BOOK REVIEW: The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives, & Recommendations

The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives, & Recommendations

Classroom dissection is a perennial issue that animal protection groups haven’t given enough attention. A respectable book with a rational outlook, Animals in Higher Education offers information for the student, teacher, or animal advocate wishing to learn more about the humane issues involved. It even has a scientific pedigree—the renowned Dr. Jane Goodall contributes the foreword.

Animals takes an honest look at classroom dissection in a way that many pro-dissection materials do not. It is the truth witnessed by myself and any other person who recalls the classroom atmosphere during high school and junior high dissections. Although I refused to dissect and did an alternate project instead, I was the only student who did this. Another student later confessed to me that they also wished they hadn’t dissected. The authors sum up students’ fear of opting out of the experience as being tied to obedience to authority, peer pressure, fear of ridicule, and fear of receiving a lower grade. The text also notes:

Studies showing high proportions of students with negative feelings about dissection are mostly based on anonymous surveys where the student is not accountable to his/her teacher.

The book also highlights the issue of the ways in which animals are disrespected in undergraduate dissection exercises. It quotes a researchers’ observation of teenage students’ classroom dissection of fetal piglets:

As the students finished up, they became more likely to play with the specimens’ bodies and organs…[a boy and a girl] proudly parad[ed] the decapitated heads around the room.

It was this ugliness, which I witnessed firsthand time and time again, that is perhaps the greatest testament against routine dissections on the undergraduate level. I remain convinced that dissections teach students callousness toward animal life.

Like any other animal use industry, dissection is big business. The text notes:

With an annual education demand for close to ten million vertebrate animals and a comparable number of invertebrates in the United States, supplying the bodies of dead animals (usually termed “preserved specimens”) is a large and thriving business. In the United States, at least twenty companies supply dead and/or living animals for use in education.

And like any other animal use industry, when there’s a profit to be made from animals’ dead bodies, their welfare and comfort not going to be a top priority. The authors cite various studies on the procurement of “specimens,” including the archetypical frog:

“All of the frogs were captured in the wild, and the authors point out “the most basic misconception [that] the laboratory frog is…a domestic animal raised on ‘frog farms.’”

There is little to indicate that conditions of frog capture, transport, and storage have changed substantially since Gibbs and his colleagues published their study in 1971. Field investigations conducted between 1997 and 1999 by The HSUS suggest that the only significant change is that a much larger proportion of frogs is now killed before shipment to schools.

America’s most popular companion animal, the cat, is also a major victim of the dissection trade. The text notes a couple of undercover investigations into the supply of cats, with highly disturbing findings. However, the investigations cited are now at least a decade old, and while I seriously doubt anything has changed, new investigations are in order to renew this debate in the public eye.

Students and teachers must realize that when they choose dissection, they are directly funding animals’ cruel deaths. In some cases, they are also helping to fund other notoriously inhumane industries:

Skinned mink, fox and rabbit carcasses are available from biological supply company catalogs and the source is identified alongside them. … When schools buy these carcasses from supply companies, they provide income for the fur industry.

(review originally appeared at


2 Comments (+add yours?)

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