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Carol Hoenig

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In Praise of Solitude

Posted: 01/12/12 07:29 PM ET

I was at a holiday party in a noisy bar where there were several holiday parties going on when I was first told about Diana Senechal's Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture. Not much later did I find a review copy in my mail. It seemed like the perfect book to read when most who were looking in the face of 2012 were considering resolutions, resolutions like going to the gym more often, stop smoking or well, you fill in the blank. However, for me, as I was reading this book, I'd realized that over the last year I'd done less reading and much more Facebooking, tweeting and watching television shows because I thought it would make me feel more connected. Only trouble is, it tended to make me feel so much more disconnected. I realized why when reading Senechal's thoughtful work where she writes in the introduction, "This book examines ways in which individuals, schools, and culture are pushing solitude aside. It looks at what solitude is; why we need it and avoid it; and what can happen when we drive it away."

The author looks closely at how solitude is defined. For me, whenever I hear that word, it brings me back to my childhood where I grew up on a farm in one of the most rural parts of New York State. I spent hours in my bedroom writing, playing albums, and just thinking. There was only one television in the house at the time with about five stations. Sometimes I ached with loneliness, hungering to be socially connected with others. Yet, even though I now live in suburbia a short train ride away from Manhattan, I believe it was this way of life that taught me how to be okay with being alone; how to entertain my thoughts without interruption, and it was Senechal's book that was the nudge I needed to mentally get back to that mindset, "If we do not spend time alone with our writing, we may decide that it is really the blogs, tweets, and texts that count -- after all, they are reaching people and making it out into the wide world."

Before anyone reminds me that I am actually adding to the cacophony of sorts by posting this, I have no intention of no longer using the Internet to express myself. However, I will put less time logging on to see who is doing what in "real time" and will, instead, read more, write more and, well, savor the solitude.

Diana Senechal, who has worked in New York City public schools and is a curriculum advisor at Columbia Secondary School, goes into great detail about how our educational system is failing students. How can these students learn when their teachers must adhere to strict standards so that they can't fail? The author explores this in great detail in her chapter titled, "The Workshop Model in New York City."

The question this book asks is "What happens when constant communication replaces thoughtful reflection?" I'm not saying that the immediacy of the Internet is harmful, but rather how we tend to thrive on it. Instead of engaging with each other or just ourselves, it seems we are seeking something "out there" while ignoring real sustenance for thought.

Naturally, I'm not giving up on social media. If I did, you wouldn't be reading this right now. However, I am going to be more cognizant of how I spend my time and ditch much of the clutter. After all, the author reminded me that "solitude gives us room, at least in the mind, to take a break from the churn."

 

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