Hindsight is--uh, Legally Blind, Actually

Now that she's leaving, Cheri Pierson Yecke's tenure as schools czar recalled as salad days

Last week, to remarkably little fanfare, Cheri Pierson Yecke announced she was abandoning her congressional run--but not her post as hawk-scholar at the Center for the American Experiment--in favor of an appointment as Jeb Bush's K-12 Education Chancellor in Florida. The usual tighty righties (on this side of the river and that one) reacted with dispair: Minnesota's schoolchildren, notoriously illiterate due to the failings of a cabal of politically correct pot smokers, will now have to compete against legions of patriotic Floridians who hail Christopher Colombus as the agent of their righteous deliverance. That much we expected.

What was less expected was the Star Tribune's synthesis of her tenure, which soft-pedaled the chronology of lunatic opinions Yecke spouted on everything from public education as an entitlement to her view that history, as it's currently taught, is anti-American.

Detractors said Yecke tried to impose a right-wing agenda that promoted too much competition and too little learning. She was outspoken and provocative. Once she charged that an anti-American element was trying to shift teaching toward much that was negative about American history. On another occasion, she said Christopher Columbus did not commit genocide against American Indians, sparking a protest by American Indian leaders and other social activists.

The St. Petersburg Times was a little more explicit.

When Minnesota state science standards were reviewed in 2003, Yecke subtly tried to open the door for faith-based theories such as intelligent design, said Russanne Low, a former University of Minnesota researcher who participated in the review.

Yecke "misrepresented" the position of the federal No Child Left Behind Act on the issue, implying it sanctioned the teaching of alternative theories, said Low, who now works at a climate research center in Colorado.

And when the main committee's pro-evolution position was posted for public review, she said, Yecke's office altered the language to imply evolution was only one of several credible theories that explain the diversity of life on earth - a position the vast majority of scientists say is bunk.

The paper outlined Yecke's response to charges--essentially that she'd been misunderstood--but then took the now journalistically archaic step of actually asking her what she thought:

Yecke summed up her position this way: Students should be told that evolution is controversial, but science teachers should proceed to teach it.

"The kids aren't dumb," she said. "You may as well acknowledge there are different beliefs and move on."

Yecke said she believes "God created heavens and the earth ... but my personal belief has no bearing on what should be taught in the schools."

She bemoaned the possibility that a messy debate over evolution in Florida might divert attention from the big issues she wants to focus on: academic improvement, accountability and closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.

So did the Star Tribune decide that creationism is just too messy to bring up again and again, or is this another chapter in the ongoing Portland Avenue soap opera that might best be slugged "We've Lost Touch with Ham Lake, People--Quick, Organize a Focus Group!"

(Bonus reading: This week's Orlando Weekly carries a short item on Yecke's appointment that not only pulls out all the stops and calls her a "fundie nutball," it quotes my unguarded but honest reaction to the news that Yecke's headed south.)

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