Cheri Yecke, Intelligent Design, and Scrubbing the Past

Florida state K-12 education chancellor Dr. Cheri P. Yecke is disputing the accuracy of a newspaper report published back on October 9, 2003. I had quoted that report in a post here on August 30, 2005, so last week I got an email from “ReputationDefenders” saying that they were working for Dr. Yecke, and would appreciate my cooperation in removing or modifying the offending quote.

I’m all for accuracy of content, so what I did was to add a quote from the email just after the disputed quote, showing everyone that the quote is disputed.

Since the dispute centers upon the content of some printed publicity materials given out before a commissioner’s hearing in Minnesota, it seems to me that this is, in principle, a checkable matter: find the printed material and figure out who has got it right, and who has got it wrong. I asked ReputationDefenders about perhaps getting a copy of the material from Dr. Yecke. That was not productive. I called up the original reporter, trying to track things down from that end. Joel said that he has never received a complaint from Yecke over the content of the article. And I asked Ron Matus of the St. Petersburg Times to check into this, since working journalists often can get access to this sort of material quickly. So far, the actual document in question remains unavailable.

Ron Matus has a news item in the St. Petersburg Times relating developments on this so far. I’m hoping that with this publicity, someone will come forward with the document that I’m looking for to make a definitive determination on what really was the case back in 2003.

Update: Readers write to point me to further resources.

Minnesota Academic Standards Committee
Remarks by Cheri Pierson Yecke, Ph.D.
Commissioner of Education

July 31, 2003

“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 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 when history and nature of science is discussed. In this way, we make it clear that decision on the(illegible) be discussed and decided at the local level.

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

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish 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 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 a diversity of opinion.

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 that 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 (illegible) think they make eminently good sense. I intent 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.”

(Source: Document downloaded from the Minnesota Department of Education, 2005/09/06)

And things I overlooked on the NCSE website:

NCSE report on a June 9, 2003 radio interview with Yecke: However, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio on June 9, 2003, Dr. Yecke stated that she believes “every local district should have the freedom to teach creationism if that is what they choose.”

NCSE report concerning Yecke’s invocation of the rejected Santorum language.

See also my previous blog posts concerning Yecke and her association with the rejected Santorum language here and here.

NCSE report on changes made in the Minnesota science standards.

AIBS report on Yecke and Santorum language: “”Yecke has requested clarification from the U.S. Department of Education on the so-called Santorum Amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act. Yecke is waiting to see if she receives the same guidance provided to Ohio. Yecke seems optimistic that teachings about a higher being may be able to be included wherever the topic of biological evolution is covered. A recent article by John Welbes of the Pioneer Press reports that “The group writing Minnesota’s new science standards won’t be asked to choose between teaching evolution or creationism, but it will get a recommendation from the state’s education commissioner that students be exposed to differing views on the subject.” Yecke has also expressed a preference that issues related to evolution education be left to the discretion of local school districts and teachers.”

Discovery Institute file containing Boehner’s “guidance” letter.

North Texas Skeptics archive of Pioneer Press article.

Thanks to Judy Budreau and R.B. Hoppe.

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10 thoughts on “Cheri Yecke, Intelligent Design, and Scrubbing the Past

  1. Greg Laden

    I’ve put up two posts on this, the second of which includes the speech Yecke made at the time supplied to us by Judy Budreau, as well as a fuller representation of Kennedy’s statement referred to in that speech of Yecke’s

    Keep up the good work!

    http://gregladen.com/wordpress/?p=1021

  2. Inoculated Mind

    I support you, Wes. Let them prove that it is false before you take it down, and then if you can find proof positive that it is true, put it all over the place and fellow bloggers will help spread it around!

  3. Austringer Post author

    Greg, I note in the comments that RBH says the Pioneer Press article makes the same claims as the Princeton Union-Eagle article. That would be stunning. However, looking at the link to the archived article, that this is what the Pioneer press had:

    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.

    This is not the same thing as the Union-Eagle article said. The PUE article has Yecke herself saying that IDC is one of the things that local districts may teach; the PP article has Yecke backing the rejected Santorum language (bad enough in itself), but not herself specifying IDC as one of the permitted “alternate views”. It is this difference between “by her hand” and “on her watch” that I think has caused Yecke to act.

  4. Austringer Post author

    Thanks, Greg; those videos have the smoking gun. I’m making a new post for this.

  5. Austringer Post author

    Wow. That’s… interesting. I will certainly make it known if anything untoward happens, but so far ReputationDefenders has been unfailingly polite in their interactions. Besides, since I’m now in Michigan, someone looking to make good on a death threat could take a wrong turn and end up at Ted Nugent’s place.

  6. Don Thieme

    Apparently, Dr. Cheri was trying to get the Minnesota Academic Standards Committee
    to insert Santorum into this document on teaching science? Yeck!

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