Autodidactic – Teaching Oneself: Time For A New Renaissance in Teaching & Learning?

“Autodidactic” is defined, quite simply, as “teaching yourself”. [From Greek autodidaktos, self-taught : auto-, auto- + didaktos, taught; see didactic.] (The Free online Dictionary).

It’s a concept that doesn’t get much attention nowadays. It’s almost as if it’s not valid, to be your own teacher.

And then I do a quick Google search and the names of the people who are in the “Autodidact Club” take your breath away.

There are Presidents and Prime Ministers, musicians, architects, painters and poets, inventors, scientists, Nobel Prize winners, writers, actors and actresses, singers and dancers, and on and on.

If you press me for names then I answer thusly:

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Walter Cronkite, Ted Turner, Steven Spielberg, Zachary Taylor, William Mckinley, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, William Faulkner, William Blake, and…

Let me catch my breath. I’m just getting started. OK, let’s continue:

Washington Irving, Walt Whitman, Vivian Thomas, Thomas Watson, Thomas Alva Edison, Samuel Clemens, Joseph Conrad, Joseph Campbell, Judy Crichton, Karl Rove, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Leo Tolstoy, Louisa May Alcott, Malcolm X, Martin Van Buren, Maya Angelou, Michael Faraday, Milton Hershey, Nikola Tesla, Soichiro Honda, Michael Dell, and…

I gotta take a break for some more air. This list is about halfway through, and I want to apologise in advance to all those people, whose names are not on this list, but most definitely belong here. Ready? Let’s mention some more people:

Il Duomo by Filippo Brunelleschi

The Wright brothers (Orville and Wilbur), Patrick Henry, Peter Jennings, Peter Ustinov, Quentin Tarantino, Ralph Lauren, Ray Bradbury, Benjamin Franklin, Ray Kroc, Richard Leakey, Robert Browning, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Estee Lauder, Florence Nightingale, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gore Vidal, Grover Cleveland, David Ben Gurion, Harry Truman, Henry Ford, Herman Melville, James Monroe, James Cameron, Jane Austen, John D. Rockefeller, and …

Wow… Look at all these autodidactic people. Has education somehow missed the obvious? That maybe teaching isn’t the only show in town? Has this kind of learning – the one in which the individual teaches himself – not been as thoroughly understood – as it evidently deserves to be – understood?

On that thought, shall we? Let’s add one last batch of names to our list of autodidactics. As we do, however, remember, bear in mind that these are the special ones, the celebrated ones. Again, how many more must there be, yet virtually unknown to you and me?

John Major, Robert Burns, Agatha Christie, Albert Einstein, Alex Haley, Alexander Graham Bell, Alexander Pope, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Johnson, Ansell Adams, Beatrix Potter, Benjamin Banneker, Carl Sandberg, Charles Dickens, Chuck Yeager, Colonel Sanders, Doris Lessing, Edgar Allen Poe, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Emma Goldman, Eric Hoffer, Abigail Adams, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Teaching yourself… maybe there is something to that concept. Look, let me add two more people to the list. One, that’s you, my friend. If you are reading this, then let’s face it, we both know you are convinced that there is something of value that you will learn here on this blog.

Yet let’s be honest: I’m not teaching you.

You, are teaching, you.

You are teacher and learner. That’s autodidacticism, self-motivation, self-interest which leads to new insights. I’m sure you will take away something from this blog post something that was hidden to me, something that was opaque to me, yet totally transparent for you.

And what about that second person? Well, we both know I’m talking about myself. The very act of writing this blog is an act of autodidacticism. I’m learning more about myself, learning more about what I know, and even more about what I don’t know.

That fact actually explains each and every blog post I write now, I wrote in the past, I have ever written, and that I will write in the future, given the opportunity.

I am learning more about what I know, by sharing it with you, and uncovering the areas that I either need or want to learn more about. Being autodidactic is a good thing, for me, and for you, if we look at it in this way.

Now, here’s the big question: Has autodidacticism been exploited, by the formal education system, as a viable way to acquire knowledge, skills and abilities?

Let me rephrase the question: How do you teach someone, to teach himself / herself?

In the end, isn’t this kind of independent learning what the world has depended on for ages and ages, to move forward?

Here’s a final thought: If all we ever did, was teach people what we already knew, and everyone was content with learning, what was already known, then we would stil be living in caves, wouldn’t we?

Finally, I leave you with a gem, namely, Filippo Brunelleschi? Brunelleschi? Who’s he? Enjoy the video(s) …


About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Connectivism, Education, Education Technology, EFL, Reflections, Teaching Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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