Classroom Dissection: Cutting through the Red Tape

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 10:45

Guest blogger Sandy De Lisle has a Masters of Science degree in education and has served as a classroom teacher, science museum programmer and program manager for the End Dogfighting in Chicago campaign. She is Senior Manager of Content Development for ASPCApro.

In 1987 high school student Jennifer Graham blazed the way for student choice in classroom dissection, suing her school district after she received a failing grade for refusing to dissect a frog.

Now, thanks to Jennifer, 11 states guarantee students the right to refuse to dissect animals. I wish I had been as brave as Jennifer when I was in high school. Instead, I suffered through a frog, crayfish and fetal pig dissection—though surely I didn’t suffer as much as the animals my lab partner and I dissected.

Had it not been for those dissections, there is a good chance I would have majored in biology in college. However, I couldn’t bear the thought of having to cut into more animals—especially cats. So, as a student with an interest in animals—living animals—I focused on earth and environmental sciences.

When I graduated with a certification to teach middle school science, I vowed not to do dissection in my classroom—and I didn’t. Now, my three sons are faced with the dissection decision. Neither of my older sons chose to dissect, though they each handled the situation differently—one asked to be excused and was given an alternative, and the other opted to stay in the class but not perform the dissection. My youngest son is in elementary school and has not yet faced this decision.

How can you help a child faced with upcoming classroom dissection activities?

  • Educate yourself about dissection and its alternatives—and have your child do the same. Luckily, things have changed a lot since I was in school and there are many options available.
  • Find out if your child’s school conducts dissections. Most dissections occur in middle and high school, though some elementary schools may do so as well.
  • Check your state’s laws to see if you live in a student choice state. Even if you do, some teachers may not be aware of the law, so you may need to advocate for your child.
  • Long before the dissection, respectfully let your child’s teacher know that your son or daughter will not be participating. If your child is older and would like to speak to the teacher alone, I suggest first having your child practice what he will say with you.
  • Commend your child for having empathy for animals.

Has your child’s class participated in animal dissection? How did you and your child respond? Please share in the comments.

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