Mugging for Facebook with a Dead Cat: Dissection Brings out the Worst in California Students
At PCRM, we have long shared the concern that dissection labs in schools promote callousness toward animals. Ample proof of this recently showed up on Facebook posts from students at Newport Harbor High School in California. Pictures, taken inside an anatomy classroom, showed students mugging and smiling as they held up dead, mutilated cat carcasses. One picture showed a cat’s severed head which was reportedly deposited in an unsuspecting student’s locker. The students’ Facebook comments are filled with callous comments and expletives, promoting further insensitivity to animals and bullying of students.
PCRM wrote to the president of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education, asking that the students involved be referred for psychological evaluation and that classroom activities involving animals be suspended. So far, none of this has occurred. The board of education president reportedly told the press that it is just a case of “students being students,” and no further actions are planned.
Here is PCRM’s letter of complaint:
Mr. David L. Brooks
Newport-Mesa Unified School District
2985 Bear Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Dear Mr. Brooks:
I am writing urgently on behalf of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to ask that the Newport-Mesa Unified School District review evidence that grossly inappropriate behavior by students is being encouraged or tolerated in a school classroom, fostering similar behavior by other students and potentially dangerous behavior in the future. Parents and students have become alarmed, and we are certain that you will share their concerns.
Abundant medical literature shows that children who abuse animals are more likely to be abusive toward human beings later in life. In this context, animal abuse includes callous behavior toward animals killed for other purposes. Cats are especially common targets.
Often such callousness takes the form of posting photographs or videos in public, as if to brag about the abuse. This sort of behavior was highlighted in the recent case of Luka Magnotta, the Canadian who posted videos of cruelty to cats in 2010 and was later arrested for heinous crimes against people. However, nearly every serial killer has first engaged in acts of cruelty or callousness to animals, indicating that such behavior needs to be consistently confronted and investigated.
In recent days at Newport Harbor High School, students have openly mugged for photographs with dead cats, posted these photographs on Facebook, and solicited comments from their friends. It appears that the photographs originated within the school classroom itself, presumably during normal school hours.
One or more children reportedly deposited a severed cat’s head in a student’s locker, so as to frighten other students. A photograph of a cat’s decapitated head was also posted on Facebook by a Newport Harbor High student. These incidents are well-known to the students and are actively being described to others via Facebook. A detailed online conversation has occurred in which one student suggests, presumably jokingly, that she had killed her own cat, and other students joining in with other inappropriate comments.
Any parent who found a cat’s severed head on his or her porch would not hesitate to call the police. However, this behavior has apparently occurred within the school building itself. So far as we are aware, none of the children involved have been interviewed by a psychologist and no consequences have been imposed by those in charge of the dissection laboratory or the school.
It is a gross mistake to simply write off such behavior as childish pranks. To the extent that this behavior is tolerated or encouraged, it may escalate or encourage similar behavior in others, particularly since it has been posted on social media that may be accessed by anyone.
We strongly recommend (1) referring the students involved, directly and indirectly, for psychological evaluation, (2) interviewing the science teacher in charge of these classes so as to understand how such behavior was tolerated, and (3) suspending classroom activities that involve the use of animals.
John J. Pippin, M.D.
Director of Academic Affairs