Over the next two weeks, my kids’ school schedules are dominated by standardized tests. With this season comes lots of healthy debate about the role of these tests in education. For me,test season brings to mind a story about the photographer Ansel Adams. 

When it became apparent that Adams was too restless and scattered to sit still, his father pulled him out of school. At age 12, Adams was allowed to freely roam the dunes and cliffs around his San Francisco home. At 13, his father got him an annual pass to the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, a world’s fair held in San Francisco.

This freedom to explore the fair and the wilderness on his own terms enabled Adams to find himself, something that would likely have been impossible for him in a traditional school setting.

Adam’s childhood reminds us that we’re best able to realize our individual potential when our experiences are personalized, not standardized. And it’s an example of how a powerful story can help us see a familiar issue (like the standardization of education) in a new light.

Check out Ric Burns’ documentary about Ansel Adams, available on YouTube. The story above is beautifully told starting at 12:00, ending at 17:00.