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Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) is
self-education or self-directed learning.
An autodidact is a mostly self-taught person (also known as an automath), or someone who has an enthusiasm for self-education, and usually has a high degree of self-motivation. Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and Newton's contemprory Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz were largely self-taught in mathematics.
Occasionally, individuals have sought to excel in subjects from outside the mainstream of conventional education. Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea depicts an autodidact who is a self-deluding dilettante. However, other autodidacts have excelled at their disciplines and brought innovative perspectives.
For example, physicist and judo expert Moshe Feldenkrais developed an autodidactic method of self-improvement based on his own experience with self-directed learning in physiology and neurology prompted by a crippling knee injury. In addition to Feldenkrais, Gerda Alexander, William Bates, Heinrich Jacoby and a number of other 20th-century European innovators worked out methods of self-development which stressed intelligent sensitivity and awareness.
A successful autodidact may become an autodidact at nearly
any point in his or her life. While they may have been educated in a conventional manner
in some fields, they may choose self-education in others.
And it should be said, self-teaching and self-directed learning are not necessarily lonely processes. Some spend a great deal of time in libraries and/or on educative Web sites. Many (according to their plan for learning) avail themselves of instruction from family members, friends, or other associates, although strictly speaking this might not be considered autodidactic. Indeed, the term 'self-taught' is something of a journalistic trope these days, and is all too often used to signify 'non-traditionally educated', which is not the same thing at all.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell is one of the most famous autodidacts, and is seen by some as a poster-boy for autodidacticism. Following completion of his masters degree, Campbell decided not to go forward with his plans to earn a doctorate, and he went into the woods in upstate New York, reading deeply for five years. According to Campbell, this is, in a sense, where his real education took place, and the time when he began to develop his unique view on the nature of life.
According to poet and author Robert Bly, a friend of Campbell, Campbell developed a systematic program of reading nine hours a day. It is speculated by some that Campbell felt the work he did during this time was far more rigorous than any doctoral program could have been, and more fruitful in developing his unique perspectives.
For a listing of famous autodidacts see Category:Autodidacts.
The Ignorant Schoolmaster
In The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Jacques Rancičre describes the emancipatory education of Joseph Jacotot, a post-Revolutionary philosopher of education who discovered that he could teach things he did not know (for instance, Jacotot taught Flemish students to speak French without speaking any Flemish himself). The book is both a history and a contemporary intervention in the philosophy and politics of education, through the concept of autodidactism; Rancičre chronicles Jacotot's "adventures," but he articulates Jacotot's theory of "emancipation" and "stultification" in the present tense. .
- "Institutions are not pretty. Show me a pretty government. Healing is wonderful, but the American Medical Association? Learning is wonderful, but universities? The same is true for religion... religion is institutionalized spirituality." Huston Smith 
- "If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." Joseph Campbell
- Actress Jada Pinkett Smith said of the Matrix directors: "The Wachowski Brothers are very unique. They are probably Larry and Andy are probably two of the smartest people I know. Larry reads everything. He reads everything. I mean, everything, you know what I mean. One thing I learned through Larry, through Andy also, is that life is about research. Larry, he's constantly researching. And he's constantly reading and that's one thing that I've taken away from this project, that life is about research."
- "The new age of education is programmed for discovery rather than instruction. Art as radar environment, radar feedback, early warning system: the antennae of the race." Marshall McLuhan
- "My education was of the most ordinary description, consisting of little more than the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic at a common day school. My hours out of school were passed at home and in the streets." Michael Faraday, who had little mathematics and no formal schooling beyond the primary grades, is celebrated as an experimenter who discovered the induction of electricity. He was one of the great founders of modern physics. It is generally acknowledged that Faraday's ignorance of mathematics contributed to his inspiration, that it compelled him to develop a simple, nonmathematical concept when he looked for an explanation of his electrical and magnetic phenomena. Faraday is considered by some to have possessed two qualities that more than made up for his lack of traditional education: fantastic intuition, and independence and originality of mind.
- "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." Albert Einstein
- "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." Albert Einstein
- "I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker... I never learned anything at all in school and didn't read a book for pleasure until I was 19 years old." Stanley Kubrick
- "I never let schooling get in the way of my education." Mark Twain
- The Passion To Learn: An Inquiry into Autodidactism by Joan Solomon ISBN 0415304180
- SELF-UNIVERSITY: The Price of Tuition is the Desire to Learn. Your Degree is a Better life. by Charles D. Hayes ISBN 0962197904
- The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellen ISBN 0962959170
- The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Stanford Univ. Press, 1991) by Jacques Rancičre ISBN 0804719691.