Somewhere, a young person does something impressive.
Young people do, build, and make impressive things all the time. What makes this creation special is that, for whatever reason, it manages to pierce the adult bubble of disengagement and draws attention.
In the conversations that ensue, wether in a classroom or on a news program, ad adult will ask this young person “How did you learn to do this?”
There will be “when” and “where” versions as well, but those answers are consistent and unsurprising. After school, late at night, in the garage. On the margins and in the cracks.
Answers to the “how” question are frustrating and incoherent, in the same unsatisfying category as “where do you get your ideas?” Youtube. The google. Books from the library.
If you’re not an educator, I can forgive you for hearing those fumbled responses, filing the kid under “autodidact” and moving on. Both the questioner and the young person are mistakenly focused on the source of this particular impressive thing, rather than the more important “how” of their learning process.
Look back further.
Anywhere, any year, and a young person wants to do something for which they have no direct mentor available. That is, they’re cheeky enough to become fascinated by something in the fast 93% of human experience that’s not addressed in their grade level curriculum map. What do they do? Where do they turn?
In isolation, our only option is to throw ourselves at the cliff face of knowledge, scrabble for a handhold and pull incrementally higher. This is where the myth or misconception of autodidacts fails us, when we imagine that the truly special swoop in like spiderman and bound effortlessly to the summit.
We all careen in wildly, become hopelessly tangled in our own limbs, and smack painfully into the wall. Everyone.
That is learning. There is no montage.
What emerges from that process is an attitude, equally arrogant and egalitarian. If more than one human knows a subject, then instructions exist. If someone else can learn how to do something, then so can I. What we call “the world” is built by people, no smarter than you.
Armed with that attitude and a universe of information, our autodidact Voltron is complete and ready to change the world. This is the point they reflect back on when asked “how” they learned something. Humans are bad at metacognition, and hyper-focused adolescence exponentially more so. When an young person looks back on this moment, she overlooks the long, frustrating hours exploring things that have nothing to do with the subject of her current work. It was those experiences, the painful failure strewn slog of learning how to learn, that provided the mechanism that propelled her to success. Somewhere along the line, she recognized the whole of human knowledge as a personal invitation. The early work where she tested that theory wasn’t impressive, productive or on-task, but it was essential.
Cultivating those experiences is at the heart of what I call #makered. Past the skills or tech or tools or props, I’m convinced that we need to provide a home to the transformative and fanciful passions that may never yield products that impress adults.