SparkNotes Blog

Real Talk: I Almost Failed A Bio Class For Refusing A Live Dissection

Even though science classes tend to be a lot more cumbersome and taxing than their liberal arts sisters, it’s the only discipline that really lets students get hands-on about their learning in wonderful (albeit sometimes really weird) ways.

Whether it’s everyone joining hands for a chemistry tutorial on electrical conductivity or putting together a straw-balloon device that simulates human muscle movement, there’s a lot of interactive learning going on, which is a welcome break from the monotony of the yawn-worthy strict lecture structure for sure.

So, for the most part, I usually enjoyed the lab assignments that put fascinating life materials in my hands and let me play with them for the sake of ~education~. Even though these classes weren’t always a friend to my GPA, I was still totally game to tinker around with all the crazy tools and biological materials we had at our disposal because it was almost always pretty cool. Almost.

Junior year, though, we reached a major moment of NOPE with my marine biology class.

I could overlook the formaldehyde smell that permeated my shoes for a full month after the two-day dead frog dissection experiment in 8th grade. I could put aside my personal feelings about the pig fetus butchery that went down in 10th grade. But when our teacher brought in a bucket full of living crabs, a tray of scalpels, and a worksheet on how to dismantle the creature piece by piece, it was a hard pass for me.

Dissecting a living animal? I couldn’t.

While everyone else dutifully picked up their supplies and got to work, I wrinkled my nose and headed up to the front to have a little student-teacher pow wow sesh about what was happening right now. I didn’t wax philosophical and ask why this was necessary or even beneficial to students of this age, most if not all of which will never go into this field professionally (although I probably should have). I did, however, present my own moral objection to the assignment and was met with a sudden shock face that quickly turned into an angry-slash-annoyed one and was quickly told that this was absolutely required and that if I refused it, I’d be getting a big fat zero for it. Considering this was the major dissection project of the year and thus a major factor in the final grade, that was a pretty costly price to pay, but I didn’t back down.

The thing was, this was a rinky-dink private school in a small town (one of the three I bounced around in through high school), so they didn’t have the same kind of administrative recourse a public school might have. It was just me against the teacher on this one, but as I watched all of these helpless crustaceans squirming while their shells were being pride away to expose their innards (with their hearts being removed LAST, shudder), I had to fight it. I would not do this; I marched down to the principal’s office and plead my case, and she agreed to talk it over with the teacher.

I spent the next week getting brow-beaten by her, even as she’d moved onto the next subject (which was, ironically, my favorite of the year—a video-supported discussion on why the oarfish could be the Lochness Monster). The rest of the students, too, seemed pretty flippant about my on-going dispute, shrugging with the suggestion that I should’ve just done it and be done with it.

Ultimately, though, the principal came through. Even though private schools don’t offer the same First Amendment freedom of speech protections that state schools do, she pegged the situation as a semi-religious objection and requested that I get an alternative assignment—a hilariously difficult essay project—to fill in the gap.

I didn’t take down the practice altogether—live dungeness crab dissections are still, unfortunately, a thing that people do—but I did (or perhaps more appropriately, didn’t do) my part.