A doctor’s idea of show-and-tell — opening up a cadaver arm in front of fifth-graders for a lesson in anatomy and art — caused one student to faint and made others feel sick from the smell of formaldehyde.
Some parents complained to a board member at the Fox Chapel Area School District. School officials Thursday said they would look into the matter.
The limb was brought in Tuesday by Dr. Michael Horowitz, a neurosurgeon whose children attend Fairview Elementary School in Fox Chapel, a well-to-do suburb about five miles east of Pittsburgh.
Horowitz, whose son was in the classroom, was using the arm as a visual aid for a discussion on the 1875 Thomas Eakins painting “The Gross Clinic,” which shows a surgeon removing diseased bone from a patient’s thigh. A 19th-century art critic called the work “a picture that even strong men find it difficult to look at long, if they can look at it at all.”
Nerves and tendons
During the discussion, Horowitz opened the cadaver arm to show students nerves, tendons and other parts. There was no blood. He said he discussed carpal tunnel syndrome and explained to the children how there isn’t really a funny bone.
“I’ve found kids are actually pretty tolerant of seeing stuff like this. They don’t really see it as disgusting. When you see it in a lab, it’s different,” Horowitz said.
The boy who fainted had passed out for 10 to 20 seconds and was taken to the nurse, district spokeswoman Bonnie Berzonski said. He returned to school the next day, she said.
Five of the 66 students left the classroom at some point because of the strong smell of the preservatives, Berzonski said.
School member Shirley Wiley said about 10 parents called her to say they were stunned they were not notified about the presentation. “In this case it was totally the parents’ call. I think they had the right to do so,” Wiley said.
The doctor said he was surprised by the complaints, saying he has visited the class and other schools with cadaver ears and eyes, as well as dog and rat brains.
“These same kids are taken to ‘The Matrix’ and see people’s heads blow off,” Horowitz said. “We sort of accept it when it’s entertainment but this is science.”
The district has received no complaints about Horowitz’s past visits but will review his most recent one to determine whether it was appropriate for fifth-graders, Berzonski said.
Students were told about the discussion in advance. However, “in hindsight, probably a letter should have been sent home, and we will be doing that in the future,” Berzonski said.