E.T. surely would have approved.
In Steven Spielberg’s suburban homesick alien classic, the title character’s young friend Elliott flips out in class during frog dissection day, and frees all of the amphibians. That movie came out in the summer of 1982, and 30 years later, the frog scene is starting to look like an anachronism.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been working to help phase out animal dissection in the classroom by offering to sponsor virtual dissection software at various schools. Programs such as Digital Frog or Emantras’ Frog and Rat Dissection Apps are highly interactive substitutes that allow students to learn about different organs without having to introduce Kermit to an actual scalpel.
“Approximately 10 million animals each year are dissected in classrooms,” says Justin Goodman, PETA’s Associate Director of Laboratory Investigations. “Animal dissection is rarely a curricular requirement, though, so teachers can use whatever methods they please to meet their science course’s educational objectives.”
PETA has been advocating for an end to classroom animal dissection for more than 25 years (nearly as long as E.T.!), working with school districts and teachers internationally, and also guiding the creation of state, district, and school policies that allow students to opt out of dissection if they don’t want to participate. According to the organization, 95% of medical schools no longer require students to participate in animal laboratories, and so middle and high-schoolers need not either. Also, the alternative has some benefits that using real frogs does not.
“These programs show students how the organ systems actually work through animations and videos, allowing them to compare the biology of humans, frogs and other animals side by side,” says Goodman. “If a student makes a wrong cut or forgets something they learned, they can go back through the program and redo the lesson.” He adds, “It’s also less expensive because software only needs to be purchased once, and can be used indefinitely, whereas animal cadavers and supplies need to be purchased every year for every class. Virtual dissection also takes less time to do in the classroom because it doesn’t require set-up, clean-up, or disposal.”
Watch a demo in the video below, and have a closer look at the images in the slide show above.
[Image: Flickr user Nick Harris]