After a round of intensive grading (and trying not to stare too hard in disbelief when a student that I haven’t seen in weeks show up to say that he/she didn’t come to class because he/she didn’t have a book and thus couldn’t do any of the assignments), I googled “autodidact” for the heck of it and got 48,900 hits.
Autodidacts are people who are self-learners, who pick up learning for their own interest, not because it was assigned to them but because they just want to know. As I listen to my students talk, I realize that being an autodidact to them is like saying “the platypus is blue.” It is an alien concept. And so all of the learning that academia calls learning — grammar, literature, history, music, art, math, biology, chemistry, physics, politics, economics, philosophy, theology, what have you — all of that they only learn in school, particularly, the public schools.
It makes me shudder just realizing that.
How can anyone grasp the opportunities out there if they don’t have the knowledge to see them? I agree with E.D. Hirsh, the Cultural Literacy guru, who says that it’s damn hard for a person to really succeed in this world without having a core knowledge from which to operate. And our public schools, with that multi-tracking system that shuts out a lot of students from the really good curricula because they don’t know how to navigate in the system, is doing a pretty mediocre job at it. Hence the need for a lot of these students to supplement their school learning with healthy doses of autodidactism.
But how can a person do that if that person doesn’t even know what it is, has no earthly idea how to start? Learn about autodidactism in school? Yikes, it’s a chicken-and-egg situation, argh!