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Choosing the Autodidactic Path

  Dedicating yourself to learning and problem solving is not as simple as just attending school. For some of those who do not fit into the school system very well, they prefer to teach themselves what they want, at the pace they want, and how they want. They become autodidaktikos, which is Greek for “self-taught.” Autodidacts are those who prefer to teach themselves, commonly rejecting the enforced school system and sometimes the optional (though fruitful) school system (K-12 and University, respectively).   Choosing the autodidactic path can look different for everyone, but there are some commonalities among those who engage in autodidactic activities. One commonality I already mentioned is rejecting the school system(s). While I do agree that mandating education for children and adolescents is beneficial in most cases, some are better off learning on their own with the guidance of a mix of wise, knowledgeable, and intelligent mentors. I expand more on the education system in subseque

Choosing the Autodidactic Path

 Dedicating yourself to learning and problem solving is not as simple as just attending school. For some of those who do not fit into the school system very well, they prefer to teach themselves what they want, at the pace they want, and how they want. They become autodidaktikos, which is Greek for “self-taught.” Autodidacts are those who prefer to teach themselves, commonly rejecting the enforced school system and sometimes the optional (though fruitful) school system (K-12 and University, respectively). 


Choosing the autodidactic path can look different for everyone, but there are some commonalities among those who engage in autodidactic activities. One commonality I already mentioned is rejecting the school system(s). While I do agree that mandating education for children and adolescents is beneficial in most cases, some are better off learning on their own with the guidance of a mix of wise, knowledgeable, and intelligent mentors. I expand more on the education system in subsequent paragraphs. Another typical characteristic of an autodidact is curiosity. Autodidacts crave knowledge and thrive off of knowing and problem-solving. Without an intrinsic drive to learn, a student would probably not be successful in self-directed learning. What often comes with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and hunger for complex problems is high intelligence. However, I am not saying that one must be highly intelligent to be an autodidact as it is certainly not a requirement, just common. If you include folks who have a high intelligence in the neurodivergent category, then almost all of the autodidacts are neurodivergent. Whether you classify highly intelligent people as neurodivergent or not, many autodidacts are neurodivergent anyway. As I have written before, neurodivergent people tend to not fit into the school system very well, so rejection of the school system is most prevalent among these people, forcing those with a curious and divergent mind to teach themselves. As you can see, there is a lot of overlap in the autodidactic community. These characteristics are all connected (or at least have the potential to be). This redundancy in traits is what makes the group very relatable to some while remaining slightly esoteric.


While the autodidactic community tends to be homogenous in one respect (with all of its members having a curious drive), it is a diverse group at the same time. Men and women, people of all ages, people from different backgrounds, and people from all over the world are part of this community. It is a significantly powerful community because of the similarities but also the differences. We can meld our intellectual capacities and diverse experiences whilst learning independently with mentee fluidity (having ever-changing mentors/teachers). With collaboration and accommodation, we as a group could have the capacity for great things. Among these great things are bringing about change in the education system and workplace, invoking a drive for learning in society, stimulating political change, overcoming world and societal difficulties, solving complex problems, and generating solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. This may seem too good to be true, but I said with collaboration and accommodation, which means working together as a single unit and accepting those whose ideas may differ from our own. As of right now, most people are not primarily autodidacts, and those that are tend not to collaborate as they are used to doing intellectual work alone. However, under more ideal social and educational conditions, we are a group of self-starters who can certainly bring about significant changes in our communities.


About being an autodidact in the current United States education system: If a child or adolescent wants to learn at a faster pace than the class, some teachers will allow it and even help them with their advanced studying. However, there are many teachers that will not allow self-studying in class and will expect the student to go at the speed of the class and complete homework at a level much lower than what the student is capable of (which makes it mostly busywork). A student in this situation could either comply and be chronically understimulated (which can lead to chronic boredom, a dangerous mental state that will be covered in a future blog post), or reject the teacher’s and school’s rules, potentially face punishment, and become fully autodidactic (with some guidance in the form of mentors and texts, of course). For example, a student could skip class to teach himself/herself at a faster pace. This student would most likely get put in detention and his/her attendance marks would suffer, but the knowledge and skills that this student could gain would be invaluable. While choosing the autodidactic path can lead to some harmful consequences, if you play the systems in the right way (you can read more on systems in my last blog post), you can be a successful autodidact despite the systemic lack of accommodations.  


Choosing the autodidactic path in a world that tends to reward the “herd mentality” for the majority is a brave and noble choice. As an autodidact, you are responsible for your own learning. To be able to learn what you want at the pace you want is a nice freedom, but with that comes keeping yourself accountable, disciplined, and in challenging intellectual curricula. You are more responsible for your intellectual growth. Those who follow the classical education system get taught, while those who are autodidactic teach themselves. Those who follow the classical education system are only on the receiving end and are not intellectually self-sufficient. Those who are autodidactic are on both the giving and receiving end and are therefore intellectually self-sufficient. This is a brave path to choose not only because of the increased responsibility but also because of the risks involved. In the school example, grades can suffer if homework is not completed and that can prevent access to better higher education opportunities. However, it is noble because you are prioritizing your intellectual flourishing despite the external pressures to conform.


Being an autodidact is exciting and fulfilling. I’ll never forget the euphoric rush I got when I was teaching myself math at a fast pace. I would come home from school excited to teach myself math. Or, when I fell in love with learning about psychiatry and would stay up at night or wake up early to research psychotropic medications and the neurotransmitter pathways. Being an autodidact is like being a knowledge addict seeking the next intellectual high while having the potential to contribute greatly to the world. Forging your own path in the realms of wisdom and knowledge can lead to meaning, which can lead to better overall wellness (hence my blog “Wellness in Meaning” which is about the exploration of various intellectual topics in my healing from chronic illness).


Take a moment to reflect on how you learn. Do you take an active role in your learning? Are you an autodidact? If so, how can you improve your intellectual flourishing? If not, are you planning to take steps to become an autodidact? In what ways are you autodidactic? When we are young, we want to learn as much as possible about the world. From learning how to walk to expanding our vocabulary, we make leaps and bounds in our knowledge because we love learning. Learning is innately human, and we tend to forget this as we grow older and more distant from our cerebral passions. Not everyone will strive to be an autodidact, and that’s okay, but I encourage everyone to find (or create) passion in learning once again. Go back to your roots and rekindle this original drive for acquiring knowledge and problem-solving. Feel free to comment. Discussions are welcome.


-Sophie



(The book is Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics)



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