Thursday, January 1, 2009

Autodidacticity

I've seen T.H. Huxley credited with saying:

Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.


Huxley was an English biologist, known as "Darwin's bulldog" for his advocacy of the latter's theory of evolution.

The above quote from Huxley struck a chord with me. Learning is my raison d'etre, and I love Huxley's concise admonition of both breadth and depth in learning.

I aspire to learn everything about Jack Kerouac, and knowing it's impossible makes it a lifelong goal. And I aspire to learn something about everything, another lifelong goal.

Do I need to go back to "school" to so learn? No. Huxley is a case in point. He is considered one of the great autodidacts of the nineteenth century.

I love that term: autodidact. Read the Wikipedia entry for an amazing list of autodidacts.

Another inspiration of mine, Alan Watts, was also an autodidact, although Wikipedia neglects to mention him.

Self-directed learning has become a passion of mine, mostly inspired by my study of Carl Rogers' work (which, by the way, was self-directed).

Note this relevant entry from The Beat Handbook:

Day 3
Today’s Kerouaction: On College


Don’t go to college. It’s a waste of time and money. Lots of smart, successful people didn’t. Suggested Kerouaction: go to your local library and start reading the first book on the left hand side of the top shelf in the northeast corner of the first floor. Work your way through every book in the library, sequentially from where you started. When you are done – if that is even possible – start on the new books that have arrived since you started. In the meantime, enjoy what becoming educated feels like. (And remember that J. Krishnamurti distinguished between knowledge and wisdom and Carl Rogers my hero said that significant learning did not occur unless your behavior or attitude or EVEN personality changed.)

But if you’re at a college – either as a professor or a student – be original and don’t fall prey to institutional and societal norms and values. Follow your own path! Heed the advice of Henry David Thoreau and be a nonconformist. Kerouac admired Thoreau, and so pretty much anything Thoreau advised is a Kerouaction in waiting!

“Grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity”? Ouch! That is some indictment, and I’m not seeing that things are much better. If anything, they are worse, given the corporatization of the university and the resulting disintegration of what limited amounts of academic freedom there were in the first place (for example, see Jennifer Washburn’s book, University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education).

Your assignment:

Write down 10 people who have most influenced you over your lifetime. Put a checkmark next to those who went to college. There is no right or wrong answer here – it’s just information for you to do with what you wish.


Or consider this quote from Frank Zappa:

Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read. Forget I mentioned it... Rise for the flag salute.


Okay, so you know where this is going. Kerouac was an autodidact (as was author William Faulkner, a favorite of mine in high school and for whom Jack had an affinity - plus they were both drunks).

THE MORAL: DON'T LET OTHERS TELL YOU WHAT TO LEARN, HOW TO LEARN, WHY TO LEARN, AND WHERE TO LEARN! AND DON'T LET OTHERS TELL YOU YOUR LEARNING IS NOT "VALID" UNLESS IT HAPPENS UNDER THE SURVEILLANCE OF A "TEACHER" AND CULMINATES IN A FANCY PIECE OF PAPER (A.K.A. DIPLOMA).


Listening to the oppressive naysaying of others didn't stop Jack Kerouac from becoming one of the most famous authors in American history.

Don't let it stop you.

1 comment:

Tiedyedmystic said...

I love this! I am a college dropout but consider myself an educated person. I love your stuff. By the way, I am also a huge Zappa fan and met him once when I was 17 years old at a Mothers of Invention concert. He might make my top ten list. Two others that come to mind are Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama.