Getting to Know Cheri Yecke

By | 2005/08/30

Here are some news clippings on Florida’s new K-12 Chancellor of Education, Cheri Pierson Yecke, from her days as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education…

“[Commissioner of Education, Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke] said the
state standards shouldn’t address creationism, which is based
on the belief that God created the world in six days. The other
main theory, evolution, describes development of life on Earth
from single-celled organisms over about 3.5 billion years.”

However, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio on June 9,
2003, Dr. Yecke stated that she believes ^Severy local district should have
the freedom to teach creationism if that is what they choose.

(Source (2003/06/18))

Update: DarkSyd has a post on DailyKos concerning Cheri Yecke and the likely struggle to come in Florida.

YECKE: Well, I believe that God created the heavens and the Earth. I don’t
know how he did it, but that’s my personal belief.

[...]

GARCIA: At the crux of this whole debate is the No Child Left Behind
Law and a part of it known as the Santorum amendment, named after a
Pennsylvania senator. The amendment basically states that students
should be able to tell the difference between theories of science and
religious views, opening the door for teachers to teach alternative
theories to evolution. The controversy, however, is, when this bill
was passed, the amendment was changed. Some people argue that it’s no
longer part of the law, while others say it is. Commissioner Yecke
doesn’t know herself. She’s asking for help from Washington.

YECKE: I want a clarification from them, and, if they send me the
exact same language that they sent to Ohio, then I feel that, you
know, certainly we have the law behind us and can use that language.

GARCIA: But in a story where belief is a big part, Yecke believes she
can allow teachers to talk about a higher power creating life
alongside evolution, for the first time in 70 years.

YECKE: Here is the Santorum language. I think we should just include
it in those places where we do discuss biological evolution in the
standards and move on.

(Transcript of WCCO CH 4 TV 10PM News Report (2003/07/09))

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke will ask the committee to
consider an amendment that Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., tried
unsuccessfully to add to the federal No Child Left Behind law. It says
that when controversial topics — such as biological evolution — come
up in the classroom, the curriculum should help students understand
other views as well.

One of the alternatives Santorum has written about is “intelligent
design,” which says an organism’s complexity is evidence of an
otherworldly designer. The amendment passed the Senate and was
included in a conference committee’s report, but was struck from the
final version of the law.

(Source (2003/07/18))

But she said she will instruct the science committee to avoid any
clashes over the teaching of evolution. She will cite a U.S. Supreme
Court ruling that prohibits the teaching of strict creationism in the
classroom and a section of the new federal No Child Left Behind Act
that strongly advises school districts to teach evolution in a way
that “helps the student to understand the full range of scientific
views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how
scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”

“My purpose is that we don’t need to enter that debate,” Yecke
said. “And that these decisions lay with the local school boards.”

(Source (2003/07/18))

Yecke said she saw the Santorum amendment as “explanatory language”
intended to offer local districts flexibility.

“A local school board may say you can discuss intelligent design,” she
said. “It’s up to local school boards and local communities to have
this discussion.”

(Paul Tosto, St. Paul [MN] Pioneer Press (2003/08/04))

Two drafts of Minnesota’s science standards circulated this week. The
only difference? How they described the teaching of evolution.

The version the public didn’t see included words like “might” and
“possible” at strategic points that clearly cast doubt on the
certainty of biological evolution.

When members of the citizens’ panel that wrote the standards saw what
was to be the final document, several saw the “mights” and “possibles”
and protested that they didn’t write the document that way and that
the department made critical changes without telling the panel.

In the end, the committee got the language it wanted, giving evolution
the full stamp of approval of the state as the way to teach science to
all students in Minnesota’s public schools.

(Source (2oo3/09/10))

Nelson also had an issue about what he said was the pushing of a
religious belief in the science benchmarks.

Yecke had explained in her advance publicity for the hearings that
schools could include the concept of .intelligent design. in teaching
how the world came to be.

(Source (2oo3/10/09))

[Update 2007/06/14: Dr. Yecke disputes the accuracy of the reporting in the above quote. From the email I received from one "Dave S." at the ReputationDefender service:

We are writing to you today because our client, Dr. Cheri Yecke, has
told us that she would like the following quote attributed to her on
your website to be removed or modified because it is erroneous:

"Yecke had explained in her advance publicity for the hearings that
schools could include the concept of intelligent design in teaching
how the world came to be."

Dr. Yecke has told us that she has found the discussion on your website
to be fair and balanced in the main, but the local newspaper from which
this quote was correctly transcribed did not quote her correctly.

End update.]

[Update 2007/06/29: I just noticed that the undisputed Pioneer Press article quoted above also directly quotes Yecke saying just the thing that the Princeton Union-Eagle article reports. Even if we discount every newspaper report, though, there is the evidence of a video of a debate between Yecke and MN State Representative Davnie from September 12, 2003, showing Yecke saying the same thing that the newspapers reported, that the Santorum language means that local school districts can decide to teach intelligent design:

The issue really is intelligent design and evolution and the there was language that was put in the conference committee report that accompanied the no child left behind act that said you know students should be exposed to all sides of a controversial issue. [...] And it is well understood now that this is a decision that would be made by local school boards and not the state.

That’s a direct transcription from Yecke in the video.

End update.]

At issue were social studies-related remarks Yecke made during a radio
interview last week during which she said Columbus was not guilty of
committing genocide on the Indian tribes he came in contact with, and
that such a concept was an inappropriate one to teach
kindergartners. She said that Columbus’ men were responsible, at least
indirectly and down through the ages, for tens of millions of deaths
due to diseases such as smallpox, but she added, “I don’t characterize
that as genocide.”

“That was not a deliberate decision to go and destroy native peoples,”
she said. “It was a tragedy. It was a tragedy beyond belief. But to
say that now we have to teach that to kindergartners I think is
inappropriate.”

A debate over such an issue would be more appropriate for a
middle-school or high-school class, Yecke said. The interview took
place on Minnesota Public Radio last Tuesday.

The Indian activists who held a news conference in front of the
Department of Education’s Roseville headquarters Monday said Yecke
owed them an apology, and called for the state Senate to fire her
during next year’s legislative session by withholding her confirmation
as commissioner.

“We’ve got to educate this lady,” said activist Clyde Bellecourt. “She
is totally scholastically retarded. If we allow the social studies
standards to go through the way they’re written, we’re going to go
back to the Dark Ages.”

(Source (2oo3/11/11))

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke today released a new draft
of social studies and science standards that she said were extensively
changed from a widely criticized first effort.

(Source (2oo3/12/19))

The first benchmark improvement proposed by the minority report
requires students to be able to distinguish between changes existing
within species (microevolution) and the emergence of new species and
changes above the species level (macroevolution). The second would
require students to be able to describe .how scientists continue to
critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory..

Cooper added that the minority report followed guidance from Education
Commissioner Cheri Yecke, who had encouraged the standards committee
to look to guidelines set down by Congress in the Conference Report of
the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress urged states to present .the
full range of scientific views. on controversial topics .such as
biological evolution..

Last fall, Commissioner Yecke received a letter from Congress
stressing that this guidance in the No Child Left Behind Act
Conference Report was the official position of Congress on science
education. The letter was signed by Minnesota Congressman John Kline
and Congressman John Boehner, chairman of the U.S. House Education and
the Workforce Committee.

(Source (2oo4/01/22))

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3 thoughts on “Getting to Know Cheri Yecke

  1. Austringer Post author

    I had a look at the thread and added what I hope is something to clarify my biological background and what cannot be read just from a department’s name.

    In 1988, Texas A&M University, with guidance from David Schmidly, recruited faculty to establish a world-class program in marine mammal science, including Bernd Wursig, Graham Worthy, Randy Davis, and Bill Evans. These faculty received appointments within the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences. Their fields of specialization covered ecology, physiology, behavior, and bioacoustics, all topics of organismal biology. William E. Evans, my advisor, has a long record of research in bioacoustics, performing many of the early studies investigating whether particular species of marine mammals had biosonar abilities.

    When I was applying to graduate school, I did not go by the name of the department. I went by the record of study of the person who would be my advisor in each university. In all, I applied to departments of “wildlife and fisheries sciences”, “biology”, “ecology and evolution”, “psychology”, “oceanography”, and “organismic and evolutionary biology”. In all but one case, my intended subject of study was marine mammal biology. Short version: the name of the department does not permit the easy and clear discrimination King seeks to make. When people have asked me for advice on applying to graduate school, my response is to identify the person whose research one wishes to learn from, then apply where they are. This is especially true now that many “biology” departments hardly take cognizance of organismal biology, and researchers must find positions in differently named departments in order to pursue such research.

    A presentation concerning my dissertation research earned me the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Fairfield Award for Innovation in Marine Mammal Research in 2001. This work combined bioacoustics and physiology, leading to an estimate of bioenergetics involved in pressurization of gas for biosonar sound production in bottlenose dolphins. I also collaborated on work establishing the first audiogram for a marine mammal at depths down to 300m. That study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

    I’m sorry that King did not like my earlier compilation of Yecke materials. I will continue to help organize pro-science action in Florida, and time will tell whether I am over-reacting, reacting appropriately, or far too late.

    Let me note that the Florida Citizens for Science web page is up and running now.

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