Ok, this one caught my attention on Wikipedia because of some of the inane opinions on the Talk page. Now, never mind the conversion to an “ism” – as both autodidacticism and autodidactism are indeed words – and with that I’d like to remind people that just because your spell-checker doesn’t recognize it, it doesn’t mean it’s not a word. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be in the dictionary to qualify – if it’s being used and people understand it. Hell, some of the words we use most often, for better or worse, are probably not in there. And you don’t need me to tell you what they are. (Bet you the spell checker gets them right, though!)
So who or what is an autodidact?
Here is the entry from Merriam-Webster:
Autodidact: a self-taught person
The adjective is autodidactic [which by the way my spellchecker does not recognize]
The origin is Greek – autodidaktos self-taught, from auto– + didaktos taught, from didaskein to teach.
The first known use was in 1748
So, an autodidact is a self-taught person.
Now, this is an interesting idea in itself because it contrasts only with the idea of being educated by someone else, something that, to my mind, can only mean brainwashing.
But today, popularly speaking, most people think it is only correct that one be educated formally and by a set of authorities – as you can see quite plainly by some of the talk on Wikipedia about the subtleties of meaning. Otherwise one apparently descends into lunacy. Some commenters do point out that on some level everyone is self-educated, but I’m not so sure about that. Self-educated people in general do not simply trust in what they are told by so-called teachers, public or private. In this sense, the autodidact has a particular philosophy when it comes to learning and THAT indeed justifies the -ism. He thinks for himself.
Autodidacticism (or autodidactism, whichever you prefer) is a philosophy. One that is not only natural, but is essential, to any free society.
As for the “gender bias” complained about on the talk page at Wikipedia – I can only guess that the complainer is a young woman who is insecure and focused on the opinions of others, particularly regarding her intelligence. I can only recommend that she become an autodidact and once she has learned a thing or two she will never be bothered by such things again. Nevertheless, if it helps, one of the biggest advocates of autodidacticism, especially with regard to it being an entirely natural process in the development of young children, is Maria Montessori.
Go forth and be autodidacts!