Animals Used in Classroom Dissection

Issues-Animals-Used-in-Classroom-DissectionThe Issue

It has been estimated that millions of animals of various species are “purpose bred” or harvested from the wild each year just to be killed for use as dissection specimens. Although classroom dissection is a deeply-rooted classroom tradition, it is not necessary to teach the life sciences.


Animal dissection has been used for biology instruction in American classrooms since the 1920s. It remains a prevalent practice, with 84% of educators reporting use of dissection as a teaching tool at any point during past school years, according to a 2014 NAVS survey. The prevalent use of dissection in the classroom demonstrates how deeply-rooted this classroom tradition truly is, despite the many reasons to object to this antiquated practice.

First and foremost, dissection teaches students that animal lives have little importance. Traditional dissection indoctrinates the idea that cutting open animals is “fun,” and prioritizes “hands-on” exploitation of animals over teaching respect for living creatures. Furthermore, statistics on the use of animals for dissection are not maintained in the U.S., so there is no way of knowing exactly what type of or how many animals are used. It is estimated that 6-12 million animals of various species are either “purpose bred” or harvested from the wild for use as dissection specimens.

This waste of animal lives on such a grand scale is made even more tragic when we understand that dissection is not even necessary to teach the life sciences. Numerous studies have reported that students who utilize humane alternatives to dissection score as well or better on performance tests than students who participate in dissection. Humane dissection alternatives, such as mobile apps and 3-D models, are readily available, often at a fraction of the cost of animal specimens, providing an important cost savings for teachers. Dissection alternatives can also be reused, unlike animal specimens.

Additionally, no U.S. college or university requires dissection participation as a prerequisite for entrance. Many countries—including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Argentina, Slovak Republic and Israel—no longer conduct classroom dissection exercises, setting a humane example the U.S. should be eager to follow.

How NAVS Helps

NAVS supports integrating today’s technology into science classrooms to make the life sciences more exciting—as well as more humane—by providing safer, cost-effective resources to replace animal dissection that will not only enhance the teaching of the life sciences but will also encourage students to pursue careers in science and medicine without harming animals.

In addition to introducing and supporting student choice legislation across the United States, NAVS, through our Biology Education Advancement Program (BioLEAP), provides resources for students and teachers who oppose dissection, including virtual dissection tools and a comprehensive Student Choice Resource Toolkit.

The findings from NAVS’ nationwide survey of biology teachers and students on the use of and attitudes towards animal dissection and alternatives were published—along with suggestions for ways educators can reduce or replace animal use in their classrooms—in the May 2014 issue of The American Biology Teacher.

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Animals Used in Education