I’m giving a presentation at an academic literary conference in San Antonio this weekend so I’m taking a much-needed break from writing about the Oklahoma political scene today.
My presentation, “Fuku or Zafa? Teaching the Raw Language of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” tries to deal with the issue of teaching literary texts that contain racially-charged language. What are the best practices? How have they changed through the years? How does Oscar Wao, in particular, open up opportunities for understanding the use of such language in and on the borders of the Latino community?
Diaz’s novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008.
In an interview, Diaz, a Dominican American, has argued, “Latinos are a racial complexity that the U.S. seems ill-suited and unwilling to confront.”
The Latina/o Literary Landscape conference, a part of the American Literature Association, is meeting for three days in downtown San Antonio, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in literature I love to teach and write about while exchanging ideas and catching up with other professors, literary critics and writers.
A bill inhibiting embryonic stem cell research in the state and opposed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association has overwhelmingly passed the Oklahoma House.
On Tuesday, the House voted 73-14 to approve House Bill 2070, dubbed the Protection of Human Life Act of 2013.
Sponsored by Dan Fisher, an El Reno Republican, the bill would specifically ban “nontherapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death” or “use for research purposes cells or tissues” obtained from such an embryo.
The main problem with the bill is that it could threaten medical stem cell research in the state while setting an anti-science precedent. While the bill specifically exempts in vitro procedures it also represents yet another gambit among the anti-abortion crowd to minutely focus attention on women’s reproductive systems and conception.
For example, the bill defines a human embryo for the purposes of the bill as “including the single celled stage, that is not located in the body of a female . . .” This language seems unclear. Is that intentional? Does this definition only mean an egg removed from a woman in a medical procedure? Could it have other ramifications?
I’m not trying to ascribe some broader intention here, but parse this definition:
Human embryo means a living organism of the species Homo sapiens at the earliest stages of development, including the single celled stage, that is not located in the body of a female . . .
The Oklahoma State Medical Association, according to a news report, opposes the bill because of the “troubling precedent for future research.” Here are some recent advances in embryonic stem cell research.
This is a bad bill that no matter what its larger implications in terms of defining a human embryo could inhibit bio-medical research here and once again make the statement that a majority of state residents reject scientific research. That's not good for the state.
The Oklahoma House could consider a bill today that if signed into law would undermine science education in the state’s classrooms, especially the teaching of evolution theory.
House Bill 1674, sponsored by Gus Blackwell, a Laverne Republican, is on the calendar for a House floor vote. Amendments filed with the bill by Blackwell would make it similar to Senate Bill 1765, a bill called the Oklahoma Science Education Act, which allows students to “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues” in science classrooms.
Both Blackwell and state Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Coalgate Republican, who sponsors SB 1765, have submitted previous legislation that defined some of the so-called “controversial issues” as biological evolution and global warming. Those bills eventually died in the legislature. I recently wrote about Brecheen’s bill here.
The bills’ and related bills’ voting history through the years is convoluted, but none of them have made it into law. The gambit this session among those pushing or supporting this type of legislation seems to be to present generic language that might be palatable to more legislators, especially in the Senate.
The intent of the bills, however, remains the same: Cast doubt on basic longtime scientific principles and research and insert religious ideas in classroom.
There is no real scientific controversy over evolution and global warming. There might be religious and political disagreement about these issues among some groups, such as right-wing, fundamentalist Christians and oil companies, but it’s not rooted in science.
Any version of these bills signed into law would damage the state’s education reputation and harm students. It’s not a stretch to say such a law would make Oklahoma’s public school students less prepared for college.
One of Blackwell’s amendments, for example, establishes that “. . . no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.”
Allowing students to simply opt-out or criticize important course material with no consequences because of religious beliefs is terribly unwise in a state with a low college graduation rate.
Both the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) are strongly opposed to these bills.