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Republic of Noise

The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture

Diana Senechal

In Republic of Noise, Diana Senechal confronts a culture that has come to depend on instant updates and communication at the expense of solitude. Where once it was common wisdom that the chatter of the present, about the present, could not always grasp the present, today we treat 'real time' as though it were the only real time. Schools emphasize rapid group work and fragmented activity, not the thoughtful study of complex subjects. The Internet offers contact with others throughout the day and night; we lose the ability to be apart, even in our minds. Yet solitude does not vanish; it is part of every life. It plays an essential role in literature, education, democracy, relationships, and matters of conscience. Throughout its analyses and argument, the book calls not for drastic changes but for a subtle shift: an attitude that honors solitude without descending into dogma. Outspoken, lyrical, and unassuming, Senechal's book dismantles the "groupthink" that pervades our lives. « less more »
R&L Education
Pages: 286Size: 6 1/4 x 9
978-1-61048-412-1 • Paperback • March 2014 • $22.00 • (£14.95)
978-1-61048-413-8 • eBook • November 2011 • $20.00 • (£13.95)
Diana Senechal holds a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literatures from Yale; her translations of the Lithuanian poetry of Tomas Venclova have appeared in two books, Winter Dialogue and The Junction. A former New York City public school teacher, she has written for numerous education blogs and magazines.
Chapter 1 Acknowledgments
Chapter 2 Introduction: The Chatter of the Present
Chapter 3 Definitions of Solitude
Chapter 4 Distraction: The Flip Side of Engagement
Chapter 5 Antigone: Literature as ìThinking Apartî
Chapter 6 The Workshop Model in New York City
Chapter 7 The Folly of the ìBig Ideaî
Chapter 8 The Cult of Success
Chapter 9 Mass Personalization and the ìUnderground Manî
Chapter 10 The Need for Loneliness
Chapter 11 The Practice of Solitude
Chapter 12 Discernment and the Public Sphere
Chapter 13 Conclusion: Setting up Shop
Chapter 14 Bibliography
Chapter 15 About the Author
Chapter 16 Index
The variety of available technologies has affected expectations of how information is delivered and consumed. These expectations have privileged the efficiency of knowing a bit about many things over the time necessary to delve deeply into ideas, their history, and their lessons. Using a variety of sources from Sophocles to E. B. White, as well as examples of programming used in public school systems, The Republic of Noise examines the role of noise--understood as the means through which multitudinous information bombards an individual--and the need for solitude as one develops in and out of the public sphere. Special attention is given to how the cacophony of information inundating students in pre-K-12 education makes it difficult, if not impossible, for young people to experience the power of deep engagement with ideas and individuals while learning, and how this affects the development of a sense of self and connection to others. For Senechal, living a meaningful life is not simply having the choices resulting from infinite access to information. Rather, a meaningful life develops from having the time to read, think, and consider, alone and with others. Summing Up: Essential. All readership levels.

Republic of Noise is a meditation on solitude. What happens when constant communication replaces thoughtful reflection? How can deep learning take place in beehive-like environments? Why are we so afraid of being alone? Diana Senechal offers answers to these and other questions that aren't asked often enough in our plugged-in world. She warns that as our lives become 'noisier and more fragmented' we seem to be losing the ability to look inward, to think for ourselves, and—heaven forbid—to be alone. Though it may sound paradoxical, Senechal posits that solitude can actually improve collaboration. 'In order to do anything of substance, we need a place that is relatively still, not giddy with updates, not caught up in what others think. This place varies from person to person and from situation to situation, but it needs tending, as do the things in it.' Both erudite and eminently readable, Republic of Noise offers nourishing food for thought for teachers, parents, and policy makers. Best consumed in solitude.
Carol Jago, past president, National Council of Teachers of English

Diana Senechal's Republic of Noise is an unusual book. It asks the reader to step back from the tumult of electronic gadgets, the online websites that tell us what to like, the buzz of activity that surrounds us at every moment and to do something extraordinary: think, reflect, ponder. She raises profound questions about our inability to discern our own thoughts, to know ourselves. This is an unsettling book and a very important book.
Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education; author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

This profound and poetic book is a much-needed counterpoise to the frantic, accusatory atmosphere of current writings on educational reform. Diana Senechal agrees that students need a rich and coherent curriculum, but in our world of constant chatter and distraction they also need moments of undirected calm and, yes, even solitude. So do we all!
E.D. Hirsch Jr., author of The Making of Americans and Cultural Literacy; founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation

Diana Senechal's Republic of Noise is a rare find. A fine thinker whose own well-schooled intellect allows her to work nimbly through examples from literature, poetry, philosophy, mathematics, science, theology, technology and music—practicing 'solitude' before our very eyes—Senechal, while sometimes lyrical in tone, never compromises the authority of her insight. Most people write about education as if it were conducted in a vacuum, with only cursory statistics alluding to social trends. Senechal puts education—both the idea and the daily practice—in the larger context of the culture out of which it is born and which it influences immeasurably. The use of 'solitude' as her enduring image opens up the souls of both schools and the culture at large.
Claudia Allums, director of the Cowan Center for Education at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture

Republic of Noise is a searching exploration of the loss of solitude in contemporary society. As such, it takes its place within a distinguished American tradition of spiritual independence, the tradition of Emerson and Thoreau, suspicious of the buzz of the crowd and listening always for the small, still voice within. Senechal's best argument for the value of solitude is her own style of thought: patient, careful, compassionate, humane, and rooted in her experience not only as a teacher but as a self—or as she defiantly puts it, a soul. She thinks things through for herself, and from the ground up. Unlike just about everyone else who writes on education, she grounds her arguments in literary and philosophical sources, not studies and statistics, itself an act of courage and a vindication of the solitary mind. Her book can help us return solitude to a central place in the education of children and the conduct of life.
William Deresiewicz, author of "Solitude and Leadership" and A Jane Austen Education

Combining erudition with first-hand observation, Diana Senechal offers invaluable insights from the front lines of education—the classroom—about the ways in which both learning and teaching are obstructed by America's culture of distraction. Her most crucial point is that the quality of learning in America has eroded through overreliance on everything from the digital technology of interruption to fad-driven teaching methods that discourage the sustained individual concentration required to foster both creativity and logical thinking. This book will and should disturb everyone who understands that our educational system will remain broken unless and until we take on the task of repairing our attention spans—as individuals and as a culture.
Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason and Never Say Die

In this remarkable book, Senechal weaves together her experiences as a public school teacher in New York city, a masterful review of the policies and politics of so-called reform in curriculum over the past several decades, a diagnosis of the condition of frantic distraction in society at large, and a detailed evocation of western traditions of the contemplative life and productive solitude. in the din of contemporary books decrying our hopped-up, hyped-up, wired, Attention-Deficit-Disordered culture, Senechal’s book stands out for its erudition and quiet wisdom. It’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve read all year

Republic of Noise is a rare achievement, bringing a deeply schooled intelligence to bear upon the pains and follies of contemporary education. Senechal writes elegant prose, a fitting instrument for the vision she presents. Here is an author and a teacher who shows us what it is like, and why it matters, “to recognize other minds”.

Literary Matters

Diana Senechal discusses her take on "the problems with our educational system, the meaning of solitude, and the dangers of immediacy" in a December 2011 interview with the online magazine Salon. To read the author's thoughtful interview with Alice Karekezi, "Why Kids Need Solitude," click here.