BASIS Independent Summer in Brooklyn is thrilled to offer families one of the most innovative and engaging STEM programs in New York City: The History of Medicine. The brainchild of BASIS.ed rock star Mrunali Das who teaches Math and AP Psychology at BASIS Scottsdale, this program takes an interdisciplinary approach to discovering medicine by examining its historical development through the lens of history, philosophy, math, and biology. Advanced, interdisciplinary programs such as this are rarely made available to students entering grades 4-10.
I recently spoke with Ms. Das for an update on the development of this program, as this is the first time it has ever been offered at a BASIS Independent School, and to learn about some specific projects that her students will be working on this summer.
Matthew Beller (MB): Can you give our families an overview of the program?
Mrunali Das (MD): As a college student at Johns Hopkins, I was a triple major in French, neuroscience and math primarily because I was fascinated by the connections between disciplines of language, math, biology, and history. That is why I studied neuroscience; it’s based on the intersection of all of these areas and more. Our current conception of the brain is very much determined by our historical position and our beliefs of how the brain learns. However, this is very different from the way we conceptualized the brain 200 years ago during colonization, for instance.
MB: Why is this example important and how does it impact what students will learn in your program?
MD: This is a perfect example of how history and biology directly impact one another. During colonization, western countries felt that enslaving native populations was justified because of perceived biological differences in the brain. At the time it was believed the shape and size of the head determined intelligence and, thus, justified colonization. This is how a faulty conception of biology determines historical outcomes. Today we know this belief is false, but 200 years ago it was considered medical truth. But it’s also an example of how racist belief systems influence biological conceptions of human intelligence.
In my program, I want my students to understand that how we make a medical diagnosis is directly influenced by history. The belief systems we have when it comes to biology, history, and math are a product of our historical position at the moment, and they can be subject to change.
MB: What will your students do with this new perspective?
MD: On the last day of program, I will give each student a fictional case study of a patient with a medical condition, and I will ask them to make a diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan. However, the students will be asked to make their analysis as if they were in a specific historical period. For example, they may be presented with a patient suffering from mental illness and be asked to analyze this case from the eyes of a 19th century medical practitioner. This will require students to consider how they would think about mental illness from a 200-year-old prospective, including all the historical and biological conceptions of the time, many of which we now realize are fundamentally flawed. I want my students to be able to think critically and use their knowledge in a way that is connected to the real world. During this demonstration, family and friends will be invited to attend.
MB: Thank you – your program sounds incredible. Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
MD: Just that students need to understand that being a doctor is more than just understanding biology. You must also know math, history, and how the brain learns to have full perspective.
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