Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
1 September 1999 Issue

Dissection and Student Rights -
Alternatives, Ideas and Actions
to Make Science Classes More Humane
From the American Anti-Vivisection Society

In biology classes throughout most of the United States, in grade school through high school, students who object to dissection are being asked to choose between lowered or failing grades and the violation of their religious and ethical principles. This is not a choice students should have to make.

Concerns about requiring students to dissect are on the rise, as more and more students are questioning the unnecessary killing of millions of frogs, turtles, pigs, cats, mice, rats and other animals for educational purposes.

These students, their parents, and many of their teachers are demanding an alternative -- one that doesn't harm animals.

Students who object to dissection should have their feelings respected. Several states have already drafted legislation to protect students' rights to an alternative. Other states have already passed laws guaranteeing students that right. It's time for all states to acknowledge the right of students to have an alternative to biology lessons which cause harm to animals.

Myths and Facts About Dissection

Myth: Dissection is necessary for students to learn biology and physiology.

Fact: Many studies have shown that students who dissect do no better on tests than those who don't dissect. Students using "low-tech" methods such as classroom discussions, textbook study, and charts and graphs, but do not dissect, score equally well on tests as those who do. Students using "high-tech" methods, such as computer programs, scored higher compared to those who performed dissections.

Myth: Alternatives are too expensive.

Fact: First-time costs of buying alternatives can sometimes appear high. However, alternatives are a one-time investment since they can be used again and again each year. On the other hand, animals for dissection must be purchased each year, leading to high costs over time. A recent cost-benefit analysis of "high-tech" alternatives vs. traditional dissection showed that alternatives can pay for themselves in just over two years of use. (Also, please see information below about Animalearn. - Editor).

Myth: Students rights to an alternative violates a teacher's academic freedom.

Fact: The teacher is not restricted in any way; he or she is only required to offer something in addition to dissection -- an alternative project for students who object to dissection.

Myth: Providing students with alternatives gives them too much control over their education.

Fact: There is a major difference between requiring a student to read or think about something and requiring her or him to actually do something to which they object.

Alternatives to Dissection

There are hundreds of alternatives to dissection. Great options are available
that fit into any budget and are appropriate for students from elementary
through high school. The following list demonstrates some of the many types of alternatives that are available. The AAVS can provide you with a list of specific products including detailed descriptions, costs, and ordering

Videos and Films* - Detailed visuals exploring the anatomy of humans and animals in real-time illustrate the process of dissection and the details of various species physiology.

Models - Newer models are extremely detailed; some look and feel like real specimens.

Natural Observation - A wealth of information can be gained from observing animals in their natural habitats. Specific lesson plans have been developed to maximize this learning experience.

Computer Programs - Computers offer the ability to review and repeat the dissection process in an interactive and highly detailed manner.

Books and Charts - With new developments in printing and design, many books and charts provide students with high-definition, realistic images of human and animal physiology.

Slides and Transparencies* - Detailed photos of normal and pathological human and animal tissues and structures provide instructors good instructional tools they can use at their own pace.

* These alternatives might not be appropriate for all students since dissected animals are depicted in great detail. For those with objections to these methods there is a wide variety of other low-cost alternatives.

Animalearn has developed The Science Bank: Education for the Future, a loan program for alternatives to dissection. Animalearn is dedicated to assisting educators and students find non-animal methods to study science by allowing them to borrow from their wide array of dissection alternatives. To learn more about The Science Bank and the educational information it offers on a variety of topics, contact them at the AAVS, whose address and telephone number are listed below, or visit their website:

What You Can Do

If you think that students should not be forced to dissect animals, now is the time to speak out. You can help introduce a bill to protect students' rights in your state. Please contact your state senator and representative and ask them to sponsor and/or support legislation that gives students the right to an alternative. To find out the names, addresses and phone numbers of your state legislators, contact your local League of Women Voters (their phone number is listed in the telephone book) or visit this website:

If you are a student:

In a polite but assertive manner, let your legislators know how it feels to be forced to dissect animals against your will. Ask them to consider legislation that would give students the right to an alternative. You can also write an editorial to your school newspaper. If you would like to introduce alternatives at your school, contact The AAVS for copies of our materials on dissection, including a listing of alternatives.

If you are a parent:

Let your legislators know how you feel about your children being forced to dissect against their will. You can also bring up the issue at school board or parent/teacher meetings.

If you are a teacher:

Let your legislators know that dissection is not necessary and that forcing students to dissect against their will is unfair. Lend your support to students who are seeking alternatives and discuss the issue with other teachers.


Contact us for copies of this brochure and other materials on dissection. Distribute them wherever and whenever you can.

How do educators and scientists feel about students having an alternative to dissection?

"The National Association of Biology Teachers should foster a respect for life and should teach about the interrelationship and interdependence of all living things. Furthermore, they should teach that humans must care for the fragile web of life that exists on this planet. In light of these principles, NABT supports alternatives to dissection and vivisection whenever possible in the biology curricula."
-- 1989 Policy Statement from the Responsible Use of Animals in Biology Classrooms by the National Association of Biology Teachers

"Students should not be forced to participate in the death of animals in order to study and understand the beauty and complexity of life."
-- John E. McArdle, Ph. D., Anatomist

"Several years ago, both I and my biology teacher decided that students could learn just as much about frogs and their anatomy from charts and textbooks as they could from actual dissection."
-- Peter McMonigle, High School Principal

"We educators teach and require courtesy and respect from our students. It only seems fair to accord them the same respect. Education should not place students in a position in which they have to violate their moral and ethical standards.
-- Virginia Wolfe, Fifth Grade Teacher

The American Anti-Vivisection Society
801 Old York Road, #204
Jenkintown, PA 19046-1685
Phone: 800-SAY-AAVS
Fax: 215-887-2088
E-mail: [email protected]

Visit our website:

This article was printed, with permission, from a pamphlet by the AAVS. Please contact them if you have any questions or would like copies of the pamphlet to distribute.

Go on to Zoos ~ [email protected]
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