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August 13, 2008 > Ohlone Humane Society: Kids making choices...putting tradition under the microscope

Ohlone Humane Society: Kids making choices...putting tradition under the microscope

By Nancy Lyon

Kids are fast learners. They can quickly spot the difference between what adults preach and what is actually done. As responsible adults, we teach impressionable youngsters that non-violence is always the best choice...but do we really mean it or just as long as it is convenient or doesn't question tradition?

Violence takes many forms. Each school year middle-school and high school biology students are often required to dissect a preserved animal specifically killed for classroom use or kill one for the purpose of study even though more cost- effective and humane alternatives are readily available.

Many think that biology, as the "study of life" should be designed to instill in students an interest in, and respect for all living things. This follows the concept that these objectives are best met when biology education focuses on animals as living, sentient creatures, emphasizing their behavior, life history patterns and relationships with their environment.

Others, trapped in tradition, argue that dissecting animals killed specifically for study or pithing live frogs - a procedure used in biology classes to immobilize a specimen - are the best methods to teach biology and physiology.

How effective are the alternatives? Recent evidence about the efficiency of alternative methods, not to mention their obvious cost-effectiveness, is making it increasingly difficult for school districts to balk at providing students with options other than dissection.

A list of 29 studies compiled by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) compared alternative methods against dissection and other animal uses. In 28 of those studies, researchers found that students using alternatives such as models and computer simulations performed as well or better in tests than students who conducted traditional dissections.

Many students have long questioned the morality of harming and killing animals as part of classroom instruction. In the past, a student refusing to take part in dissecting animals had no recourse - a lowered grade or class failure was often the result of acting on the dictates of their conscience. Dissection alienates many compassionate students from life science and as a result, many bright students choose careers in other fields.
The process of obtaining animals for classroom study is rarely ever discussed and most would be appalled to know how innocent dogs and cats are snatched off streets of neighboring countries (and sometimes illegally in this country) and housed in disease-ridden, cramped conditions before they are brutally killed.
Statistics gathered by the HSUS estimates that, every year more than six million animals are collected and killed for dissection in U.S. high schools alone, including frogs, fetal pigs, dogs, cats and other animals. This misuse of life continues despite the efforts of students, parents and animal advocates who argue against policies that penalize students who refuse to dissect animals on ethical grounds

A great number of animals sold for dissection are "wild caught," a factor which may contribute to serious worldwide declines in many animal populations. Animals, such as endangered frog species, are illegally taken from their natural habitats. This directly contributes to environmental devastation because insect populations, normally kept in check by frogs, multiply exponentially and lead to the increased use of pesticides, which in turn poison and erode the entire ecosystem.

Putting tradition under the microscope, it's easy to see that there are no valid arguments against allowing students to use alternatives. Students who use alternatives, such as CD-ROMs, videos and models, learn the material as well as or better than those students who perform dissection.

The reusable alternatives to using animals are less expensive in the long run. As schools operate with increasingly limited budgets, the cost saving is something that should be extremely appealing.

Here are the basics:

* California law supports classroom choice-in-dissection that allows a student to refuse to participate in classroom exercises-particularly dissections-that are harmful to animals.

* If a student has a moral or religious objection to dissecting, harming or killing animals, students and/or their parents are required at the start of a class that requires dissection, to notify teachers that they request humane alternatives. The law requires that students wanting alternatives to dissection not be penalized.

* At that time, the student must supply a note from his/her parent or guardian, registering the student's objection. These notes should be polite, respectful and firm.

* If the teacher believes that there is an adequate alternative project, then the teacher can work with the student to develop that project. The teacher's decision must not be arbitrary or capricious. The alternative project must require a comparable amount of time and effort from the student.

* A student who chooses an alternative educational project must pass all course examinations to receive credit. However, if test requires harm to or killing of animals, the student may, similarly, seek alternative tests.
It is our hope that this ethic of compassion and respect for life will be supported by humane choices in higher levels of education by both students and educators. The goal is to ensure that a high-quality education does not needlessly harm animals. Respecting a student's ethical and religious beliefs about using animals in biology and physiology education can make a world of difference for both the children being educated and for the animals.
Available information:
Students and their families, educators and school administrators are encouraged to investigate the numerous effective, easily obtained, affordable, and humane alternatives to using animals in classroom dissection.
We encourage a review of in-depth information and cost-comparison (available in a PDF download) on its web site at:

Humane alternative study materials are also available on a loan basis from the Humane Education Loan Program (HELP) at 301-258-3042 or email for assistance.

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