Still More on Yecke

What was seen in Minnesota with Dr. Yecke was a strange reliance on “Santorum” language.

Science Issues

The last time we went through this process, we learned some important lessons that I hope will make your job easier. Perhaps the best lesson that we learned is that controversial issues can stymie the work of a committee.

For example, last spring, the high school math committee came to a standstill over the issue of calculator use. A great deal of time was spent debating the pros and cons of the issue, when the use of calculators was and was not appropriate – and the group could not reach consensus. Only after the issue was removed from discussion by making it an issue for local school boards was the group able to proceed with its work.

This time, we are faced with some controversial issues in the area of science. Scientific theories such as biological evolution can be the basis for a lot of emotional debate, as strong feelings are held by good people on both sides of such issues.

To prevent such issues from becoming a stumbling block to the science committee, I am suggesting that some congressional language be inserted somewhere in the science document. It might be appropriate, for example, to place this language in the first part of the conceptual framework where the history and nature of science is discussed. In this way, we make it clear that decisions on the issue can be discussed and decided at the local level.

This language is part of the conference report that articulated congressional intent and accompanied the No Child Left Behind Act. It had wide bipartisan support in Congress, having passed the Senate by a vote of 91-8. It reads as follows:

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

Contrary to some reports, nowhere does this language mention intelligent design or creationism. Instead, it simply states the idea that children should understand that there is diversity of opinions and beliefs.

In my desire to learn more about the discussion that surrounded this language I went to the primary source – the Congressional Record (June 13, 2001), which records the statements of members of Congress during floor discussions. Here are the words of Senator Ted Kennedy:

…the language itself is completely consistent with what represents the central values of this body. We want children to be able to speak and examine various scientific theories on the basis of all of the information that is available to them so they can talk about different concepts intelligently with the best information that is before them. I think the Senator has expressed his views in support of the amendment and the reasons for it. I think they make eminently good sense. I intend to support the proposal (p. S6150).

Clearly, this language has widespread bipartisan support. So, since it is important that no committee gets sidetracked or bogged down with controversial issues, I am asking members of the Science Committee to give consideration to this language.

(Remarks by Cheri Pierson Yecke, Ph.D., July 31, 2003)

NCSE has a good resource on the failed Santorum amendment.

And in another resource, NCSE notes that Yecke’s invocation of Senator Kennedy as a concurring authority is incomplete:

Sen. Edward Kennedy, co-chair of the conference committee, also has weighed in on the Santorum language and its meaning for evolution education. In a March 21, 2002, letter to the editors of the Washington Times, Sen. Kennedy wrote:

The March 14 Commentary piece, ‘Illiberal education in Ohio schools,’ written by my colleague Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, erroneously suggested that I support the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ as an alternative to biological evolution. That simply is not true.

Rather, I believe that public school science classes should focus on teaching students how to understand and critically analyze genuine scientific theories. Unlike biological evolution, ‘intelligent design’ is not a genuine scientific theory and, therefore, has no place in the curriculum of our nation’s public school science classes.

The bottom line is that the “Santorum” language in the conference report does not have a simple role as “guidance” as to legislative intent, as most text in the conference report may be interpreted. The “Santorum” language was itself specifically considered for inclusion in the No Child Left Behind Act, and was specifically rejected. Its presence in the conference report cannot properly be given the status that Yecke seeks to impart to it.

This is the sort of thing that people on the ground in Florida need to watch for.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.