Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All I Know is That I Know Nothing: Self-Directed Learning

"Inspiring people to become self-motivated and life-long learners is what I'm all about..."

Do you see that line at the end of my profile (on the lower right-hand side of this page)? I wrote that ages ago, but I meant it then, and I mean it now.

The other day, I was expounding on how impressed I am by D.R. Haney, author of SUBVERSIA and BANNED FOR LIFE, because he is an autodidact (see this blog from Dec 13, 2010). 

I remembered, too, how when I was a fresher in college (note the P.C. lingo--I am not a man, as in "freshMAN"), my Don (adviser) told me she loved that I always wrote down what she was saying to me.

For example: she mentioned Plato's Phaedo, and I wrote that down and I read it, and then, the next time we met, I discussed the work with her. I always did things like that.

That's self-motivated learning. It just came naturally to me, and I never gave it any particular thought before my Don noted how much she liked it and how unusual it was, but this trait, this desire to read and grow, is what I most admire in other people and students, and it's what I most want to inspire, if I can.

I saw a fabulous example of a reader/writer/blogger who exemplifies this when I was reading this morning. This is Bookslut's Jessa Crispin in a piece she recently posted for PBS' Need to Know, and which I found via Twitter.

Note how Crispin writes about one book inevitably leading to another, to one reference leading her to discover new works, new art, and new ideas.  This is precisely what I want students to do, and it's what all educated, thoughtful people should be doing all the time.

Wide reading, constantly striving to learn and know what we are talking about is essential to being a person who contributes to culture, I think--and to being one who may also motivate others. 

One of my favorite films, and one I saw when I was just a kid, 12 years old (my mother took me to see this), is Educating Rita, and it is about a character--an uneducated hair stylist in a bleak, British, pub saturated city--who desperately wants to be and know more. 

Filmed at Trinity College Dublin (which I later attended, strangely enough), this is an amusing, witty, important film about a burned-out literature professor who is brought back to life and purpose by an unconventional adult student who has a deep desire to learn and better herself.

I hope some of these words and ideas inspire someone else to read and do more.

What better time to read than a holiday? The holidays are coming; I hope everyone has enough books to read (I suggest E.M. Forster's Howards End, which Julie Walters' character describes as "crap," but it's definitely not) and films to view, such as Educating Rita.


  1. Excellent post and advice. Thanks for this!