How are Canadian teachers responding to the ethical, cultural, social, environmental, and religious concerns associated with animal dissection? That is one of the questions Jan Oakley will be answering during her doctoral studies in the Faculty of Education.
Oakley has long been interested in the field of human-animal relations, particularly questions related to ethics and how we think about animals. She completed her Master's degree in Education at Lakehead in 2007, with Professor Connie Russell as her supervisor, and is now a PhD student and proud recipient of a Canada Graduate Scholarship, valued at $105,000 over the next three years.
"For the past year I have been conducting a literature review on animal dissection," says Oakley. "I've been exploring various facets of it: its history, its place in science education, the ethics of the activity, the environmental concerns associated with it, the development of student choice policies which give students the legal right to opt out of dissection, and the development of alternative technologies, such as virtual dissection software. This has been, and continues to be, a very interesting exploration. It has also served as preparation for my own research, which will begin in 2009.
"We are in a time when animal dissection is being challenged on several fronts: ethical, environmental, social, and pedagogical. An estimated 6-12 million animals are killed each year for dissection purposes in North American schools, and studies show that increasing numbers of students are objecting to the practice and requesting alternatives to it. From a student's perspective, dissection can be an emotionally or ethically unpleasant experience, and to date only four Canadian cities have adopted student choice policies, which give students the legal right to opt out of the practice. There is also concern around the fact that the most commonly dissected animals are wild-caught frogs, which means ecosystem disruption and contribution to the existing problem of frogs disappearing around the world. These are some of the reasons why dissection is controversial.
"We are also in a time when there is a commitment at higher levels of education to a principle known as the "3 Rs" – that is, the reduction, refinement, and replacement of animal use in science and education. This commitment has spurred the creation of many types of dissection alternatives, which high schools may or may not be adopting, for a variety of reasons. The practice of animal dissection is nearly 90 years old in schools but it appears that the culture around it is shifting, and because of this, it is worth studying further."