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I am from Brazil – at the current moment, education in this country is undoubtedly poor. I've been learning some things over the years on my own, mostly downloading content from the internet and reading.

Whenever I tell people (in my country) that I learn in such way, they usually say that I am an autodidact – and when arguing about this, they seem to imply that this is a unique feature for some special people that are born with this (they don't think that it's an ability that anyone could develop). However, I'm a little skeptical about this, and I'm expanding the reasons below:

  • As I pointed out in the beginning, the education in our country is a failure. We're not taught how to think and develop solutions to problems with minimal information beforehand. Education is more of a fake spectacle provided by the government to pretend the country is a good place for international investors.

  • Trying to learn after being a student that spent years in such a scheme is usually painful, and I say this from experience. Managing energy, motivation, discipline, systems for controlling procrastination, the idea that you yourself have to manage such features and other aspects of learning alone is hard.

  • Our school gives us the impression that learning is linear and continuous, that there aren't pitfalls and that spending some days stuck with a problem means that one cannot learn something alone.

  • When speaking with people from other countries, it seems utterly trivial to learn something alone. I've even gotten some syllabi from universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, and the way these syllabi are written seems to be made for a student that has been taught in a more sophisticated and independent way. They list the topics that need to be learned, they give the student a manual on how to study, and they give them the list of books – I'm finding it perfect to learn using their syllabi as a guide. On the other hand, the syllabi of Brazilian universities are terrible, they don't mention books, they don't mention a order for which the topics must be studied, they just list everything only with dates, and there's no guide for self-study: The syllabi seems to be made for a completely dependent student.

Given the arguments above, I'd like to know: Is autodidactism really a unique, rare feature that I possess? I ask because I do not feel so; I feel that I could teach it to everyone, and that some of our beliefs about education and self-education are wrong.

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I'd recommend checking out Wikipedia's article on autodidacticism for a start. This might give you a better sense of the context surrounding the word, and whether it really means so much as you feel it does. My first impression is that this is not much more than a semantic issue (but I have a second impression, which I'll get to next). The literal definition seems to be, "A self-taught person," which isn't very interesting. In this sense, of course you are. That's what you're describing: self-teaching.

My second impression is that this is interesting inasmuch as self-teaching is actually rare. That seems odd to me; in what sense doesn't everyone teach themselves to some extent? If we interpret it instead as "primarily self-taught", then I could see autodidacticism being rarer. People usually find educational systems guided by others preferable (or mandatory, as is the case in the USA), but maybe not in a situation such as you describe (whether it's true of Brazil in general or not). When educational systems provided by traditional, mainstream, or public infrastructure are poor, it seems quite likely that one would opt to take advantage of other educational sources as you have. In the past decade or so, the internet has been particularly instrumental in providing this option globally.

I get the impression that using others' educational materials (including syllabi) for otherwise self-guided education doesn't violate the generally intended meaning of autodidact. A stricter definition might limit it only to learning through direct experience with life, but it's hard to imagine anyone short of a feral child fitting this definition truly enough. If an autodidact can learn through contact with others and their guidance and still be an autodidact simply because one has pursued education independently of structured guidance in the form of a professional relationship with a particular teacher, then I agree, it's not that unusual. If it's a question of whether you're primarily self-taught, that might be unusual, but it's not unique. Your particular circumstances seem especially likely to result in such a choice. The ongoing advent of internet-based educational resources makes it more likely that people will "teach themselves" in the same way you do, though it's an interesting semantic issue to consider whether this is truly self-teaching when you're taking advantage of structured lessons provided by others without their knowledge. It seems likely to me that the term "autodidact" itself will begin to lose its meaning in this evolving context of freely, globally available information. In any case, if autodidacticism is at all unique now, it seems unlikely to remain that way.

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The point is relevant in backward countries like Brazil. There are "sebos", where second-hand books can be bought for very little money. Public libraries for free. Free internet access in "Tele" or "Info" centres. Free "palestra" conferences. I have myself attended class at the University of Sao Paulo-Butanta, and nobody has asked my status as a student there. Yet, most Brazilians have it in their heads that they need a certificate. My Brazilian pupils certainly have got this idiotic assumption. That is why they are enrolled in some institution, BESIDES paying me as their private tutor. In my experience, although every person occasionally learns something on his own, purely out of curiosity, it is only a minority that possesses the talent of self-didactism (auto-didacticism) for being PRIMARILY teachers of ourselves. Most people cannot do it. They lack intelligence or motivation for the effort of self-guide and self-discipline. They are imitators, and there is no social encouragement for autodidacts.

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It all depends on what you are looking for. We have this awesome tool wich is the Internet, where we can find lots on information about anything, but if you are trying to be a doctor or a surgeon you are not going to make it as an autodidact.

Maybe, autodidactism is a feauture that can only be possesed by a special kind of individuals because there are so many things that you have to work on, we're living in a difficult generation an education is overvalued, because literally you are "no one" if you dont have a professional degree, even though education is poor as you mentioned before, I am from México by the way.

It think it all depends in yourself, in your confidence, and on your goals, you need to think big, and also be realistic. All i wanna say is... you might be that special individual, if you are already thinking about it.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to cogsci.SE! Good answers here are based in rigorous and typically peer-reviewed research, and cite evidence instead of anecdote or speculation to support assertions. Can you cite specific evidence for your suppositions here? $\endgroup$ – Krysta May 6 '15 at 18:43
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There remains absolutely no doubt that autodidactism is an intrinsic component of consciousness, without which one cannot rationally claim to be either partially or fully consciousness. Furthermore, autodidactism is an imperative, unique to high cognitive function. The extent to which autodidactism can be regarded as a special feature isn't a particularly pertinent question because the term can only possess effective meaning within socio-economic systems which impede a natural propensity towards autodidactism, without which, no meaning can be derived. This being the case, in a developmentally healthy social structure, there would be little use for such a term, for it would describe nothing.

Institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, to name but two of many, are often regarded as centers of educational excellence. This is a somewhat, mischaracterization of both the institutions and the concept of education itself (especially if we examine the process of Education and Training side by side). There is no question that such institutions have been invaluable repositories of great works and tombs, but in and of themselves say nothing about the emergence and evolution of autodidactism as an intellectual process. In order to understand that, we must cast our nets wider and deeper to understand this phenomenon by deconstructing myths around traditional educational achievement. See bellow.

Traditional educational methods rely exclusively on three components, the product of which being evaluated accordingly, which are the 3 R's. Inquiries into the meaning of the 3 R's has the effect of confounding everyone, even at the highest levels of academia. Ironically enough, it took an autodidact to figure this one out, in circumstances I won't go into here. The 3 R's are in fact, as follows: Read, Retain and Recall (some would say Regurgitate). Not only is this system not conducive to natural cognitive development, it acts to impede it, primarily because it restricts the development of new neural pathways associated with curiosity and abstract thought. This is one reason why autodidactism isn't as commonplace as nature would permit.

An exception to the above is the natural state of autodidactism found in early childhood. This is soon eroded by the aggressive effects of (among other factors) regimented education. One component of such regimentation is the requirement to wake children from natural sleep patterns in order to attend schools at an appointed time. It has long been understood that children require more sleep during their formative years because neural pathways are developing and being reinforced which are associated with new experiences. This is the point at which autodidactism dies as a common social feature of social evolution. As children, autodidactism can be a term to denote a natural developmental process in early and continued development in adulthood (even though the latter is extremely rare) and as such constitutes a life enriching experience. Conversely, in adults, it has the effect of producing extreme social isolation because of the irrational demands of mediocrity. A secondary effect on the adult autodidact is the fact that the associated high cognitive function can (and is) often is mistaken for mental illness and medicated as such. In conclusion, the uniqueness isn't necessarily in the intellectual capacity of the autodidact but the resilience and endurance of their psychology, which is Moreso the case with the adult autodidact.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    $\begingroup$ This is not answering the question. A lot of it seems to be opinions which are discouraged on this site unless backed up by reputable sources of fact. In order to demonstrate that your answer is not based on opinion, you need to provide answers with links to articles etc. or provide references to sources of information to back any claims up. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Feb 19 '17 at 23:25

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