In defense of animals

December 12, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Budget constraints and the presence of a 90-student club promoting animal rights are slowly making animal dissections extinct at Old Mill Senior High School.

The science department at the Millersville school is cutting spending on animals to dissect -- which cost about $4,000 a year -- and has begun ordering computer programs that use enhanced images of animal bodies.

Members of People for Animal Welfare (PAW) are urging teachers and students to stop doing dissections.

"Most kids just stab [the animals] in the eye and fool around with it," said junior Sal Filippelli, 16, PAW vice president of membership. "That's not a learning experience."

John Malek, who chairs the science department at the Millersville school, said students can learn anatomy just as well from videos and computer software.

"Most high schools in Anne Arundel County are weaning away from dissections," he said.

In the past, Old Mill's science department purchased about 200 frogs a year for 400 students, Malek said. But the department bought only a dozen frogs this year because of the cost and the introduction of software that simulates dissections.

"Now, you can start with a picture and click down to some body parts," he said. "I think that will do the job to the point where dissection is eliminated."

Dr. Thomas Custer, coordinator of science for the school system, called dissection "one of the best teaching tools."

He said science departments are encouraged to use creatures such as worms, crickets and paramecia, while comparative anatomy courses such as college-preparatory biology and human physiology sometimes require frogs and fetal pigs.

"For students who feel that they want to go to a technical or medical field, there is no [better] concrete example of organ systems and how they relate to organisms" than doing dissections, Custer said.

But students who don't want to dissect animals can ask for an alternative such as the computer programs, he said.

"Students who do request alternate activities receive one with no penalty," he said.

James Goodwin, a budget analyst for county schools, said the system allocates about $1,700 per science teacher each year. The county has about 265 science teachers, he said.

PAW members said they can learn about organ systems from textbooks and computer programs.

"We don't feel that we need to dissect animals anymore," said Chip Decker, a senior and vice president of programs for the group. "You can teach biology without using dissections."

Raymond Wills, an American history teacher who co-sponsors the club, said the dissections trivialize the importance of life.

The animals are "not toys, they're not disposable," said Wills, who has taught for 12 years. "They deserve a lot of respect."

Many of the club members said they hoped that all county schools would discontinue dissections.

"Most people -- students and teachers -- are, like, 'We have to do it or we can't learn,' " said junior Natalie Suresch, 16, a PAW member. "But no one's going to lose if we don't do it."

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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