What’s in a name…
An inspiring story, and the basis for all we do as a school, and as humans.
Cajal Academy is named in honor of Santiago Ramon y Cajal (1852-1934), the Spanish artist and neuroscientist who received a Nobel Prize in 1906 for discovering how the brain works through the act of drawing what he saw under a microscope.
But this success wasn’t foretold by his childhood experiences. In a story that speaks to a twice exceptional kid, as a child Ramon y Cajal’s was seen as rebellious, bounced from school to school—and reportedly was frequently in trouble for his maniacal need to draw. It is said that he couldn’t pass a freshly-painted wall without drawing on it. His father, a doctor, didn’t approve of such ‘past times’ and pushed Ramon y Cajal towards the sciences. This “backfired” when, as a young teen, he inadvertently put a homemade cannonball through his neighbor’s garden wall. Desperate to channel his son’s energies into more productive pursuits, Ramon y Cajal’s father took him on a walk through the graveyard, inspiring the young man to draw the bones that he saw, eventually leading him to study anatomy.
It is very fortunate for the rest of us that he did. Prior to Ramon y Cajal’s work, it had been believed that the nervous system was much like a fishnet: one long, continuous structure transmitting electrical signals to and from the brain. But when Ramon y Cajal began dissecting both animals and human cadavers, what he saw was a wide array of individual cell structures of different shapes and sizes—each clearly distinct from the next. He had discovered the neuron.
Applying his childhood compulsion, Ramon y Cajal created thousands of meticulous drawings of the cells that he saw under a microscope, and through the act of drawing them he developed theories about the working of the human brain and central nervous system that were proven true decades after his death, with the development of the electron microscope. His drawings are so beautiful in their own right that they recently toured the U.S. as art exhibit.
Ramon y Cajal was, in short, an inspiring and quintessentially “twice exceptional” figure whose contributions to science formed the starting point for our work as a school and as an organization that is committed to bringing scientifically-informed innovation to the field of education, by making neuropsychological and neurophysiological research actionable in the classroom. These two fields spring from one critical, shared element: the neuron.
Thus, we can think of no more appropriate name for our academy than to honor the man who overcame his struggles to figure out where he fit as a child, sat hunched over a microscope for untold hours meticulously drawing what he saw and had the courage to challenge the entire medical world and bring knowledge of the neuron—the very basis of how we function as humans—to us all.