Aaahhh! Teaching. What is it?

As far as I’m concerned NORMAL A&P are disciplines in and of themselves. They are to be taught, understood, and marveled at, without having to discuss the diseased state. I think doing anything else is a “sick” approach (Pardon the pun.). One can say the same thing for learning in general. Learning IS exciting and amazing! Frankly, anyone who thinks otherwise, does not belong in the teaching profession. That is why teaching is such a unique profession.
Making learning exciting is indeed the key to having students pay attention, absorb, process, and ultimately understand the subject. Teachers don’t “instill”, rather encourage interests, new directions, new talents, and understanding. Indeed, encouraging people to WANT to learn, WANT to do …anything…is key to success, whether it is social, environmental, economic, or interpersonal interactions. You can impose all the rules and laws you can conjure up, and people will find ways, sometimes quite ingenious ways, to circumvent them. (e.g., witness the evolution of laws surrounding driving through a traffic light.) Instead, teach them the desire to learn, the desire to want to know/do something, and they not only will learn it, but they will remember it forever (not just to pass the exam), AND they will blossom in new directions, towards new endeavors, and new learning experiences on their own, AND they will pass this new directional motivation on to successive “generations”. (I have personal data in this regard. Ask.)

Most anatomy and physiology texts lean heavily towards the human as the organism for discussion, almost as if humans are the only living organism on earth. I feel they do so for two major reasons. First, most students of this subject are in the allied health professions, or are interested in eventually going into these professions, hence the authors are attempting to hold the students’ interest in this manner. In a way, this is rightly so.

If students are inclined to this approach, they will select books demonstrating this thinking over texts not doing this, or doing it to a lesser extent. Faculty then oblige them, eventually, as do subsequent texts follow this thinking approach, since authors and publishers are interested in selling their book, thus eventually leading to texts that compete for faculty and student recognition and acceptance. (People are indeed interested in understanding their own bodies.)

Being “natural” to inquisitive people, and for similar reasons as just discussed, the texts then also delve heavily into the pathology associated with each organ and organ system, probably because people have always been, and will always be, interested in their own illnesses, and those of their family and friends. It seems an appropriate topic to follow a book directed to this particular organism.

A second reason for using the human as the organism to be teaching allied health students, is that faculty teaching in the allied health professions, and students studying this subject, are ever mindful of allowing themselves to get “too far” off track into the realm of “comparative anatomy &/or physiology”. This, to them, is more of a “biological science” than a “health science”, and this is NOT where they want to direct their attentions. Indeed, many “Anatomy and Physiology” courses are named “Human Biology” for this reason.

My book differs dramatically from this approach. I am a biologist… first. I study, think, and teach in the biological sciences. Anatomy and physiology are biological sciences, able to be understood ONLY in the context of biology. The driving, and unifying, force of the Study of Life, i.e. Biology, is the feel for the concept of adaptation by natural selection, and the genetic continuity among living things resulting from any particular adaptation.

Prior to my arrival at LCCC, each of the Allied Health Sciences taught their own “Anatomy & Physiology” course to their own students. There was the A&P for Physical Therapy Assistants, then another course for the Occupational Therapy Assistants, and another for the Respiratory Technicians, and another for the Nurses. The Accreditation report preceding my hiring said, among other things, “…Anatomy and Physiology is a biological science…and should be taught as such…by a biologist…”

I was hired specifically for this purpose: to develop a unified course from a biological perspective.

As expected, when I started teaching this subject, as a junior member in the department and college, my course was constantly being scrutinized and reviewed for fear that it was getting too “far off track” from what people in the allied health fields “should” be exposed to. The concept of “need to know”, vs. “nice to know” was continually used as a yardstick for what I taught. It took significant effort on my part, and a lot of diplomacy, to convince appropriate people that my approach was indeed an acceptable approach, and indeed would benefit students more so than the “traditional” approach. It took considerable time for my career to “blossom” because of this.

Please don’t get me wrong. Of course I feel humans are important, but only as one example among millions, perhaps even one beautiful example of particular adaptations that allow this group of organisms to survive across time, i.e. perpetuate themselves, the ultimate “goal” of all life. Make no mistake about it; humans are a special group of organisms indeed. Being able to understand time, having their degree of foresight, intelligence, memory, language, manipulative skills, etc., certainly makes them a force to contend with biologically. Their physical abilities in athletics and dance, among other factors, led Shakespeare to label them the “paragon of animals”. The fact is, humans have the ability to study themselves and other organisms. No other known organism has demonstrated this ability. I can’t even begin to tell you how significant these ideas have been in shaping the way I look at the world.

Even so, they are but one example of a living organism. There are others, indeed, billions of others, each beautifully adapted to the particular array of environmental stresses being placed on it, hence shaping it. I can’t, nor should you, ever forget that fact.

There are a few, basic factors that life needs to attend to in order to stay alive. It’s that simple. It is, however, that “infinite” array of anatomies, physiologies, and behaviors exhibited by that array of living things on this planet that absolutely fascinates me. To me, THAT is what makes this subject interesting and the most fascinating subject ever contemplated by humans!

In attempting to understand, hence teach, a given topic, most authors use the technique of comparing the normal to the pathological situation. As far as I’m concerned, given the fantastic array of differences found in the normal biological world, I don’t have to reach into the realm of disease to compare and contrast for teaching purposes. Every day I’m alive, every walk I take, every thought I have, every time I look at my kids, people in general, my pets, the outside birds, trees, flowers, everything about me, including myself and my relationship to everything else, shows me such a vivid, complete range of examples useful to explain any given point of the topic, that pathology within the human being seems superfluous and trite.

Peter Karch, Ph.D.
“Anatomy & Physiology:Understandable & Enjoyable,Finally.Vols I & II”,
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