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On Dissection and Lack of Education

In When Cutting Up in Class is Okay, Washington Post Staff Writer Valerie Strauss reports that more animals are being dissected in American schools than every before. If it’s true (Physicians Committee for Responsible medicine reported in 2006 that dissection in the classroom is declining), this is disconcerting on several levels. But the entire article is disconcerting.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • 17-year old Anna Rediger said of dissection: "You really do learn better this way." I have no doubt she believes that, but what is Rediger’s evidence? Studies have shown that alternatives as simple as films (and of course more complex alternatives such as CD-ROMS and 3-D models) foster equal or better learning compared with dissection.
  • Some school districts start dissecting as early as elementary school. What’s missing in this article is the reality that dissection doesn’t teach compassion and respect for life.
  • Animal dissection is actually more expensive over a 5-year period (and certainly thereafter), than using computer models.
  • Regarding the computer models that are available at many schools, Odette Scovel, a science supervisor says that some students prefer them because they’re "tuned in electronically . . . . That is their method of learning . . . It has to do with their learning style and brain development." I have a doctorate in learning styles, and at no point did I learn that we should allow needless killing to satisfy the learning styles of teenagers.
  • Kenneth R. Roy, chairman of the Science Safety Advisory Board of the science teachers association uses the example of driving a real car versus a simulator. "The real-time dissection provides awareness to all of the senses." Cars=Sentient beings created and slaughtered for education? Is he really saying that? The real-time dissection clearly isn’t designed to "provide awareness" to the conscience.
  • Students of high school teacher Ann Star (whose classes dissect sheep brains, fetal pigs, chickens, cats, and an unnamed animal heart) believe their learning experiences "are worth any discomfort they might feel in using animals." What about the discomfort of the animals bred and raised in hideous conditions for the sole purpose of being sliced open by high school students? What about the stray cats–which were sometimes runaway family pets–who end up on the dissection table? Why is it that the only concern here is possible discomfort of the students? Millions of animals perish for this "educational" practice that isn’t even necessary.
  • 17-year old Anna Rediger says of dissection, "I think it’s okay because it’s educational." Okay?

Though some students will be instinctively repulsed by the idea of education, I don’t think any of the students–repulsed or not–understand the business behind creating and providing animals for dissection. I believe that before any student dissects anyone, they should first learn about the source animals: where they came from, when and how they were born, how they lived, and how they died. I’d like to see how many kids signed up to dissect after that.

Go to Dissection Alternatives for more on the realities of, and alternatives to dissection.

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