PRO- by Rollins Terry From September to May, students in AP Biology study tirelessly to understand complex body systems: the nervous system, the immune system, the circulatory system and the urinary system.
Once the dreaded AP exam is complete, students have the opportunity to see these systems and work with them in a hands-on way—by dissecting a fetal pig.
Some students love this tradition, while others jump through hoops to avoid it. But overall, dissection is a very useful tool that makes sense for a college-level science course.
Dissection gives students a chance to apply their knowledge. After months of flash cards, full-period lectures and free-response questions, it is exciting to get to discover anatomy first-hand.
Once we do this, we gain a deeper understanding of the physiology behind the structures. No matter how many crash courses on the circulatory system you watch, you cannot replicate the experience of finding the heart within an organism and observing how it interacts with the lungs, the veins and other body systems.
Additionally, many students who
choose to take an AP-level science course are considering a career in the field. Having an experience like this in high school can give students a better understanding of what they like and do not like in science, so they can make informed choices about their path of study in college. It is better for someone to discover they hate seeing organs in their junior year of high school than halfway through pre-med coursework in college.
Whether you like it or avoid it like the plague, dissection in schools enhances the quality of education, and should be maintained as a practice in high-level science courses.
CON- by Eve Crandall
Although animal dissection in schools is common, that does not always mean it’s ethical. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 20 million animals are used for classroom dissections in the United States each year, including cats, frogs and, of course, fetal pigs.
When dissections are conducted by professionals, they may yield important results. While these dissections still hurt animals, their lives are not wasted because they are used for the greater good of science or medicine.
But in a high school, most students who dissect animals will not make any breakthroughs, which means the animal was not killed for any greater good. Instead, animals are killed for students to learn information that is already known by the scientific community, and could therefore be accessed in more humane ways, such as through an online simulation.
The process could be more ethical if the number of these dissections was decreased. Since most students dissecting animals will come to similar conclusions anyway, it would make more sense to lessen the number of animals, such as by doing one per class.
Also, students may personally feel uncomfortable with the dissection. Many students at the school are vegetarian or vegan and for these people, the experience could be upsetting. These students will likely remember the experience of dissecting the animal, but may forget what they actually learned from the dissection. The stress of the scenario lessens the capacity for anatomic discovery.
This practice may be hard to eliminate completely, but a decrease in dissections is definitely possible. Using fewer animals would yield the same discoveries, with less unnecessary cruelty.