When I think of autodidactism, I automatically think of an old Sherlock Holmes’ picture with a gentleman from the 1800’s smoking a pipe at his mahogany desk in front of a fireplace, surrounded by heaps of books and parchment paper. This is honestly a very different picture from what most autodidacts paint, but one self-learner blew this image out of the water while I was watching a Disney movie the other day.
Let’s Start From the Top
Yes, I am an adult. Yes, I was watching Tarzan last weekend – its a good movie! As I watched baby Tarzan grow into a vine-swinging, hollering ape-man, I realized (in the nerdy way that one realizes such things) that Tarzan is the ultimate autodidact – one that represents the origins of self-education.
In the Disney movie, Tarzan is found in the jungle by a female gorilla after his parents are killed by a tiger. She adopts him as her own and raises him in the jungle with her family of gorillas. A large part of the story focuses on Tarzan finding it difficult to belong, considering how different his human features are from his gorilla family’s. He finds it difficult to make friends as a child because he is physically slower and weaker and he constantly makes mistakes doing things that are perfectly normal for a gorilla, but more difficult for a human.
As Tarzan grows, however, his human brain kicks in and he begins to find different ways to keep up with his adopted family. For example, he finds it difficult to match his friends’ speed while traveling on foot, so he
teaches himself to swing on vines and leap through trees to keep up (and stay ahead). Later, while foraging for food, he uses his elephant friend’s trunk to help blow out food from narrow spaces instead of trying to fit his too-large hands into the space like the gorillas.
Back to the Beginning
This is probably how humans began to differentiate themselves from other primates during evolution, and so Tarzan goes all the way back to the beginning of the entire process of learning – which was autodidactism at its core.
Granted, Tarzan was probably a smarter human than the average. Just look at his parents – they were stranded in a Jungle and built a flippin’ awesome treehouse to live in with awesome amenities. They literally had no resources to work with!
Still, he was a baby – who grew up in a family of gorillas. He finished off a deadly tiger using his brain when nobody else could, found ways to get food more efficiently, and figured out how to get around the jungle faster than the companions he constantly fell behind as a child.
I’d say that earns him the title of the Ultimate Disney Autodidact, wouldn’t you?