Classroom Dissection: Cutting through the Red Tape

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 10:45am
Classroom Dissection: Cutting through the Red Tape

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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Chris Zizzo

I agree with the matter of choice for students facing the prospect of dissecting an animal in class. There are some basic understandings that must go along with those choices.

Dissection is not, in itself, a bad thing. Without examination of the interiors of formerly living beings, there would be no modern medicine and no new doctors. The dissections at the med school level move all the way to human cadavers and in veterinary medicine include cats, dogs, horses and more. It's all part of a crucial learning experience.

In high school, it may not be a requirement for a student to take biology. Earth Science may be an alternative that will circumvent the problem before it becomes an issue in class. If the curriculum demands Bio, then your child should have the option to not participate.

One of the most proactive actions ASPCA can take in this field is stringent oversight on companies providing lab cadavers, with particular attention paid to the sourcing of the living animals, the treatment they receive and the manner of their death. If their dead bodies are valuable enough to teach us what we need to know as scientists and healers, then it is incumbent upon us to honor their sacrifice with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Chris Zizzo

I wrote the above before I read the information about alternatives and about the widespread abuse that the dissection industry is carrying out on the animal population.

Take another look at what I wrote. It was a rational, but traditionally informed persons view of dissection. I love animals, I hate to see them suffer, but I accepted dissection as an essential tool for the greater good. I wrote that just minutes ago, before I realized what a wholesale killing machine the specimen industry is. Desensitization of humans to animal suffering is probably the greatest cost attached here and that trauma can pass on through the generations. You've changed my mind about the necessity of dissection.

Micky Rively

I am so pleased of your change of mind !!!

Kim Margold

I agree that parents and children should have a choice in participating in this part of their science class. But medicine wouldn't advance and doctors, vets, wouldn't be able to study without it. I love all animals and want them cared for humanely, but I was fascinated by biology as a youngster - including studying animals inner workings. The main thing is that all these animals provided for study (everywhere!) are treated and die humanely.


A heartfelt BRAVO to you, Chris, for opening your eyes to the 'truth' behind the cruelty of the horrific specimen industry.


When I was in high school there was no option like this for sure. I had to fake being sick and stayed home to avoid having to dissect a frog. Way to go Jennifer!


I would do the same. I could not understand why these animals were being killed for kids to rip them apart! Just couldn't do it.


When I was a child my science teacher, bless her soul, understood that I wouldn't/couldn't dissect a frog or any other living creature so as an alternative I was given an assignment to hatch chicken eggs which meant that I had to go to school 7 days a week to turn the eggs in the incubator until they hatched. It was well worth it! It was another way to learn about the life cycle.

Monique Summers

Growing up in the Netherlands I have not been exposed to dissection in high school so I was lucky. However, I was stunned when my kids had to dissect in high school. It made me sick to my stomach. I can't believe that dissection is required in the U.S. There is no need to for it in high school as only a small percentage of students will ever use this kind of knowledge that is obtained from it. Dissection should only happen in college and done by those students who may benefit from it in their future careers and only on those kind of animals that have died and are donated by their guardians just like human cadavers. I hope a big organization like the ASPCA dares to take this on.


Dissection of animals should only be performed in pre-med college courses, and even then, an alternative should be offered. There is no need whatsoever for students K-12 to cut open an animal to learn about how the body works. There are computer programs that teach biology without the cruelty. I know I'm not the only one who was traumatized by having to dissect a fetal pig in high school.