Learning experiences – shaping a future


I spent this morning at the Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh.

I first encountered Ansel Adam’s work a few years ago when I led a party of Dunbar Grammar School pupils to Yosemite Valley where we were “Following in John Muir’s Footsteps” – John Muir was a former pupil of Dunbar Grammar.

In what was a life changing experience I used to get up every morning at 5.30am and watch the sunrise over the Valley.  Looking at Adams’ photographs this morning I was taken back to these special moments. So how does a photographer manage to create such powerful images, which are so much more than photographs?

Perhaps it had something to do with Adams’ childhood and upbringing where he was an unconventional child who was probably dyslexic and hyperactive. His father recognised this and set about educating him at home and providing him with an incredibly rich range of experiences which shaped and nurtured the boy. Ansel Adams described this as follows:

“I often wonder at the strength and courage my father had in taking me out of the traditional school situation and providing me with these extraordinary learning experiences. I am certain he established the positive direction of my life that otherwise, could have been confused and chaotic. I trace who I am and the direction of my development to those years of growing up in our house on the dunes — propelled especially by an internal spark tenderly kept alive and glowing by my father.”

It’s revealing insights like these that confirm for me the need to recognise the importance of learning experiences which extend far beyond our existing perception of what “schooling” should be.

5 thoughts on “Learning experiences – shaping a future

  1. When most of us reflect back on our education we can usually remember a number of the field trips we took. We can also remember family vacations and major events. Experience certainly is the best education. How can schools mimic this? How can these truly enriching experiences be provided?

  2. I’m off to Yosemite at the end of April, but reflect on the amazing diversity of landscape and opportunity we have here. From the superb sunrises, driving in to Prestonpans, the wild seas breaking over the rocks or harbour walls, the magnificent clouds sweeping over the hills – it’s a treat for the senses.

    I still get a real kick out of introducing students (of all ages) to the some of the special places here and hope it stays with them for part of their lives.

    When I meet folk I’ve taught over 30 years ago they can tell me in detail all the stuff they did on the days they were out with me, while for me it was just another day teaching in the outdoors. It’s wise to remember this effect on people.

    Someone remarked the other day that we select teachers to teach in the classroom – how do we overcome that barrier to Outdoor Learning and demonstrate that education is far wider.

    I saw the “Celebration of Genius” show and found it inspiring, not only for the grand scenes, but also for the depth of detail in photos of picket fences etc. How can we also give our students theis appreciation of the detail in life as well as the grander picture?


  3. Don,
    Just catching up with your blog.

    I visited this exhibition a couple of weekends ago. Like you I was struck by the images captured by this remarkable man. What would have happened to him without his father’s intervention? Would he have done any better in our schools today?

    I also really liked Lindsay Robertson’s stunning pictures of the Scottish landscape. His pictures made we want to get a new camera and try to capture some of the wonderful views I get when walking the dog along Broughty Ferry beach.

    All in all a good exhibition – made me think and stirred me to take some action. that’s what I call art!


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