Primary Sources: The Education of Ansel Adams
Home-schooled until he was nine, Ansel Adams resisted formal education. After he had difficulties in a string of San Francisco schools, Adams' parents decided enrolling him anywhere else would be futile. He received the rest of his education from his father, tutors, the Panama Pacific Exhibition, and the world around him.
An enthusiastic beachcomber and insect collector, young Ansel lived in acute awareness of nature. Adams would later credit his father for tolerating his unusual path, saying, "I am certain he established the positive direction of my life."
...Each day was a severe test for me, sitting in a dreadful classroom while the sun and fog played outside. Most of the information received meant absolutely nothing to me. For example, I was chastised for not being able to remember what states border Nebraska and what are the states of the Gulf Coast. It was simply a matter of memorizing the names, nothing about the process of memorizing or any reason to memorize. Education without either meaning or excitement is impossible. I longed for the outdoors, leaving only a small part of my conscious self to pay attention to schoolwork... (p. 17)
...Sharp visions of childhood remain engraved in memory with an intensity far beyond their factual experience. Re-created in later years, they sometimes serve as catalysts for a better understanding of many occurrences. I recall one precious moment of an early summer. The persistent fog had lifted and the warm sun streamed into the dining room through the west-facing windows. I was setting the table for our supper. The light was unforgettable. Fog was still pouring through the Golden Gate and the foghorns could be heard. Why should such a situation such as this create a lasting revelation? Some might say that such memories are déjà vu, that we are building castles of imagination and nostalgic affirmations. I do not believe this. I feel that such events as this...offer a glimpse into a world-pattern beyond our conscious awareness.... (p. 42)
Excerpts from Ansel Adams, An Autobiography. With Mary Street Alinder. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985.