Richard Majors, head of the centre for learning and support at Glasgow University, told a national counselling conference in Aberdeen: "What we are doing is not working."
Dr Majors, a former fellow of Harvard Medical School and author on social inclusion, said a radical change was needed in the relationship between teachers and students if young people are to be convinced of the value of learning.
Too many pupils stayed away from school, caused problems and were prescribed Ritalin. "We are creating zombies with individuals, mummified children, just because we are unwilling to connect or engage with young people," Dr Majors said.
His experience in many Scottish classrooms suggested that some staff made little attempt to engage with young people and failed to become involved in vital daily exchanges. "Many students believe we do not like them, do not understand them, and school is often seen as not enjoyable," Dr Majors said.
Studies had shown that 70 per cent of classroom interaction was negative.
Teachers were sarcastic and patronising, and yelled and screamed. They were positive and humorous for just 30 per cent of the time.
Dr Majors argued that teachers who wanted to make a difference had to give something of themselves to pupils, to be warm and empathetic. Surveys had shown that students wanted fairness or social justice above all else in their relationships with teachers.
"They want respect for what they are saying."
Gregor Henderson, director of the Scottish Executive's national programme for improving mental health and well-being, said that if education policy was to be improved "we have to get the balance right between IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence)".
One in 10 under-19s in Scotland - 125,000 - would develop significant mental health problems. International studies placed young Scots way down the league table of self-confidence. It was essential that mental health was part of the "web and weave" of school life to allow young people to learn and relate.
"Where there is a child experiencing difficulties - with bereavement, divorce, separation, relationships with peers - there should be somewhere in the school the child should be able to go for support to their emotional well-being," Mr Henderson said.
"The literature is very clear that this is not something you put in on the Friday afternoon with the PSE classes and get someone in once a month to talk about mental health issues like self-harming behaviour. It has to be a whole-school approach."
Schools were sometimes reluctant to recognise the issue but a study in England had shown that nine out of 10 young people knew someone who had a mental health problem. One in four people in Scotland would suffer a difficulty at some stage in their lives.
CONFESSION BOX What 11-12s say
* nobody understands how alone I feel
* inside, I feel all shrivelled up
* I look into the mirror and I see a bad person
* every time I want to kill him, I turn it round and want to kill myself
* I wonder what my life's about
* part of me can appear lively and happy but the main part of me is always crying