Tuesday, October 21, 2003

To be fair, not everyone self-taught is unqualified

This is sightly edited and reposted from my reply to someone else's comment in another person's (freinds only) lj. I decided that if it was important enough, to me, that I say this, then I should also put it here. And make it public.

The term 'self-taught' usually doesn't mean 'just read some books'. It should not be taken, or used, casually, to mean 'crackpot'. Sometimes one's field of study just _is not_ available in a university setting, so you have to study independently, which can mean a lot of things. Independent study of obscure subjects, if taken seriously, as seriously as any academic study, and held to the same standards (not including academic alphabet soup), if of equal quality, should be given equal respect.

My dad, an internationally recognized authority on folk music, music history and bagpipe resoration, is a good example of this. He could not get what he wanted out of formal eduaction 30+ years ago, and set about doing it himself, at fairly great expense. Dozens of trips throughout the world, to study and collect music firsthand when possible, and the purchase of numerous instruments for study and performance purposes, as well as decades of continuous, intense, research and study have made him what he is. There STILL is no degree program (or even combination of degrees) that could give him the knowledge that he has acquired mostly on his own. He's lectured and performed at museums and restored rare instruments to playable condition for many, including the Smithsonian.

Why does the bias against independent studies make me feel a bit defensive?
I'm mostly self taught as far as the history of clothing is concerned, because I cannot afford the expense of a double degree in Physical Anthropology and Costume (or Fashion) Design, which is as close as I can get to what I need for my research. I have no formal degree in costume.

I have an incomplete Associate of Arts (in Graphic Design - I never took my Gym class). This does not reduce the quality of my own work, or the quality of my research. It does not mean I have not done my own research, nor does it mean that I have not had any training in my chosen field of study. I have studied draping and cutting, apprenticed to a professional milliner and dressmaker, independently studied hundreds of works on modern, early modern, classical and medieval material culture, taken anthropology classes, theatre classes (and worked as a professional costume designer and cutter in theatre and costume shops), volunteered at museums, studied original pieces, made numerous iterations of theoretical pieces to determine possible cuts of now lost garment styles, the list goes on.

I can understand the frustration with people who spout falsehoods (either original or passed on unchecked). I fight against them all the time. I try to counter disinformation and outdated theories (often treated as gospel) with study and the willingness to spread the facts, as they are currently understood, around. It's hard, it's frustrating. it seems like the toils of Sisyphus.

I hope that those who are lucky enough to feasibly afford 'real' academia won't throw us all out with the chaff. Some of us are just poor people who cannot afford the letters after our names to 'prove' our adherence to academic standards. We're out here. Give us a chance.

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