Kendall Hailey's role as defiant autodidact and midnight writer within the walls of the family compound seems romantic indeed ("The Unconventional World of Kendall Hailey" by Itabari Njeri, March 6). In such a secluded environment, it is easy to become seduced by charming words such as "autodidacticism." How fortunate that the word that charmed her was not necrophilia or Machiavellianism.
She has missed entirely, however, the point of a good liberal-arts college education.
Its purpose is twofold. First, it prepares one for a lifetime of autodidacticism. It teaches one to ask valid questions of the world of ideas, and to test the validity of one's own conclusions. Second, the most important for a young person of high intellectual ability, it allows one to share both the acquisition of intellectual and emotional information and one's delight in it with one's true peers. After four years as a residential adviser and instructor at one of America's leading programs for gifted students, I am convinced that the importance of the latter far outweighs the former.
We must all be autodidacts. We must also acquire the ability to learn from the world around us. To learn from it, we must experience it. Such experience is also vital to the creation of timeless literature. College is, in many respects, the ideal place to make the transition from citizen of a family to citizen of the world. Colleges that offer a "Great Books" curriculum (University of Chicago, St. John's College in New Mexico and Maryland, etc.) would be ideal for someone like Kendall.
The fundamental ability necessary to the successful autodidact is the ability to change a cherished idea when it is tested and found wanting.
JONATHAN C. SANTORE