There has been controversy over a particular quote of Cheri Pierson Yecke. The Princeton Union-Eagle reported on October 9th, 2003 that Yecke had said local schools districts could teach “intelligent design”. I copied that quote in a post here on August 30, 2005. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from ReputationDefenders on Yecke’s behalf asking for removal of the quote on the grounds that it was false.
Several Minnesotans have said that the position noted by the Princeton Union-Eagle was, in fact, accurate. Over on Greg Laden’s blog, “Cat’s Staff” noted that a Minnesota TV station had video of Yecke discussing the science standards. I viewed it, then transcribed the relevant part. As far as I am concerned, the Princeton Union-Eagle is vindicated in this matter; at the time that they reported, Cheri Pierson Yecke was indeed saying that teaching “intelligent design” was a decision that local school districts could undertake. Both the quote from the Princeton Union-Eagle and the subsequent criticism I made of Yecke’s position on the issue are upheld by this source.
Read on for the details.
First, let’s review the statement at issue:
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.
Next, here is the claim from Yecke that the reported statement was inaccurate, from email I received on 2007/06/14:
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.
Here is my transcript of the discussion of “intelligent design” as it came up during TPT’s “Almanac” program on September 12, 2003 featuring the hosts, Cheri Pierson Yecke, and Minnesota State Rep. Jim Davnie. That’s from about 2:55 to around 5:00 in the video. (Emphasis added.)
Host: What happened with the evolution versus creationism there were a couple of copies floating around, there was, was it confusion, or was there, go ahead…
CPY: We, we had a major screwup, and I, I apologize. Uh, there were several versions going around, we had some, some versions on a hard, on a hard drive, some on a floppy disk and we ended up putting the wrong one on our website. As soon as the, uh, it was brought to our attention we fixed it and so the ones that are up there now are correct. It’s the, it’s the consensus document and that’s the one that we’ll be talk talking about at the public hearings.
Host: How much internal debate was there in the department over creationism versus evolution?
CPY: Well, creationism is off the table completely because of a 1987 supreme court ruling. 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 we brought that up to the committee members because we didn’t want to see this just evolve into a controversy. We spent a lot of time on the math committee just just talking about the use of calculators, and time is precious, so we wanted to make sure that we stopped any kind of controversy at the beginning. And it is well understood now that this is a decision that would be made by local school boards and not the state.
JD: What the commissioner is failing to mention [undecipherable] is that the Santorum amendment that she refers to never passed into law. And Minnesota has to follow federal law, not, uh, amendments that were offered in conference committees at the federal level.
CPY: But I would beg to differ with you, representative Davnie, because the conference committee report when I worked at the department of education, that and the congressional record is what we used to inform our policy-making. That was the intent of congress, and it came forward in a document that’s about this thick I would have brought it tonight if I knew we were going to discuss it, and it’s there as a way to give guidance to the states so that we can tell local school districts what what is and is not permissible and what they can do.
JD: The risk we run here is weakening Minnesota science curriculum. […]
[2007/06/30: I reviewed the video again, and I did find I had left out a word in Yecke’s text above. I originally had “students should exposed”, the correct transcription is “students should be exposed”. — WRE]
I think that is about as clear a statement of advocacy as one can hope for.
Please also note that Yecke, despite her confident statements in the above, is wrong about the status of the Santorum language. I’ve blogged about this before; here’s my conclusion:
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.
When called on the matter of her reliance on the Santorum language back in 2005, Yecke offered a batch of irrelevancies about what other materials had been provided to the Minnesota science standards writing committee. Here’s my conclusion to that escapade:
So, Cheri, would you mind actually addressing the point at issue sometime soon? While it may be too much to hope for responsibility-shouldering for the various problems in the Minnesota science standards process, it would be good to get an explicit indication that Florida is not being set up for a repeat of recent history. Until the education administrators clearly say that science classrooms are only open to those ideas that have passed scientific muster and that they will avoid using legal language that was considered and specifically set aside by the US Congress, Florida’s citizens need to beware of the dangers of playing “trust me” roulette with science education in the state.
It appears that the video source demonstrates that both the reportage and criticism of Yecke have been dead-on accurate thus far.
Update: Dr. Yecke, if you are reading this, I would suggest that if you have actually changed your mind about the legitimacy of “intelligent design” creationism and other forms of antievolution, you should simply hold a press conference and announce that upon reflection, you have changed your position, and that Florida’s students deserve to learn in their science classrooms only science that has passed the muster of scientific scrutiny, and that narrow religious viewpoints won’t be taught as science on your watch. Do you think you could do that? It would make moot the documented stance you took back in 2003, and it would just be the right thing to do. “Intelligent design” originated as a sham in 1987 to evade the Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision, and the actions of the professional “intelligent design” avocates since then have not indicated any improvement in its moral character. Consider the company you keep as an unshriven IDC advocate, for instance, that of defender of a Holocaust denier William Dembski.
Update 2007/07/01: Apropos to the topic of antievolutionist attempts to rewrite reality, there is today’s bit of vandalism. They decided to go
Update 2007/07/16: There was a specific legal authority that had the stuff about failed amendments, and I have been looking around for that. As usual, the NCSE was on ball with the goods:
The decision to remove an amendment from the text of a bill has a very specific legal meaning. It suggests that the legislature considered the language in question and rejected it. Sutherland on Statutory Construction, the leading treatise on statutory interpretation, has this to say on the subject: “The rejection of an amendment indicates that the legislature does not intend the bill to include the provisions embodied in the rejected amendment.” N. Singer, Sutherland on Statutory Construction 48:18 (2000). Congress deleted the Santorum Amendment from the legislation. This provides strong evidence that Congress considered the views expressed in this amendment, and did not support them.
The text remaining in the conference report has a history, and cannot be treated as if it did not have that history. The fact that other conference language that never was considered for inclusion in a law can be advisory is irrelevant to the status of language that was so considered, and then rejected. The notion that it could be advisory requires a willful ignorance of history and legal interpretation.