Remember when you were about 12 years old, transitioning from one school to another, and trepidacious about your future? Ha, I think I’m still like that in some ways. Most of my memories at that age were focused on school, the place where I spent the majority of my time during those early formative years. The prospect of changing schools and attending classes with *gasp* strangers was quite daunting. It’s a milestone, leaving elementary school and joining the ranks of the ‘tween set. There are a lot of choices that one has to make, and it’s the time to start realizing–if you haven’t figured it out already–that your decisions directly affect others, both human and animal alike.
My daughter, Rebecca, is going through this transition now. She’ll be graduating from elementary school and moving on to three years of middle school. Since we’re in the process of looking for a graduation dress, we’ve been discussing (okay, mostly I’ve been discussing) how she’s ready to move on to learning more complex concepts and ideas. I can distinctly remember being so eager to get out of my little school and join the bigger kids; and I couldn’t wait to try new things. Rebecca is a very involved learner and is always ready for a challenge. One subject we’ve discussed at length is biology. I remember my 8th grade teacher writing “deoxyribonucleic acid” on the blackboard and having to recite it over and over again (that’s DNA, or the hereditary building blocks of life). I also remember dissecting animals. Although I found the idea behind it fascinating—I wanted to learn about the complexities of animals and what makes them tick—I’m completely appalled by the whole process now. Thirty years ago, we didn’t have alternatives to dissection; but, thankfully, today there are choices for the animal-friendly ‘tween and teenager.
It’s estimated that about 6 million animals are dissected annually in high schools across the United States (I took biology in 8th grade, so my dissections took place in a middle school classroom). The animals that are typically used for dissection are frogs, cats, fetal pigs, mice, rats, rabbits, birds, bats, fish, sea stars, squid, worms, and grasshoppers. How can we responsibly teach children to respect animals if we willing purchase them to use as laboratory experiments? Additionally, the animals are preserved in formaldehyde, which is a hazardous chemical to breathe or touch. I would rather that my child not be exposed to yet another toxic chemical, especially one that can easily be avoided if a dissection alternative is used.
The Humane Society of the United States has compiled a Dissection Campaign Packet on their Web site, with different articles and materials that outline humane alternatives to this prevalent and accepted experiment we ask our kids to perform. With a little research, you can find out if your state has student choice laws that allow the use of alternatives instead of participating in classroom exercises. Unfortunately, there are only 10 states that currently have these laws—but fortunately for Rebecca, and countless kids like her, Pennsylvania is one of those states. The information available on the HSUS site is so detailed that it’s a wonderful resource for kids and their parents to find out more information on these alternative programs. They have a Humane Education Loan Program (HELP) Brochure, where you can actually find and rent their materials for use in the classroom (you only have to pay the return postage of the materials). What a wonderful, cruelty-free way to learn about animals! They also have advice for those students who live in states where there are no student choice laws yet–encouraging kids to become activists and help enact legislation in those states.
The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) also has an extensive amount of information on dissection, including a Dissection Hotline, where they offer advice to students on how to refuse dissection without compromising their schoolwork. Like HSUS, they also have a loan program–Biology Education Advancement Program (BioLEAP)–where schools can receive alternative dissection materials for free. The American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), the Ethical Science & Education Coalition (ESEC), and the International Network for Humane Education (InterNICHE) also have alternative loan programs for schools. At this time of increasing school budgets, higher overall education costs, and less funding from the federal government, why aren’t all schools using these loan programs? This is a fantastic alternative to buying into the cruelty of purchasing animals for laboratory experiments. Don’t get hung up on the traditional rite of passage into lab science. Today’s alternatives are cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and most importantly of all, animal conscious. You’re using a computer right now to read this—why can’t your child use a computer to further their biology education?