Well, it’s autumn and back to school time again. Reading, writing, football Friday night . . . and animal cruelty lessons! In some classes, anyone from elementary school-age children to medical and veterinary college students are forced to cut up dead animals. Biology classes especially bring back horrible memories in some people of frog guts and frog legs sliced off the poor frog’s body. Pig hearts, I hear, are even used in some anatomy classes because they are so much like humans’. Except if pigs ran the schools, they’d have a heart and not dissect dead humans!

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) report that 20 million animals—frogs, cats, mice, dogs, and others—are violently killed and shipped off to schools, where young people are given scalpels and told to slice up the animals’ bodies. What kind of message is this giving young people? PETA says that in California, investigators brought up the possible connection between a series of cat mutilations and the cat dissections at the local high school. That wouldn’t surprise us: In his last interview before his death, Jeffrey Dahmer said that he became fascinated with blood and guts when his school gave him a knife and a dead animal to cut apart in biology class. How are potential dissection victims treated before being put under the knife? PETA did undercover investigations at biological supply companies, which sell animal bodies and parts, and found nightmarish acts of animal cruelty, including drowning of rabbits and cats embalmed while they were still alive.

The good thing is lots of kids are rebelling in an animal rights kind of way. They are refusing to participate in dissection in class. PETA and other international organizations are encouraging students to stand up for their beliefs. PETA tells us if you’re in grades kindergarten through 12 and attend public school in the following states, just say “no”: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, California, and Louisiana. These states have “dissection choice” laws in place. Private schools, colleges, and universities are not covered by those laws, but you can still get an alternative. You’ve just got to ask for it the right way.

First, if you’re taking a science, medical or veterinary class, find out in advance if dissection is part of the curriculum. Talk to your instructor and say you cannot participate because of your “sincerely held religious and moral beliefs about the sanctity of all life,” and ask for a non-animal alternative. These words provide the basis for a possible legal case. (You do not have to support any formal religion; the courts have interpreted a belief that animals should not be killed for classroom dissection to be a religious belief, which schools cannot violate.)

Then, PETA suggests that you offer to research the alternatives and find those that satisfy the objectives of the course. Show that you’re willing to spend an equivalent amount of time and effort learning the lesson using a humane alternative. A number of organizations loan alternatives, including CD-ROMs and virtual dissections, to students and schools. Examining and observing live animals can be a quite interesting and informative way of learning, especially for the littler ones, as well.

If these methods don’t work and the school won’t allow you to be a dissection Conscientious Objector, talk to the principal or school board. Let the local community and media know that your school practices animal abuse and won’t recognize your rights.

You can also read more about dissection in PETA’s “Guide to Animals and the Dissection Industry” at www.peta.org, or contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) at 707-769-7771 (www.ALDF.org) or the The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), 301-258-3046.