“Next week we’re going to be dissecting rats!” announced my year 12 Biology teacher one Friday afternoon.
That was about 31 years ago, but I still remember my sinking feeling of dread. Biology was my favourite, and best, subject, and I wanted to continue to do well, but I just couldn’t face cutting up an animal.
I reasoned that all scientists dissect animals – it’s the only way to learn. I’d get used to it, and I was told I would find it fascinating…but somehow I didn’t believe any of that.
When the day came, the teacher went off to pick up the rats (Monash Uni, I believe. It was only 5 minutes away from our school), and, after morning recess, we were greeted by freshly-killed, still-warm, white rats, laid out on cutting boards for our dissecting pleasure.
I froze, and watched in disbelief as my classmates picked up their scalpels and went to work. It just wasn’t an option to “conscientiously object”. Participation was required. So after a bit of cajoling from my teacher and reassurance from a couple of my hesitant and only-slightly-less horrified friends, they agreed that I could just stand and watch.
That didn’t last long though, and suddenly I was out in the shadows of the breezeway, not knowing whether to cry or vomit or scream or run. My teacher eventually followed me out and told me he was “very disappointed” in me – which upset me a bit, because he was my favourite teacher, but I was really just horrified that he would think it was OK to sacrifice 12, or so, rats for the amusement/education of a classful of 17-year-olds, most of whom didn’t really have much of an interest in biology anyway.
There were the obligatory few who thought it was hilarious – who cut off the rats’ feet and tied them to people’s lockers. Rumour had it that some of the boys had even stolen one of the rats and planted it in Erin’s school bag. I think I remember another one attaching a rat’s foot to his key ring for a while (strangely, I think he became a podiatrist).
I decided that day that I wouldn’t follow my teacher’s recommendation that I study biology at university. I knew that that would mean endless afternoons like this, probably resulting in eventual failure. Instead I became a nurse, which was probably the least suitable career choice for me.