation destroys intimacy.

Adolescents are the most frequent victims of these feelings of estrangement.  The alienated teenager has been a familiar cultural icon since James Dean's movies of the 1950s.

The alienation often associated with the adolescent's quest for identity commonly involves a distrust of adults, a rejection of adult values, and a pessimistic worldview.  Estranged adolescents feel that they have little control over the events that shape their seemingly meaningless lives.  They tend to feel isolated from adults, their peer group, and even themselves.

The wave of school shootings by teenagers in the US - there have been at least seven such incidents in the past 15 months - is a symptom of a deep social disorder.  An ever-growing number of politicians and other officials have been forced to acknowledge the true depth of the problem.

In response to the  Springfield killings, John Kitzhaber - the Governor of Oregon - commented, "All of us should look at how we have failed as a society and how this could happen in the heart of Oregon.  It has been a priority to build prison cells and prison beds--after the fact.  These actions in no way prevent juvenile violence."

Unless such tragedies are viewed as the outcome of a complex interaction between social life and individual psychology, no headway will be made in grasping the essence of these events.  Human beings are the products, in the broadest sense, of their social relations.

Alienation is produced in the classroom, when the administration determines the curriculum and the mode of learning.  Students are expected to conform and to listen, but neither their voices, nor more importantly their feelings, are heard.  By the time the student becomes an adolescent, he has often developed a deep distrust of other people and their motives, and has lost touch with his sense of self.

Unfortunately, most politicians have yet to grasp the intimate connection between public education and the high incidence of mental illness in our society.

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