21 December 2007

Texas Education Agency and Chris Comer, Part 21

TEA logoBack as an undergraduate, I remember one of my psychology professors talking about the most complimentary and most destructive things you could say about a person. The best compliment to be paid was to say someone was "honest." The worst thing you could say about someone was to call them a "liar."

So I have real strong misgivings over various blogs that have called Lizzette Reynolds (the woman who initially called for Comer to be fired or reassigned) a liar (e.g., Panda's Thumb, to name just one prominent one). A lot of blog responses contained variations on, "How do you know when a creationist / Bushie / fundy lies? Her lips move." And some were nastier.

But did she say anything that contradicted the known facts?

Several people pointed out that at one point, Ms. Reynolds said:
What I didn’t think about was evolution in terms of a political struggle.
when earlier, she mentioned the whole reason she forwarded the email to Comer's bosses was:
I looked at it and said, “This could be political.”
Juxtaposed like that in a convenient quote mine, it does look like a contradiction. But does it represent a lie? Personally, I'm willing to give Ms. Reynolds the benefit of the doubt at least here. I think it's possible to recognize that something has political implications, but not recognize how big those implications are. And we often say slightly contradictory things, particularly about something abstract like "politics."

Others also found it improbable that she was not aware of Ms. Comer's resignation. Working in a bureaucratic administration myself, I find this all to easy to imagine happening. You start something and people forget to follow-up and tell you something's gone on. Unless someone else can verify that Ms. Reynolds was informed before that, that isn't grounds to call her a liar, either.

I am not trying to let Ms. Reynolds off the hook here. Her initial actions look incredibly thin-skinned and hyper-reactionary. Ms. Reynolds email about Comer's "FYI" said:
"This is something that the State Board, the Governor's Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."
But virtually nobody has agreed that "FYI" implies endorsement or support.

Of all the players involved, Ms. Reynolds has came closer than anyone else in the TEA administration to saying what should be said: "We made a mistake."

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