What is self-education?
Self-education is learning in its purest form. You decide what you want to learn, when you’re going to learn it, and how you’re going to master the subject. There are no formal teachers, no essays, no exams, no group projects, and no grades.
You can start at any age, whether you’re one or one-hundred. It’s one of the best ways to become an interesting person and sure beats spending your weekends in front of the TV.
Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) or self-education is the act of self-directed learning about a subject or subjects in which one has had little to no formal education. Many notable contributions have been made by autodidacts.
Take a look at almost any great historical figure and you’ll find that he is a product of self-education. Even if he was a college graduate, chances are that he spent years or even decades independently studying topics that were relevant to his life.
Consider these examples:
Abigail Adams received no formal education. Instead, she taught herself by reading works from her father’s large library. She went on to become the second First Lady of the United States, and an early champion for women’s rights.
Renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell decided not to follow his plans to earn a doctorate degree. Instead, after earning his Master’s, Campbell retreated into the woods of upstate New York. For five years he read for upwards of nine hours a day, and developed his unique perspective on the power of myth. He went on to teach what he learned and write books, such as The Power of Mythand The Hero With a Thousand Faces– works that are still studied on college campuses today.
Early American patriot Benjamin Franklin ended his formal education when he was just ten years old. He went on to become a printing press apprentice, working for his brother. Through the years he was an avid reader and writer. He published several books including The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, invented products such as the lighting rod and bifocal glasses, and assisted in the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
Too old-fashioned you say? How about these:
• Science Fiction writer Ray Bradbury developed his writing skills by spending his time reading at a local library instead of attending college. He went on to pen sci-fi classics such as The Martian Chroniclesand Fahrenheit 451.
• Richard Branson decided he wanted to get experience with business when he was 16. He didn’t finish high school, but he is the owner of both American Airways and Virgin Records.
• James Cameron didn’t need film school. He dropped out of college to get practical experience in the movies and later directed films such as Titanic.
• Michael Dell decided to sell computers instead of stay in college. Chances are high that you’ve purchased electronics from his company – Dell Computers.
To see an extended list of self-educators who have made a difference in the world, check out this site from Autodidactic Press.
Clearly, self-education is the key to personal development. Learning is what helps people understand their world, participate in that world, and make good judgments about what they see. While formal education and training can be helpful, most people can’t afford to spend their entire lives locked away in college classrooms. Nor would they want to. Independent study gives people the chance to learn about the topics they choose – in depth and at their own pace.
What should I learn?
Learn anything you want.
Consider starting with the classics. Unless you graduated from an Ivy League school or attended a liberal arts college with a great books program, chances are that you missed out on a classical education. You didn’t get the chance to delve into the literature that defines Western civilization and reflects the “great conversation” – an ongoing discussion seeking answers to society’s timeless questions. Not only can studying the classics give you a greater understanding of history, it can give you a deeper understanding of what is going on in the world today.
Alternatively, you could choose to study an academic subject that interests you. Learn what makes a great writer, study historic architecture, become a religious scholar, or perform science experiments in your basement. You can start to become an expert at any age. If you’re in high school, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming the local expert on jazz music. If you already graduated college, chances are you still didn’t get the opportunity to study everything you wanted to know. This time, do it your way. No need to follow a syllabus or wait for the group – study exactly what you want to know.
Or, perhaps you would like to develop a skill or a trade. Learn to frame a house, grow herbs, or sew clothes. Practical, hands-on skills are no less valuable than academic knowledge. Of course, don’t be surprised if your new-found cooking skills make you the talk of the neighborhood. Bon Appétit.
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