But at the same time technical competance comes from taking a lot of pictures, deconstructing them, and learning from your mistakes. †
What you say is certainly correct, and I should add to my essay that the digital camera makes it much easier to see the exposure settings used to capture the image.
But then I'd need to add that you learn exposure better by thinking about it before you shoot the camera rather than after. Consider what you learn when looking at a picture exposed automatically by the camera. It reports the f/stop, shutter, and equivalent ISO used. And what can you do with that info? You don't know where the camera metered, how it combined the measurements of different areas, nor why it wanted the scene to look the way it did (except in older cameras; they want everything to look 18% gray).
Some of us, after framing the scene, examine it for luminosity range, correct with a filter if necessary, then choose the way we want it to appear on film, find an object or color that we want to look a particular density, spot meter it, and shoot one frame after making appropriate filter and recipricosity adjustments. No bracketing, no safety exposure, and nothing left to chance or camera programming. We choose what we want, and we get it.
I was amused shooting Delicate Arch two years ago. The northern bench was lined two deep with photographers snapping away a half hour before sunset. I sat on a low stone hummock and enjoyed the sunset. When the light was right, I framed and shot three images with an old Super Graphic. Two were perfect, but I lost one because I tried something fancy with the lens tilt that didn't look artistic in the end (I wanted the close rock and the arch in focus, but the distant LaSal's and the stone bowl in the mid-ground out of focus--dumb idea in retrospect).
I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging; this is simply how some of us work. I didn't always work like this, and that was part of the motivation for writing the essay. And I know darn well there are photographers who don't even need to use the meter that often, they know light and the medium so well. I hope to be there some day.
I honestly can't see how you learn the relationship between light, exposure, and the image unless you think about it before you take the picture.
Oh, and Bryan, that quote of mine I got almost word for word on the PhotoSIG site (is it still around?). It was certainly the operating principle of a lot of photographers there.
And yes, I also had a lot of good times at Palisades. Why even today I was discussing with my sister the possibility of getting some of that gorgeous pink quartzite for her kitchen countertops. Prettiest rock I've ever seen.