The Plan for Progress: Classroom Dissection

As we complete our 90th year of victories on behalf of animals, NAVS is looking toward the future of humane, human-relevant science. To that end, we are undertaking an ambitious, multi-faceted action plan aimed at dramatically furthering our mission to end the exploitation of animals used in science. NAVS’ Plan for Progress addresses three issues central to our mission: nonhuman primates in research, dogs in research and classroom dissection. This week we will examine classroom dissection.

Discarded in many countries, the practice of animal dissection in the classroom nonetheless remains—in the estimation of the
American educational establishment—the “gold standard” for the study of biology in the United States. Though inklings of change
are suggested by some, most states lack laws or established policies that permit students to opt-out of dissection without penalty or embarrassment.

Perhaps more important, and a key driver in the perpetuation of this line of thinking, is the fact that the standards published by key educational organizations—notably the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)—promote to their members the notion that dissection is an indispensable aspect of a biology course. These standards label alternatives only as a potentially helpful aid or adjunct, but never as a full equivalent replacement to the use of
once-live animals.

NAVS has long sought to re-orient the educational community’s commitment to dissection as a mandated element of student life. However, our efforts are all-too-often met with resistance, as they are seen as undue or unwanted attempts by “outsiders” to dictate what is best to those whose business it supposedly is to know what is best.

The goal of replacing the outdated use of animal dissection with superior alternative methods can only be achieved if the key players in this field are persuaded that doing so is the best course of action. We are fighting a mindset—and until that mindset changes, true progress will continue to be stymied.

Although dissection is a deeply-rooted classroom tradition, the practice is not necessary for teaching the life sciences. Not only do
alternatives cost less than animal dissection over the long-term, but students who utilize humane alternatives to dissection actually
perform as well as or better than students who participate in dissection exercises.

To date, 16 states and Washington, DC, have adopted student choice policies or laws giving students the choice to opt out of
dissection. However, the practice is still far too prevalent.

To achieve our goal, NAVS is working with educators and educational experts in the field of biology and related areas. Together, we are examining the desired learning outcomes of traditional dissection, and then weighing the value of dissection against that of alternatives, including the educational, financial and environmental benefits of each method. This will allow us to clearly demonstrate that the current course of action (animal dissection) that is sanctioned and promoted by the NABT and NSTA is not based on core educational values.

This information will then be disseminated amongst decisionmakers whose “buy-in” will drive the desired change. From there, we will work with those decision-makers to see new standards developed, adopted and implemented in biology classrooms which recognize the equivalence or superiority of dissection alternatives.

Our Plan for Progress is ambitious, and our goals are lofty. But they are in the service of what is right—for humans and for animals. And together we are moving forward. Poll after poll shows that an increasing number of Americans disapprove of animal testing. Because of you, we are changing hearts and minds. And we are building a world where animals are respected and protected from cruel and unnecessary scientific experiments.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Animal Action.