I came downstairs the other day and found a yogurt tub on the counter with a note on top announcing the contents. One dead mouse. Zephyr proudly presented it to Jack when she came down to get ready for work. He was rolling on it and purring, clearly very pleased with himself. Jack, of course, thought immediately of Esmé, and her interest in all things dead.
I didn’t show it to her until later in the day, because if I’d let her see it in the morning, I would’ve had a very hard time getting her to leave the house, and because we had plans, that wasn’t an option.
When I did show her, she immediately asked if we could dissect it. At which point I wondered what to say. Typically I’m all for saying yes, but in this case I had a few reservations. First off, we don’t have the proper equipment to do it. We’d need a scalpel, vinyl gloves that fit her somewhat, safety glasses, and a metal tray or some other surface on which to contain said dissection. Secondly, we want her to understand about respecting creatures, even after death, and it didn’t seem right to let her cut it up willy nilly, with no real purpose other than to see what was inside. Lastly, I have mixed feelings about dissection in general. But this was a found animal, already dead. So that was less of an issue, so far.
Esmé didn’t like what I had to say. We had already let her dissect that dead fish, she reasoned. We let her slice up insect carcasses. How was this different?
So I explained again, about why and when people perform dissections. I talked about why some people decide not to do dissections. I suggested that even though she has excellent knife skills, that scalpel skills are something she could work on. I showed her a video of a rat dissection, and pointed out how the student was making precise and intentional cuts, with a plan and a purpose. I pointed out how the student was using several safety precautions.
Esmé was content with watching the video, and the promise that when she had better hand-eye coordination, and could follow detailed instructions and had access to the proper equipment, she could dissect something.
“How about a chameleon?” She asked. ”I could look for the colour changer thing inside it that makes it change colour. That could be my scientific question.”
“Where would you get a dead iguana?” I asked.
“I could put a notice up at Mr. Pets. Maybe someone’s pet iguana would died and they’d give it to me.”
“Well …” I said, because she totally caught me off guard with such a reasonable suggestion. ”Sure. Once you’ve taken a class in dissection and know how to do it properly. Okay?”
“How old do I have to be?”
We checked the Brainboost website, and the recent notice on the local homeschool listserv, both of which had recent mentions of homelearners’ dissection classes. There wasn’t a specific age, but it seemed like ten and up was the general consensus. Phew. Bought myself some time.
When I was a teenager, I refused to do the dissections in highschool science. I felt very strongly about animal rights, and got a lot of flack for it. How strange, these many years later, to be looking into dissection classes for my daughter. Part of me hopes that by the time she’s old enough to take the class, she’ll come to the same place in her thinking.
For now though, I’m supporting my young scientist, and following her lead in her entirely unsentimental approach to dead animals and what they can be used for, be it meat or research. She’s a very different kid than I ever was! I was the kid who fed the cows at the end of the road strong peppermints with the hopes that it would spoil their meat and they wouldn’t be slaughtered. Esmé, on the other hand, can’t wait to go hunting with Jack. Go figure.
For now, Esmé drew a picture of the mouse, and then we kept it in the fridge for a couple of days before she decided to bury it.