[Ed. Note: For more information, see Alternatives to Animal Testing]
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
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:
- Anatomical models that can be taken apart so that each organ is easily seen and handled
- Interactive Videodisks (IVDs) that allow students to conduct dissections on a computer
- Internet sites that offer virtual dissection programs
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
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:
- As a student, you can contact your instructor well before a class that involves animal dissection and explain orally and in writing why you object to using animals in experiments
- As a concerned citizen, you can contact your legislators to pass legislation giving students the option to choose alternatives to classroom dissection
- As a compassionate human being, you can become active in your local school system and promote studies that teach kindness to all living beings