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Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture [Hardcover]

Diana Senechal
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 4, 2012 1610484118 978-1610484114 1
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.

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Editorial Reviews


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


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. CHOICE (American Library Association)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: R&L Education; 1 edition (January 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610484118
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610484114
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture. She was the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. She teaches philosophy at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering; in 2014, her students released a philosophy journal, CONTRARIWISE. Senechal holds a PhD in Russian literature from Yale University; her translations of the Lithuanian poetry of Tomas Venclova have been published in two books: Winter Dialogue (Northwestern University Press, 1997) and The Junction (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). Senechal gives talks around the United States and was recently a guest on The Forum - BBC World Service.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Need this Champion for Solitude! May 13, 2012
By embracing rather than challenging the constant barrage of noise and online chatter obsessing our society today, our schools and culture are jeopardizing the very wellspring of our country's dominance as a nation of creative individualists - solitude. Thus argues Diana Senechal in Republic of Noise and she seems to be speaking directly to me, a communications professional whose early heroes, including Thoreau, Emerson and Virginia Wolfe, championed the quiet, examined life. Great talent, Senechal reminds us , requires the nurturing of solitary practice and contemplation. Because I was fortunate enough to have grown up with grandparents who were farmers, I experienced the beauty of nature and long, quiet nights in the country away from city noise, TV and radio. The distractions of that era pale compared to today's barrage and Senechal warns that our technology-crazed society is now damaging our lives and our culture, by making quiet reflection almost impossible. Senecal's remarkable and beautifully written book prescribes the need for subtle shifts that make it noble again to disconnect and spend time thinking on one's own. It should be essential reading for everyone, and most especially our educators!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ode to Solitude July 15, 2012
THE REPUBLIC OF NOISE is a thoughtful, contemplative book about the role of solitude in society and education. A student of the classics, author Diana Senechal questions the often unquestioned roles of technology, big ideas, and buzzwords in modern education. Though readers who already question the disproportionate attention to Twitter, Facebook, computers, and cellphones -- in the classroom and elsewhere -- will prove a natural audience for this book, it should be read more by those who do NOT question these things. Why? Senechal's book asks that we consider the electronic bandwagon we are on and question whether it is the right place to be at all times and for all reasons.

What I like best about the book is its courage. Senechal is not afraid to argue her points and name names. She is fair, however, and distinguishes between strengths and weaknesses in the people and movements she writes about. For instance, when writing about Doug Lemov, managing director of the Uncommon Schools and author of TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION, she critiques his "Age Plus Two Rule" (student's optimal attention span = age plus two), his fondness for prepared-in-advance "Do Now" activities the minute students walk through the door, and his insistence that teachers keep all discussions focused and on task. Still, she concludes, "By no means does Lemov oppose thoughtfulness; his ultimate goal is to bring students to the stage where they can grapple with complex material. Yet he does not seem to consider the gaps and pauses that are necessary for such grappling.... When students must show constant activity, the subject itself may be oversimplified.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Return to Solitude April 11, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Typically, when someone says, "I couldn't put the book down until I was finished," they are talking about fiction. But that statement most definitely applies to my reading of Diana Senechal's Republic of Noise. Solitude has always struck a chord with me, and I've read various takes on the experience of being alone, including works on spiritual disciplines, such as Thomas Merton and Richard Foster. Republic of Noise, however, addresses not only the need for solitude, but it also speaks to how our culture has sacrificed the experience to the group think of the day. As an educator, Senechal relates the importance of solitude to the school system, and numerous ways it has been lost in group-think, group projects, aggregate statistics, and the bent toward conformity. Likewise, she addresses the premises of much of the research in education that touts group-think and group learning. Consequently, she provides a philosophical analysis of the reams of research that preaches group learning. As fulfilling as her discussions are regarding solitude, I appreciated Senechal's take on education and the need to return to the subject. In addition to sacrificing the innovation and creativity that emerges from the reflection and rumination while being alone, the educational system with its emphases on testing scores, social learning, and practice skills has sacrificed the subject, be it math, languages, or literature. No longer are students taught or allowed to delve into the subject for its own beauty and delight. Academia now worships at the altar of pragmatism. Senechal is an immensely skilled writer, speaking to an important topic in our time as we witness the problems in our schools. But simple educational reform is not the answer. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much substance and truthful to life. December 11, 2012
By coco
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Nowadays, when immediacy and marketing infiltrate everywhere, including educational system, a lot of substance, which requires thoughts and time to digest, might get lost. Diana Senechal articulates well and thoughtful, using many of her own experiences, on why not everything would work well under one system.
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