I don’t usually go looking for a fight, but there are some cases where I’ll make an exception.
You know, of course that I’m a big fan of DonorsChoose. And you’ll recall that PETA’s tactics make them a problematic organization as far as I’m concerned regardless of what your views on animal welfare or animal rights might be.
So, when PETA takes a swing at DonorsChoose, of course I want to jump in off the ropes and swing back. What’s PETA’s issue with DonorsChoose?
DonorsChoose.org is a nonprofit organization with a noble mission – to help teachers purchase materials for classroom lessons. But despite multiple discussions with PETA about modern, cruelty-free alternatives, the organization has made it clear that it will continue to promote and distribute dissection materials. PETA has shown DonorsChoose.org that virtual dissection models and computer programs are effective–and cost-effective–but DonorsChoose.org insists on peddling outdated and inhumane animal-based “materials.”
Please take a few minutes to send Charles Best, founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a polite e-mail urging him to support only 3-D anatomical models and virtual dissection programs. …
[T]he following are some talking points that you might want to include:
- Dissection teaches students that animals are no more than classroom tools–like pencils or notebooks–to be used and discarded. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has stated that his fascination with cutting apart bodies started with classroom dissection.
- Students deserve modern teaching methods, including computers, observation of nature, and sophisticated models, not a dead frog or cat on a slab.
- Teachers in need of funding–like those that use DonorsChoose.org–deserve the most cost-effective materials possible, like computer programs or models that will last year after year, instead of dead animals who must be thrown away and replaced after one use.
- Animals used for dissection come from biological-supply companies, and many are caught in the wild. Some are even stolen or abandoned companion animals.
Where even to begin?
First off, DonorsChoose works to supply teachers with the classroom supplies that the teachers request. It is the teachers, not DonorsChoose, who have identified these materials as pedagogically necessary for their students — and if you read the teachers’ proposals, you’ll see that these decisions are usually tied quite closely to state science standards, or to what learning experiences teachers have found make a difference in preparing their students for college or careers.
In other words, teachers are not asking for virtual dissection programs or 3-D anatomical models and then being told by DonorsChoose, “Sorry, it’s dead animals or nothing.” They are asking for the classroom supplies they need, and DonorsChoose is helping them get those supplies.
(Indeed, there are teacher proposals for 3-D models and for virtual dissection software. But these don’t meet the needs of every teacher or every classroom. It may even be the case that the teachers whose proposals include 3-D models or virtual dissection software are requesting them to supplement dissection.)
On to the PETA-supplied talking points.
Computers and sophisticated models may count as “modern teaching methods”, and they may provide a valuable supplement to “traditional” teaching methods, but that doesn’t mean that they can necessarily completely replace traditional teaching methods like dissection. Models and computer programs, like the detailed anatomical diagrams of yore, tend to convey the idealized picture of anatomy. Opening up an actual frog, or shark, or earthworm, or cat, you see variation you couldn’t even imagine from the diagrams or models. If the point is to understand the workings of actual organisms, not just idealized ones, this is really important.
Similarly, computers and models may be “cost effective” by virtue of being reusable, but that doesn’t mean that they are by themselves fully effective in teaching students what they might learn by doing dissections. And saying “teachers in need of funding deserve the most cost-effective materials possible” sounds, to my ear, a lot like saying that teachers in poorer school districts ought to make due with the materials with the lowest cost-per-year, rather than being provided with supplies that might cost more and teach more, too. After all, the teachers in richer districts are likely to have a lot less problem coming up with dissection kits and specimens. Their students aren’t going to miss out on this standard feature of high school biology for the college-bound.
It angers me that we’d treat kids in poorer districts as less worthy of the materials needed to give them a fully adequate biology course.
Animal supply companies, of course, are regulated under federal law. Stealing companion animals, for whatever purpose, is already illegal. And if we’re talking about the fate of companion animals, why not start with PETA’s own policy of euthanizing most of the companion animals surrendered to their “shelters”. But those euthanized animals are more likely to end up in dumpsters than in a classroom where students might learn something from them.
Finally, I daresay that for many students, dissection teaches that animal anatomy is exquisite and fascinating, and that creatures with remarkably different exteriors have recognizably similar skeletal, muscular, and organ systems. The lesson is that animals are more complicated than mere “things”.
Generalizing from a particular serial killer who claimed that dissection set him to homicidal cutting up of bodies is, frankly, ridiculous. For every Dahmer, how many future physicians (and veterinarians) got their first sense of the handskills their profession would require from a high school dissection? I’m betting quite a few.
In other words, PETA seems to get it completely wrong here.
For many of you, I’m sure that’s not at all surprising. But the point I want to underline is that PETA is urging their substantial membership to give DonorsChoose a hard time about this. DonorsChoose, meanwhile, is working hard to give cash-strapped teachers the very supplies that those cash-strapped teachers are asking for to teach their students what they need to know.