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Celebrating Adult Self-Education or Autodidactism

Celebrating Adult Self-Education
By Wendy Priesnitz

Lifelong learning and adult self-directed learning are aspects of informal education that many people pay too little attention to. Here are fifty-two ways to start yourself on the road to becoming an autodidact.

autodidact (aw'toh-DIGH'dakt') n. Definition --n. A person who is self-taught. autodidactic
--adj. Etymology Gk. autodidaktos, self-taught : autos, self + didaktos, taught.

As many people return to school at the beginning of September, self-directed learners can take some time to celebrate their non-schooled learning experiences. September 1 to 7 has been designated as Self-University Week.

Self-University Week was founded in 1989 by Charles Hayes, a self-educated philosopher, owner of Autodidactic Press and author of a number of books on adult self-directed learning, including Self-University: The Price of Tuition is the Desire to Learn. Haynes says, “...each of us has a responsibility to help shape the future by pursuing lifelong education. Back-to-school activities draw our attention to the education of children, but far too little attention is paid to adult learning. Posterity demands that real education for adults also begins in September.”

Hayes dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and joined the U.S. Marines. Later, after serving as a police officer, he worked in the Alaskan oil industry for 20 years. In 1987, he founded Autodidactic Press. From fighting racism to championing democracy, his books advocate that lifelong learning has the capacity to transform our society and our individual lives.

He notes that traditional education has caused millions of people to conclude that education is something you can “finish.” The result is that people form deep convictions based on hearsay and borrowed opinion without feeling the need to fully reason the issues out for themselves. Thus, he says, debates of the major issues confronting us become little more than emotional demonstrations of shrill shouting, finding no common ground for resolution.

“The external push for degrees in order to qualify for high-paying jobs often blinds us to the fact that education is as necessary for our general well being as it is for economic opportunity. In other words, even though full employment is increasingly problematic, many of us are better at ‘earning a living’ than we are at ‘living a living’.”

“Our intention,” says Hayes, “is to continually expand this celebration until the value of lifelong learning is indelibly etched into the national consciousness. Only through non-traditional on-going education will our citizenry gain the intellectual tools to confront – and reason out for themselves – difficult issues such as abortion, gun control, gay rights, and the death penalty. Adults – especially those who have reached the September of life – have enough life experience to put the whole notion of education into perspective. Their understanding of the importance of lifelong learning is a foundation of wisdom that younger generations can build upon.”

Autodidactic Press is dedicated to two propositions:

  • That lifelong learning is fundamental to living a full and interesting life.

  • That the learning necessary to gain competence in a job or career is far, far more important than how or where it is acquired.

52 Ways to Celebrate Self-University Week
by Charles Hayes

1. Look up a new word every morning and figure out three ways to use it during the day.

2. Read that book you picked up months ago and haven’t opened yet.

3. Listen to audio books or language tapes while you drive.

4. Watch only informative TV shows. Exception: if you never watch entertainment shows, sample a few.

5. Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper or magazine of your choice expressing your opinion on an issue.

6. Find out how to send e-mail to a lawmaker of your choice. See if you can get a dialog going.

7. Investigate one or more Internet groups, and check in at least once a day.

8. Attend an open meeting or public forum each noon hour or evening for a week.

9. Sign up for a night course, workshop or seminar.

10. If you work in a large company or organization, get acquainted with someeone you barely know. Find out more about their work and how it relates to your own.

11. Take photos of ten things (places, objects, people) that best symbolize who you are. Then take ten more of things that represent your dreams. Put the photos together in an album or a montage.

12. Pick two prominent figures. Find out as much as you can about their roles in society, their family lives, and their accomplishments. Then make a side-by-side list comparing the two.

13. Visit a library or bookstore every day and spend some time looking through sections you’ve never explored before. Make a list of the titles or subjects you find to be most interesting.

14. Attend a lecture.

15. Go to a foreign movie – or to a foreign country, if you can afford it.

16. Compile a reading list of books you intend to read during the next year, and pick one to start off with.

17. Plan or start your own personal library of the books that mean the most to you.

18. Share with others a list of the most inspiring books you have ever read.

19. Reread a book you thought was difficult or “over your head” the first time you tried it.

20. Form a roundtable discussion group to discuss books and ideas.

21. Join or start a “friends of the public library” group.

22. Join or start a book club.

23. Choose a prominent figure in history, science, politics, or the arts. Resolve to see how much you can find out about that person in books, movies, newspapers, and conversation with friends and associates over the next year. Study the person’s original work and compare your opinions with the commentary of others.

24. Write an article for your company, institution, hobby, or community organization newsletter or magazine.

25. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. See how clearly and succinctly you can make your point.

26. Visit a museum or gallery.

27. Sign up for a class on a subject that's new to you but highly interesting.

28. Offer to teach a class for a community education enterprise.

29. Listen to literary classics or foreign language instruction tapes in your car every day for a week.

30. Watch an hour of public television each night instead of cable.

31. Practice the tutorials for a new piece of computer software.

32. Write a brief summary of your life so far, or depict your life graphically.

33. Spend a week reading material with which you strongly disagree.

34. Create (or update) your resume.

35. Search a large computer database using your favorite subjects as key words.

36. Write your own obituary. What goals do you hope to meet in your lifetime? What do you want most people to remember about you?

37. Spend some time asking the oldest people you know what were the major lessons that they have learned from life.

38. Read the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution (or your country’s equivalent).

39. Volunteer eight hours of your time to a nonprofit organization.

40. Spend a day or week “media free” – no Internet, radio, TV, books, or magazines.

41. Peruse introductory books to philosophy with the goal of discovering your favorite philosopher.

42. Sign up for music lessons.

43. Learn enough of a computer programming language to write a simple program.

44. Set aside a half-hour each day to examine some of your fundamental beliefs about the world. Contrast them with opposing views. Are your reasons for believing as you do your own or did you borrow them from friends and family in the process of growing up?

45. Outline the major events in your life as if it were a play. How many acts would there be and how would they be named? What would you name it?

46. Study the nature of your career or occupation and make some predictions about the future of that enterprise. If you are retired, examine the career field of a friend or relative.

47. Write an essay (or make a list) describing what you think were the greatest errors and accomplishments of the 20th century. How can these lessons make life better in this century?

48. If you are a worker, read a book about management; if you are a manager, read a book written from the perspective of workers.

49. Take the time to master that piece of hi-tech equipment that you dread the most.

50. Memorize a poem.

51. Take an art class.

Hayes' website is at

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