What Amazes You? Oh really…

Nearing the end of our time in Tajikistan, we lowly interns have found that prompting themed discussion is an excellent way of generating creativity on the part of the students and insight for us teachers/student interns as well. The last prompt: What is something that truly amazes you?

Just one problem: how does one explain the word, amazing to a non-English speaker who has never heard the word? What good are synonyms: awe-inspiring, shocking, beautiful, unreal, fascinating… at which point the class Ohhhh ‘d in understanding. One student said, “I once saw the head of a rabbit and chicken… V’once.” Clearly, some clarification was needed and so he decided to bring the video next class. At which point he came to me. There’s a projector in my classroom, which he and his class wanted to use to show the video. Initially, I wasn’t for it- especially not pre screened, but when I learned that it the surgeon who had recommended it, I figured the video was a more reputable than if some sadistic 14 year old boy had found something gruesome and captivating. (The surgeon, a forty-year-old white guy with a buzz cut, was taking the course because *quote* “Everyone tells me I sound like Indian”. No comment but….no denial either.) 🙂

The projector didn’t work, but we (probably against my better judgement) showed the video on a laptop, in my classroom since everyone had already gathered there anyway. It was easily the most bizarre class day I’ve witnessed— as a teacher or a student.

The video, actually had nothing to do with chickens (maybe there’s a metaphor that didn’t translate?) and the rabbit was a separate issue. The video that the surgeon brought was of an experiment done in the 60s or 70s testing whether a living head could survive connected only to vital organs (heart and lungs) and no body. The experiment was performed on a dog. The ‘diagrams’ were crudely drawn by hand, but the film of the dog’s head linked by tubes to its heart-lung set was real. Thank god it was in black and white. Both of us teachers, the two surgeons, and the 20 some odd students that made up our combined classes watched in shock and a healthy amount of disgust, unable to look away or demand that the uncomfortably long video be turned off because everyone was so innately curious at the same time.

The Russian captioning transitioned and the screen cut to another video, this time in color showing instruments operating in the neck opening of a different decapitated animal. Stop! Game over! Teacher intervention overdue!


The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Me, Kenneth, all our students (ie. “Everyone”): What is this?!? Off! Off! 

Surgeon: And this is me, practicing with a rabbit… (*insert indian accent on balding post Soviet man)

Me: What? No, no, noooo we can’t show this in class! 

Surgeon: Okie, Okie.

 [*pause]

 I also film kidney transplant… 

Everyone: NO! 

Surgeon: Okie. [as he ignores us puts  on a new video]

 Everyone: NO, wait whaaa?? 

[Looks to screen and sees three white coated collage students practicing back flips in a grass backyard falling like Larry, Moe, and Curly]

[Confused silence.]

Surgeon: Me, in the middle. [points to himself]

Everyone: Erupts laughing.

(#MedSchoolInMoscow…) The reality split between how wrong this was and causal he accepted the complete rejection by the whole class was ridiculously hilarious. He was so un-phased. No fucks given whatsoever.

Thus ensued the least structured conversation I’ve ever witnessed between sober discussants. It didn’t help that Kennet, in his teaching philosophy, openly embraces tangents which is beneficial to a point. For a discussion course, yes the tangents can sometimes open people up to talking, but you can’t do this and disregard the fact that you are shaping your students opinions and how they structure their speech, and frame their thoughts. It’s useless to teach people to run around in circles. I tried to repair the damage by rounding of the discussion into bullet points. Won’t detail everything, but these are the bases we covered in two hours:

  • Is this feasible? (Can the head live without the body?) Yes, short term and given highly controlled circumstances.
  • Is this ethical? (Should this form of animal experimentation/testing be allowed?) No/Yes = answers split
  • Should any form of animal experimentation/testing be allowed? Yes.
  • Pros & Cons of Animal Testing. Benefits to Humanity.
  • Foundations for GMO modifications
  • Economics, human rational decision, (Dilemma: Will you buy the [smaller, tastier, organic] Tajik or the [Genetically modified, larger, more beautiful, less tasty] Chinese apple?)
  • Perfect versus Imperfect Information
  • Scientific process (depends upon controlling extraneous variables).
  • Necessity versus curiosity.

Concluded with an impromptu “rebuttal” video, a TedxTalk by scientist, Andrew Pelling: “How to make ears out of Apples” In it he shows how his clinic has been using the porous microstructure of various organic (living) materials like fruits and vegetables to grow and regenerate  human tissue. We were already over by 30 minutes, so tried to wrap up the loose ends as cleanly as possible by proposing this counter argument: If you can find a less destructive alternative which accomplishes the same scientific endeavor, you are morally bound to it.  This grounded a final consensus, or at least something tenuously encapsulating all of the days micro-debates as it was.

I think I’m still in a bit stunned actually. Tangential A.F. While this likely never be repeated, I’m pretty sure we’ve just gone down in class folklore as the teachers who showed the decapitated dog video. (For better or worse!)

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