A General Semantics Approach to Reducing Student Alienation

Article excerpt

This presentation will examine a study that showed students manifesting signs of alienation (a well-recognized drug abuse risk factor) could be helped to reduce those symptoms through a general semantics approach. It is based on research conducted for a Ph.D. dissertation titled "The Effects of General Semantics Instruction on Three Dimensions of Alienation Among Eighth and Ninth Grade Problem Students." The results of the study demonstrated that general semantics can empower students to be more in control of their lives and to more closely identify with the goals of learning. Further details of the research can be found in chapter eight in Martin H. Levinson, The Drug Problem: A New View Using the General Semantics Approach (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002).

Research Description

In common parlance the term "alienation" is used to describe the condition of being estranged or detached from one's self, others, or society in general. But alienation as a research concept is more complex since it can be approached from a variety of different disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology, and social psychology) and can take on a variety of different meanings--anomie, loss of self, despair, apathy, loneliness, rootlessness, powerlessness, isolation, pessimism, etc.

The study under review considered alienation from a socio-psychological perspective using a research model developed by Seeman that contains six researchable dimensions of alienation. Three of those dimensions, powerlessness (a state characterized by feelings of helplessness about not being able to influence situations), self-estrangement (a state characterized by feelings of detachment toward situations), and cultural estrangement (a state characterized by rebelliousness toward the goals and priorities of the institutions in which one must live, work, or study) were selected as variables for analysis and included in the three hypotheses of the experiment--that general semantics would reduce powerlessness, self-estrangement, and cultural estrangement.

General semantics, a re-educational discipline that combines an awareness of the role language plays in fostering communication and that emphasizes the use of the scientific method to solve everyday problems, was chosen to reduce the three aspects of student alienation. (Past educational studies indicated general semantics increases critical thinking skills, enhances creativity, improves personality adjustment, and decreases prejudice.)

Seventy eighth and ninth grade students participated in the alienation study and were randomly assigned, within grade, to experimental and control groups. This resulted in the formation of ten groups--three ninth grade and two eighth grade experimental groups and three ninth grade and two eight grade control groups--with seven students in each group.

The students in the experimental group received an alienation pretest, two introductory group development sessions, sixteen general semantics lessons, and an alienation posttest over a nineteen week span. The same format was employed with the control group students except instead of general semantics lessons they received traditional guidance oriented lessons. All the groups met once a week for forty-five minutes (a standard school period).

To counter possible expectancy effects (a research science phenomenon that can occur when investigators unintentionally alter their behavior in ways that bias their subjects in favor of the research hypotheses), the counselor leading the groups arranged for a colleague to be with him during group sessions. The feedback received from this colleague after each group meeting helped to ensure that all the lessons were being presented to the students in a fair and impartial way. To determine baseline levels of student alienation the Pupil Attitude Questionnaire (PAQ), a research instrument containing sub tests that measure Seeman's dimensions of powerlessness, self-estrangement, and cultural estrangement was administered to each of the students at the beginning of the experiment. …