"Drop out of school before your mind rots from our mediocre education system. Go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts" - Frank Zappa. When you come across such words, several questions arise in your mind: is this man crazy? Why would he say such a thing? Does he know what he's talking about? But if you analyzed that statement in its true meaning, you will see that he is not anti-education. As a matter of fact he is fully in support of it, only in a way quite different from what most people are used to.
Autodidactism is the process of attaining knowledge through self-learning, training or study, and someone who has attained knowledge in this way is called an autodidact. It does not, however, entirely mean that the person involved will not have received any formal education but also includes one who has received partial training but did not complete either after dropping out or due to loss of interest among other factors, for instance, Wilbur Wright, who is considered an autodidact yet he attended college entirely only that he did not graduate. Albert Einstein claimed that the only thing that was interfering with his learning was school, and when Sir Winston Churchill was asked how he managed to become the British Prime Minister despite having failed terribly in school, he replied that it wasn't that he was foolish but he had failed because they had asked him the wrong questions. But then again, 'education is key', right? Well then, how about something like 'knowledge is key?'
The first documented argument in favour of autodidactism to the study of nature was in Ibn Tufail's book Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Alive Son of the Vigilant) written in the twelfth century about a boy, who, through experimentation and investigation discovers the laws of nature and ultimately reaches a point where he enjoys a mystical experience. Perhaps this is what Beethoven alluded to when he said that instead of just practising one's art, one should force his way into its secrets, for with it and knowledge he could rise to the divine. Once again, we find that the keyword here is knowledge, and this is the kind that cannot be gotten from any institution of further or furthest learning. What schools need to address, like Einstein's explanation, is that education is not the memorization of facts but the ability to think. In the song Hood mentality, rapper Ice Cube laments how he is no longer interested in school because instead of trying to educate him it's only interested in what he has memorized. And memorizing is all what some 'A' students do, but fail terribly when it comes to solving practical problems. This fact has been addressed in the Indian movie three idiots, in which one student liked to memorize without understanding the details while the protagonist preferred an overall understanding of information and how he would use it in real life.
While most students will replicate what has been taught in class in the exam, such an education is of no value really, as the end objective is merely to pass the test. But in the case of autodidactism, the individual is not obligated to study by any forceful means neither does he do it with a view to attaining an academic qualification but for knowledge and passion, and in this way he studies everything that pertains to the topic and not just a set of topics enumerated in a course outline. He studies broadly and relentlessly, without the limitations of class-work setup, for class room work has a beginning and an end, and a student will feel accomplished having studied within these confines. How then, is such a person going to match up against one who has studied as much as he can, the only limitation being the resources he can obtain, which is hardly a problem in the 21st century, the age of information?