Animals in Education: Classroom Dissection

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Animals in Education: Classroom Dissection

[Ed. Note: For more information, see Alternatives to Animal Testing]

From The National Humane Education Society

Dissection is big business. Not only do millions of animals have to be produced annually for classroom dissection projects; but they have to be housed, transported, killed, and disposed of. There are companies specifically designed to handle all the needs of classroom dissection projects.

Does Fuzzy Really Need to Go to School?

While no one will deny that science classes are important for our students, do our animals have to attend school too? Science classes that dissect or otherwise use animals may be teaching important critical problem solving skills; yet, at the same time, they may be inadvertently teaching a lack of reverence and respect for all life. Because they dissect animals in school laboratories, some students may be learning that nonhuman animals are nothing more than tools to advance their knowledge. Is that what we want our science classes teaching our children?

According to the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), an estimated six million animals are dissected in school science classes yearly. Include all the animals used in experiments at science fairs, in after-school science clubs, and in 4H projects, among other animal-related science projects, and the number continues upward. Frogs are often thought of as the animal of choice for classroom dissection, but they are not the only ones: cats, mice, rats, fetal pigs, birds, bats, fish, reptiles, and others also find themselves the victims of classroom dissection.

Are There Risks to Classroom Dissection?

Aside from the obvious risk to the animals killed for classroom dissection projects, there are other risks involved. Carcinogenic materials, such as formaldehyde, are used to preserve the dead animals. Students and teachers handling these animals come into contact with these materials. In addition, disposing of thousands of formaldehyde-ladened bodies can create an environmental hazard.

Some animals are wild caught thereby depleting them in their natural habitat. Frogs and turtles especially have seen a dramatic decline in recent decades, many of them ending up as specimens in classroom laboratories.

The Business of Dissection

Dissection is big business. Not only do millions of animals have to be produced annually for classroom dissection projects; but they have to be housed, transported, killed, and disposed of. There are companies specifically designed to handle all the needs of classroom dissection projects. Catalogs abound with the equipment required and the animals available for purchase. School systems must purchase replacement animals every year along with one-time use materials.

Alternatives to Animal Dissection

The use of animals in the classroom dates back to the 1920s. Since then, we have changed the way we teach many subjects; isn’t it about time we change the way we teach about, and treat, animals? Nonanimal-related teaching tools include:

The economics of purchasing nonanimal-related teaching tools is obvious: a one-time purchase of a model or computer program versus yearly purchases of animals and equipment. Not only will school districts save money purchasing nonanimal-related teaching tools, they’ll be teaching an important lesson to all their students—compassion and respect for all life.

It’s the Law

In some states, student choice laws have been enacted. These laws give students the right to refuse to participate in classroom activities, particularly dissection, that cause harm to animals. Under these laws, students cannot be penalized for choosing not to participate in either hands-on activities or observation of animal dissections. These laws apply to elementary and secondary schools only, not to undergraduate and graduate level education. These laws are on a state-by-state basis; there are no federal laws in the United States regulating dissection or student choice rights. However, some countries, including Argentina, Italy, India, and Israel, have either banned classroom dissection or at least have permitted students to choose not to be involved in animal dissection.

States that have informed student consent laws are: California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. States that have student choice policies include Maine and Maryland. States with legislation proposing student choice include Michigan and Tennessee.

Take Action to Help Frogs and Their Friends

What can we do to change what is happening in our schoolroom science classes? First, we can choose to reject animal dissection as the norm for teaching classes in the life sciences field. Other humane actions include: