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Kindred spirits meet over an ocean of autodidactic experience, with ne'er a seagull in sight
on 10 April 2013
James Bach is a computer expert and pioneering software tester. I don't know what that means, except that he obviously has brains to burn. What I do know is that his father Richard Bach wrote a novella called Jonathan Livingstone Seagull that is considered a spiritual classic. I haven't read it, don't intend to, and don't need to in order to appreciate this buccaneering book by his son.
Like many of us (including me), James Back did not flourish in a traditional academic environment and subsequently achieved the bulk of his learning outside it. What sets him apart from most is that he has invested serious reflection on how he has achieved this and formed his findings into 'heuristics', experience-based techniques for learning. Along with autobiography, this is most of what his book contains.
I give it four stars for many reasons. It is bold; not many people create their own metaphor for true education ("buccaneering")! It is interesting and easy to read. It is practical, with little-to-no theory-laden pronouncements. More than practical, it is transformational, by which I mean that not only does Bach narrate his own metamorphosis from dropout to exert, he provides plenty of hints as to how we may achieve the same. Parts of it feel very 'self-helpish' but in a good way.
Part of its charm is also a weakness. Bach writes as if no one has ever spoken, written or thought about self-regulated learning before. Concepts like metacognition, self-efficacy, and andragogy, as formally discussed, seem foreign to him. He writes as if he's discovering it all not only FOR himself but BY himself. Hence, his opinions can read at times as fresh, ultra-pragmatic, and radical, or, by turns, as a tad naive and patchy. But what I won't do is accuse him of amateurism since: (1) he is indeed a "lover of" learning, and (2) it would be foolish to criticise him for being something be neither claims to be nor wants to be i.e. an academic educationalist.
This book is prime reading for those whose experience of the one-size-fits-all, conveyer-belt, exam-driven, state education system sucked. It is also handy for those who would like some tips on what we now call 'study skills'. Who knows, maybe the odd academic might value it as a case study in reflective practice or experiential learning. Buccaneers can dream on, too.