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The Agnew Clinic by Thomas Eakins, 1889, Detail 1

Knowledge as vitally necessary.
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This is one of America's most-enthralling portraits.  Here Dr. D. Hayes Agnew (1818-1892) directs a surgery for class at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  The portrait was commissioned by the retiring professor's students.  Working day and night, the painting was completed in three months and includes portraits of the students.

I am thinking about what this means to me as an educator.  It has a graphic realism that would have awed its contemporary audience...but I don't think of that.  I think Dr. Agnew leading a class of students by supervising an operation; passing knowledge from one generation to the next--the broad principles and tiny details.  Here we see the importance of teaching, but not teaching in a bubble--teaching in an environment where knowledge is not only practical--but necessary to the life of this patient. 

Knowledge as vitally necessary.  

But there is even more.  Notice how Dr. Agnew holds a scapal in his hand and has blood on his gown.  He is not an ivory-tower theorist, but an educator who is right there in the trenches with his students.


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