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Friday, May 3, 2013 06:37 pm

Mostly educated

A while back, in “Teaching idiots,” I ventured the view that it has never been easier than it is today to give oneself an education. I did not however settle the question of whether is might be wise to do so.

The self-taught tend to have patchy educations. This can be bad, it can be good. You know less than people schooled to a formal curriculum, but you often end up knowing what you do know better than they do. If undertaken out of curiosity or need, maybe you learn more when teach yourself because, compared to most profs, you are more motivated to teach.

Another advantage: We untutored know something important that many formally educated do not. The degreed are too easily convinced that their degree proves that they have been educated when all it proves is that they finished a course of study. The self-taught realize that they don’t know all might know, even if they know more than their neighbors.

On the other hand, the self-taught often think they know mor than they do, because they've never had their conclusions challenged by a teacher. Michael Burlingame reminds us how, in 1859, our Mr. Lincoln remarked to a young clergyman “how much he felt the need of reading, and what a loss it was to a man not to have grown up among books.” “Men of force can get on pretty well without books,” the cleric replied. “They do their own thinking, instead of adopting what other men think.” Lincoln agreed, but added that “books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new, after all.”

Which leads me to modify my working definition of an autodidact to a mostly self-taught person.

Note: The above is slightly modified from the original.

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