Humor by John Christmann

Jump Frog, Jump

A frog in Buddha position

Dissecting animals in the name of science is a barbaric act that should not be imposed on high school freshmen.

It is probably not so great for the frogs either.

Before we get started here, let me be clear that I am not taking a stand one way or another on the time-honored practice of laying bare the cold innards of splayed amphibians, even if I do have a soft spot in my heart for frogs.

Recently I attended my children’s “back to school” night at their high school. This event gives parents the opportunity to meet teachers and understand what the heck our kids will be learning through the year, even if we no longer have the capacity to understand any of it.

Sitting on a high stool tucked under a square black table outfitted with sinks and graduated cylinders and Bunsen burner spigots in a science classroom that smelled faintly of hospital chemicals, the biology teacher introduced the impressive curriculum of life science that my kids will be following this year.

I didn’t understand any of it.

Except one thing. I noticed on the last page of the syllabus, listed just beneath DNA re-sequencing and gene splicing, was a single bullet depicting the culmination of their biological studies: frog dissection.

This is probably the only thing I recall from biology when I was in high school. It was a memorable experience that set me on my course of not ever wanting to be a doctor. This non-course of study was reinforced several years later when I was introduced to pre-med students in college who nearly caused me to flunk out of chemistry while they were fighting for survival and a chance to dissect higher order animals.

I was not particularly squeamish, but others in my class were. And the dreaded frog dissection lab loomed heavy over our psyches as the school year slowly progressed and we methodically evolved our way through Meiosis and Mitosis and many of the other Greek islands toward the tic tac toe of X and Y chromosomes that somehow explain why I don’t have blue eyes.

I wasn’t much of a biology student.

There is something about the smell of formaldehyde that is chilling. The acrid aroma always seems to call up lightning flash images of pickled organs floating in oversized Mason jars in a Dr. Frankenstein laboratory (pronounced la – BOR – atory).

I don’t know if this visceral reaction to the preservative came about as a result of my high school biology class, but I vividly remember the state of our frog before and after my lab partner and I wielded our scalpels.

I will spare you the description. I am sure you have your own precious memories.

My lab partner, by the way, later went on to become a butcher.

Or maybe it was a plastic surgeon. I can’t really remember.

There is an old joke on the nature of deduction and scientific reasoning. A young student sets out to measure the jumping capacity of a frog while changing the independent variable, which in this case happens to be the number of legs still remaining on the poor amphibian. On each amputating turn of the experiment the student forcefully commands the frog to jump, then meticulously records the results.

Four legs; frog jumps 2.5 meters. Three legs; frog jumps 1.14 meters. Two legs; frog jumps 35 centimeters. One leg; frog jumps 2 centimeters. No legs . . . frog goes deaf.

As I was sitting in my kids’ biology class ruminating over the tragic contributions of frogs to society, I started to wonder: What did the frog ever do to deserve this horrific scientific fate, other than being plentiful, invasive, and easy to catch.

It turns out that frogs have a complete set of organs analogous to human organs that are perfect to study. They have livers and spleens and gallbladders and hearts and stomachs. They even have warts and baggy chins.

Their size is manageable for lab work, and their unique anatomy reflects 250 million years of evolution. Although I would argue that this evolution has not yet accounted for 9th grade biology classes.

Obviously the Iccchhhh factor is high in this educational experience, but I understand the immeasurable value kids receive through grasping first hand the complexity of living organisms and how they are adapted to their environment.

And despite my deepest sympathy for the unnamed princes that have sacrificed their kingdoms for the advancement of 9th grade biology, I think I would rather have my kids learn and respect the mystery of life through real dissection than downloading Frog Academy 2.0 from iTunes.

On the other hand, that’s a whole lot of sacrificial frogs just to weed out those of us who have no stomach to become health care professionals.

And where I personally am concerned, once was quite enough, thank you.