Friday, January 25, 2013

The trouble with being an autodidact

If you aren't familiar with the term, it means, "self learner". It's one of my favorite words, and I think it describes me pretty well. If I want to learn something, I teach myself, or find someone who can help me learn what I want to know. There are times that I briefly (very briefly) ponder the idea of going back to school to get a PhD in something I'm interested in, but I realize that it really isn't the degree I'm interested in, but the book lists.

I know that there are some things that can be gained by taking a class that can't necessarily be gained by doing ones own reading... the input of the instructor, discussion with other students (assuming they have done the reading and are interested). I'm pretty sure that exams didn't help my learning in grad. school, so I'm not going to add those to the list, and I tend to write copiously on my own, so I don't need someone to assign me papers. The other thing that a degree can give you is credentials, a way of telling the world that you did a specific stint in school and therefore must know something. Since I, in my reactionary way, tend not to announce the degrees I do have, I probably wouldn't announce another one either. So, I'll just stick to my reading lists and to subjecting my readers to whatever fancy I happen to be fixated on at the moment.

So where does the trouble part come in? I was chatting with M. this morning and realized that I probably owe her (and my other children) an apology for turning them into autodidacts, too. Being an autodidact does ruin some thing for you. For instance when you sign up for an elective (not necessarily a class one would think of as an elective, but an elective none the less) because it is a subject you've been interested in for a while, and are disappointed in the class because you were hoping for something more. (I can't tell you the number of times this has happened to me, and now my daughter gets to experience it as well.) I don't mean this to sound like bragging, because it's not. It's just when I (or my children) get a yen to learn about something we do it whole heartedly. If we sign up for a class, it means we are hoping for even more in-depth knowledge to supplement what we've already learned. It's often disappointing, thus my conversation with my daughter.

Being an autodidact also means that rarely will you have people who can really discuss the things you are learning with. For one, everyone's interests are so different, they are learning about other things. (At least if you live in my house.) Sure we tell each other things that we're learning, but that's not really discussing something in depth. Second, if you also happen to read voraciously, few people are willing to keep up with you. And last, sometimes others just don't get it and don't see self learning as real or as counting.

For instance, several years ago J. and I authored a mid-grade non-fiction book about the Midwest  (It is not a fine example of research or writing and we went round and round with the publisher about vocabulary level.) There was a little kerfuffle about the author's bios in the back. J. would list his degrees and credentials and I wanted mine to say, "E. is an autodidact and homeschools her children." My goodness, you would have thought I had claimed to be an ax murderer given the level of shock. After multiple emails (I can be very, very stubborn.... not that that is a good thing, but there it is), we finally settled on, "J. and E. live near Chicago, IL". Maybe I'll have to write another book someday just to be able to use my chosen bio.

So my children, I apologize for the future difficulties you will have because I have turned you into autodidacts as well. And that is what we all are or are becoming around here. Without even trying, I can list each person's current area of interest and what we have quite a few books about. J.? Well, since he's in school he really can't indulge his inner-autodidact, but he does a whole lot of reading on leadership issues. Me? Right now I'm taking a break from brain theory and learning about the church calendar and the liturgical year. M? Also in school, but she thinks she has found a chance to learn how to weld, which is what she is currently really interested in. B? Forensic botany. I didn't even know there was such a thing. It's good that J. works for a university and can get expensive text books through inter-library loan. A? Photography. P? Horses and cats. TM? Origami and tops and making crafts for profit. D? When not reading huge amounts of fiction, he is very interested in the Bible. The others have yet to find areas that they are really interested in learning about. We'll see what things they discover.

Pray for Brandi today.

This is Brandi. She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her.


Robyn said...

To say nothing of the phenomenon I've dubbed "the curse of the autodidact": Seeing a word in writing, knowing what it means and how to use it, and the pronouncing it wrong because you've never heard it spoken before.

Happens to me some, and to my autodidact husband a LOT.

thecurryseven said...

I hate that! And sadly, it's happened to me more than once.


Dana said...

Thanks for the word. That's what I am and what my oldest son is as well, and I can't tell you how many times I've signed him up for a class in one of his areas of interest, only for him to be disappointed that it didn't cover anything that he didn't already know.

Carla said...

I didn't know the word, but it adequately describes my husband. One day he lamented to me that he didn't remember learning anything new until college. He does it, not by reading, but by physically exploring. He's an electrical engineer so figuring out how things work makes him happiest.

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