Let's Teach Our Children Compassion

Empty science classroom
Empty science classroom

I know we're supposed to be singing Christmas carols at this time of year, but there's something else worth raising our voices about--the absurd exercise called classroom dissection.

Every year, children across the country are told to set aside their empathy and cut into dead animals, then poke around at the viscera within. As a schoolchild, I remember being forced to dissect a frog, a cow's eye and a mouse. There was no discussion of the fact that an animal had been killed for our little classroom exercise, and some of us did wonder how on Earth this would help us in later life. Some of us also saw how scared and confused the mouse was in his cage and saw him being chloroformed.

Years later, we might still wonder but now even more so. Teachers leading classroom dissection exercises often do not discourage ghoulish behavior and even engage in it themselves. A biology teacher was recently caught on video juggling dead frogs slated for classroom dissection while his students laughed at his antics, and another let the students hold up the dead cats they were using and jiggle them around while singing a song. Other teachers have been known to bully students who have asked for a humane alternative, even though such requests are protected by law in many states.

When teachers display a disregard for animal life, students are bound to follow suit.
The animals slated to be cut up in the classroom don't die of natural causes. Many are specifically bred -- or captured and torn out of their natural homes -- to be used in dissection. PETA investigations inside biological supply companies have even found animals purchased from shelters and then crudely killed in order to be used in classroom experiments. Some of them have been former animal companions who were killed by drowning or were embalmed while still alive.

Unsurprisingly, studies show that classroom animal dissection can foster callousness toward animals, and a recent fundraiser by The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) -- a group that represents animal experimenters -- proves that point. As part of an auction on the group's Facebook page, AALAS posted a disturbing photo of a rat skeleton mockingly posed as if reading a manual on animal welfare in the laboratory. The item was apparently made from a rat who had been killed in a laboratory, dissected and then likely boiled to remove the flesh before finally being made into a disrespectful prop. "This is going to be a hot item!" one researcher commented on Facebook. Another, now a research division head, giddily exclaimed, "That was one of my rats!!! Sweet!"

It's no wonder that after teachers compel students to cut up frogs, pigs, cats and other animals in crude classroom experiments, some students' vital empathy for others will be harmed and they may end up viewing animals as nothing more than disposable equipment. Classroom dissection is the starting point for people who go on to drill holes into animals' skulls, burn their skin off, crush their spinal cords, force them to inhale toxic fumes or give them cancerous tumors. And, as in the case of the Aurora multiplex shooter, who participated in brain-mapping experiments on songbirds and the dissection of birds and mice during his neuroscience studies, some of these students may even go on to harm humans.

When we teach students that life has no value, how can we expect them to behave otherwise? Across the country, more than 20 states and many school districts have enacted laws or policies protecting a student's right not to dissect animals. PETA has worked with many schools to provide virtual dissection programs like Digital Frog, which allow students to explore the inner mechanisms of a living being without cutting into one. Studies show that this software instructs students as well as or even better than animal-based methods, and sophisticated computer programs such as this are also cheaper in the long run because they can be reused countless times.

If you have a child in school or are a teacher or a student, request that the biology classroom upgrade to this modern technology. Together, we can say goodbye to the needless practice of animal dissection.