Friday, May 22, 2009


From page 7 of Ansel Adams, by Mary Street Alinder:

"Ansel was a lonely child, more comfortable with adults than with others his own age. He made few friends. He looked rather like a skinny squirrel, with eyes that bulged a bit and ears that stuck out. These features, combined with his twisted nose and open mouth -- whether for breathing or to allow for his almost constant chatter -- made him seem strange to other children.

Ansel had to be in motion at all times; otherwise, he would twitch with frustration, his mind flitting along with his body. He had no patience for games, though he did briefly attempt roller skating and golf. Today he would be classified as hyperactive, but then he was seen as a significant behavior problem."

The squirrel below, who allowed himself to be photographed this morning, may be the same squirrel as the one above that I photographed yesterday morning. In both instances, I was in the same general area when I was startled by the close proximity of the squirrel, and I fumbled with my camera. The squirrel waited until I took his picture before flitting away.

Wild squirrels, unlike human children, are fortunate not to be saddled with descriptions such as "hyperactive" or "significant behavior problem." When I read Mary Street Alinder's book some years ago, I wondered what would have happened to Ansel Adams if his high spirits and exuberance had been medicated away when he was a child. What I recall is that his parents chose to homeschool him rather than have him go through the public schools being labeled a problem child.

As Solitary Walker said in his comment yesterday, while I've been taking these recent black and white photographs, I've been thinking of Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston, too, and feeling gratitude for their particular way of seeing the natural world in black and white and shades of grey.


Anonymous said...

no doubt labeling and caging are problems, but with all due respect, blanket indictments of public schools misrepresent a lot of thoughtful and inspiring work done with children not fortunate enough to have private or home schooling opportunities. kjm

R.L. Bourges said...

hi, am: all the recent computer nonsense seems to be dying down around here, although I'll continue filtering incoming comments for the time being.

It was good of the squirrel to wait up for you - please express our appreciation the next time you run into him/her :-)

re Ansel Adams and unusual children in general: I was just reading an email from one of my sons who works with severe cases of autism in Australia. There can be no doubt dedicated teachers can - and do - work miracles in many instances. Unfortunately, it is also true - as you point out - that unusual behaviors frequently lead to negative labelling and 'control' through medication. The long-term effects of some of these substances are only starting to be known in some instances.

It's a blessing for us all that Adams' parents could afford their decision and carried it through. Here's hoping many others like him will have the same opportunities of self-expression, through one educational channel or another.

Best as always, am.

am said...

kjm -- I am dismayed that my post appeared to be an blanket indictment of public schools. That wasn't my intention at all. My deepest concerns are about the psychiatric medication of children who don't fit in -- not a criticism of the thoughtful work that special education teachers do.

Ansel Adams was fortunate to have parents who were able to give him an alternative education in a time when, as far as I know, there were no special education teachers.

My concern is that children, who may be just like Ansel Adams was as a child, are given medication today as well as a label. The medicating is what troubles me most.

My gut feeling is that medication would not have enhanced Ansel Adams' boyhood and the rest of his life

As you are a special education teacher, I appreciate your insight here.

R.L. -- Good to know that most of that computer storm has passed!

robin andrea said...

I have been appreciating your black and white photography.

am said...

robin andrea -- Thank you!