“Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture” A book by Diana Senechal

Published on May 29, 2012   ·   No Comments

By Dexter Palmer

Diana Senechal’s occasionally insightful but ultimately scattershot book “Republic of Noise” initially seems to position itself as one of a growing collection of publications whose common trait is a cautionary attitude toward newly developed communication technologies. Although these books—including Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget”; Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”; Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together”; Thomas de Zengotita’s “Mediated”; and a host of others—generally assert that the many methods we have developed for convenient, instantaneous communication have paradoxically distanced humans from one another and eroded their capacity for empathy, Senechal takes a slightly different tack, arguing that the omnipresence of computers and tablets and smartphones hampers our ability to commune not just with one another, but with ourselves.

Senechal’s background is as an academic, with a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literature from Yale; she is also an educator who has taught English as a second language in New York City’s public schools. (The book’s jacket is covered with endorsements from well-known writers on education and culture, though troublingly, five out of the six blurbs on the back cover were provided by people who are cited favorably within the text itself, and one of those five comes from Diane Ravitch, to whom “Republic of Noise” is “dedicated with gratitude.”) The sections of the book on education are by far the strongest. Through a series of incisive analyses of pedagogical practices, Senechal portrays an absurd, technology-addled educational environment in which teaching has become disconnected from learning, and methods alone are thought to be sufficient to educate, irrespective of whether those methods are invested with any meaning. She questions the often commercial-driven adoption of technology in the classroom when it comes without any real consideration of whether that technology is in fact a benefit to students, or perhaps even a liability. For example, she considers “clickers”—hand-held electronic devices distributed to students that allow the teacher to poll the class by posing a multiple-choice question and instantly aggregating the responses. Such devices might assist learning for some students in some instances, but technology has a pernicious habit of convincing people that it is always useful in all instances. The result in the case of “clickers” is that lectures often become workshops, and complex ideas that are best relayed through continuous, uninterrupted speech are broken down into fragments that are needlessly difficult to synthesize—the better to allow students to use their clickers.

To see long excerpts from “The Republic of Noise” at Google Books, click here.

Read More: http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/i_cant_hear_myself_think_20120525/

 

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