Friday, April 30, 2010

We Don't Need Anesthesia, It's Painful This Way and That's How We Like It!

If you needed surgery to save your life and you had a choice to have the surgery with an anesthetic or without, which would you choose? Which option do you think your doctor would recommend?
Today a surgeon wouldn’t think of performing painful surgery without anesthesia, but there was a time when surgeons couldn’t imagine surgery without pain...

Robert Krulwich interviewed Richard Holmes on National Public Radio's Morning Edition yesterday about his book Age of Wonder. Holmes recounted that in 1799, Sir Humphrey Davy, then a 21 year old scientist and apprentice to a surgeon discovered that nitrous-oxide (laughing gas) could stop pain.
In his book, Holmes describes Humphrey Davy’s discovery and his suggestion in an article to the medical community that nitrous-oxide could helpful for patients undergoing surgery. Unfortunately, it took 40 or more years for surgeons to see past preconceived notions about pain and accept that pain was not necessarily a good thing. They just couldn't imagine surgery without pain.
Here is an excerpt from the NPR interview:

"The idea that you could have pain-free surgery was completely radical, novel," says Richard Holmes. Doctors at the time had a different view: that pain was a good thing! The doctors thought pain helped them polish their surgical skills (screaming being a prompt to cut fast and accurately), and it was believed that pain would help the patient rebound. "It was proof that the body was fighting back and healing itself," Holmes says.
The education profession can be like the medical profession of the early 19th century. We know that the way things have always been done in schools is not working for many students, but we "can't image" it working any other way. We have new discoveries from brain science research, new methodologies and innovations that could stop the "suffering" and meet individual student needs. We have a better way, but lack the collective vision and will to put such a radical change into practice. It is a crisis of belief, what I like to call "cultural inertia", that prevents individuals and groups from seeing the answer that is right before them.

Maggie Dugan and Tim Dunne at InstantBrainStorm said it well in this video clip about the "aha moment". (They graciously produced this clip for me to use in a presentation to the National School Boards Association annual conference back in 2009.):

I hope it doesn't take 40+ years for the education profession to have an aha moment, to see that learning can be less "painful", to imagine a system where all failure to learn is not the norm.

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