Solitude of time

Ted Leach, an English and journalism teacher with a blog, posted a piece recently about the quiet of the early morning. He explains how he started the habit of rising at 5 a.m:

This is something that I’ve been doing for years, so long that the original reasons for it no longer hold true. When I first started teaching, I had about an hour drive to work, and I found that I wanted to ensure that I was awake when I got behind thewheel of the car. I thought the other drivers would appreciate it as well. So I started intentionally waking up, having breakfast, and getting on the road at 6 a.m.

And you know what? I came to like this time of day.

There’s a quiet to this time of the day, broken only by the sound of my fingers hitting the keyboard.

I came upon the piece when doing  some, er, “self-searching.” I have enjoyed Leach’s blog before and am glad to return to it. I’ll be a more regular reader now.

In his treatise De vita solitaria, Petrarch describes three kinds of solitude:

that of place, with which my present discourse is specially taken up; that of time, as in the night, when there is solitude and silence even in public squares; that of the mind, as in persons who, absorbed in deepest contemplation, in broad daylight and in a crowded market-place, are not aware of what is going on there and are alone whenever and wherever they wish.

Many people think of solitude in terms of physical isolation. My book, Republic of Noise, focuses mainly on solitude of the mind. But solitude of time has a special quality. It is place, mind, and time at once.

When I was in high school, I used to arrive early in the morning so that I could enjoy the quiet of the halls. I would sit in my homeroom or walk around, and listen as people started arriving and the voices mixed and multiplied.

There’s solitude of season as well. In college, I liked to stay near the campus over the holidays. (I lived off campus after freshman year, so I didn’t have to clear out.) Walking through the courtyards alone, entering buildings and hearing nothing but the echo of my footsteps, I seemed to be in dialogue with the place.

In some way, these quiet times of day and of year are important to education, but how? They allow not only for untrammeled thought but for a different view of a familiar place. One recognizes gradations of light and sound. These gradations are important for study as well; you come to welcome those hours when you hear the book’s words more clearly.

And essential for teaching, from a practical standpoint, if you have a long commute or wish to get to school early. I like to have half an hour (ideally) at school before the first bell rings. For that, I have to leave home no later than 6:30. This is fine, though; I get to enjoy the long, sleepy train ride, where few people talk and there are usually empty seats. 

I first “met” Ted Leach on his blog when he criticized my article “The Most Daring Education Reform of All.” I responded to his criticism, and we ended up having an interesting and enjoyable exchange.


  1. Diana: Thank you for this… a ‘timely’ reminder of the importance of silence and solitude to our teaching … you might want to take a moment or two to look at recent Webinar on Engaged Teaching – – some great dialogue about importance of presence and reflection in teaching. – And lets not forget our students…
    “Brief periods of silence and solitude in school can also give students a tool for cultivating rest and renewal—rest for the nervous system, the mind, the body…. For many of our students and their families, solitude has become a lost art.” – Rachael Kessler ASCD –

    Thank you, Mark

  2. Thanks so much for the mention, and for thinking so kindly. I too enjoyed our discussion a few years ago, chiefly because I found as it went on that our thoughts on teaching and learning were in many ways quite similar.

    Last weekend I (finally) acquired a copy of your book. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and will certainly have some good things to say about it once I’ve completed it and had time to reflect. Much of that will be done up in the Vermont mountains this coming weekend, where I’ll be enjoying some “unplugged” time with friends, family and, hopefully, a few moments to myself to read and think.

  3. Obi-Wandreas says:

    The early morning is still my favorite part of the day. I used to arrive at the building at a time when only the custodians and cafeteria managers were there, entering through the service entrance. This is not something I’ve been able to do since having kids, but I still try to get there as early as possible. To me, there is no more productive time of the day.