Saint Jerome in His Study (Dürer)

When I was about 15 years old, I realized that I hadn’t learned anything in a classroom since the 4th grade. I picked up details, but no new ways of thinking about the World or what that means were imparted to me by my teachers or classmates. I was always a poor student, and getting poor grades did not motivate me to do my class work. I was not confident in myself, unathletic, awkward, and poor.  I did not have a learning disability or cognitive disorder, but was held back by emotional weakness/issues, a total lack of motivation, bullying, and later, gang violence. It all boiled down to insecurity and fear.

I was administered a series of IQ tests in the 4th grade which was an attempt to diagnose me as retarded, but ended with presenting me an IQ of 152. The scores are different for adults and children, and I haven’t re tested as an adult, but it was still a very high score. This was very frustrating for me. I knew I was not stupid, but I had all the indicators. The classroom environment was not the best path to learning for me. I was nearly left back each grade since 7th, and ended up dropping out in the 10th grade, which was my 4th year of high school. I went to night school and got a GED.

Desiring to learn, a friend and I decided to educate ourselves. We had as a model the Renaissance Man, who knew a little bit about a lot of things, and was especially skilled or knowledgeable in some areas. It ended up in practice being similar to the Classical education model, which I think would have been a better course of study.  I cloistered myself in the library, like an ascetic monk in a cell. I read a lot of fiction and poetry (the classics), studied Latin,  history, horticulture, architecture, knot tying, cooking, practical survival skills, anything that tickled my fancy or seemed important to know. I was able to learn things from books or text-only internet terminals, and apply them in the real world. It was a wonderful experience, creating beauty out of an ugly situation, but left me with huge gaps in my education, like not knowing US geography and State Capitals. I also wish I had learned Greek (and read more of/about the Greeks, I find them much more interesting than the Romans), orienteering, woodworking, the piano (I know chords and scales from other instruments, and I can plink around a little), theology, and other areas of study. I specifically wish I had emphasized math, and kept at it so as to not unlearn the processes.

More accurately, I wish I didn’t have the experience, that traditional education would have worked for me. However, it didn’t, and I was unwilling to do nothing and let it continue to be a problem. The situation was absolutely less than ideal, and somehow ended up being more effective than me going to class.  At the very least, it would have been nice to have had a mentor, but I suppose I have always been a “grinder”.  Skills or experiences have rarely come easily for me.  A passing level of competency in something takes a lot of work for me.

I continue to self-educate.  I seek out knowledge and attempt to refine my skills. Lately I’ve been focusing on organizing, goal-setting, and finances. I’m always reading, and trying to broaden my experience.

I love learning. I did not/was unable to capitalize on much of the learning experiences that came my way when I was younger.  I’m not doing that anymore.  I will continue to be a lifelong student, I will grind away, and I will get better. I will not be held back by circumstances I can’t control or attitudes I can control. I will stand and fight, and go back and formulate a new plan to fight smarter next time if it doesn’t go very well.

Do new skills and experiences come easy to you? Do you enjoy learning? How do you learn? Did that translate to good grades for you?


2 thoughts on “Autodidact

  1. New skills do not come easy to me. I enjoy learning as well and I was a horrible student. I received D's and F's through most of my schooling but, I didn't want to learn what they were teaching. Actually, I was too focused on spirituality and rapping. Ha Ha, but now I want to learn as much as I can about life skills that I can apply to my day to day life and pass on to my children. The internet is a source for information but, there is sooooo much of it out there and I get overwhelmed. Physical books are good for me because they help me focus on one subject at a time. Great article David. You are a true inspiration!


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