Moviecation: The Revisionaries
In Austin, 15 people influence what is taught to the next generation of American children. Once every decade the Texas State Board of Education rewrites the teaching and textbook standards for its nearly five million schoolchildren. And when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas affects the nation as a whole because it is one of the few where the state decides what books schools can buy, rather than leaving it up to local districts.
As a result, the Texas State Board of Education has the power to shape the textbooks that children around the country read for years to come.
The documentary film The Revisionaries, directed by University of North Texas alumnus Scott Thurman, covers the board’s controversial debates in 2009, when changes to the textbooks that centered on the teachings of evolution and science were discussed.
Thurman says that his motivation for the movie came from his interest in evolution and education of science.
“Specifically evolution because it’s something that has scientific consistency as the public, especially the Texas public, majority of them, don’t accept it,” said Thurman.
What started out as Thurman’s thesis graduate film project, The Revisionaries grew into something much bigger. It was filmed for three-and-a-half years, which allowed him to capture all the intensity of the so-called culture wars.
It indicates the clash of social conservatives and liberal progressives on the school board who battle the issues of reason over religion. It shows the desire and its opposition to push the non-science of creationism over the established science of evolution in textbooks.
In the midst of it all is Don McLeroy, suburban dentist with sincere manners and a passion for education, as he educated himself on a wide range of topics. With his balding head, heartwarming smile and pleated slacks, he resembles one of your good neighbors. At first sight, you grow to like him.They say appearance can be deceiving though.
McLeroy is also a Sunday school teacher and an acknowledged young-earth creationist, leading the Religious Right charge. After serving on his local school board, McLeroy was elected to the Texas State Board of Education and later appointed chairman. He became nationally known for his efforts to undermine scientific education and sneak covert religion into textbooks. The Revisionaries shows the viewers the world from McLeroy’s point of view.
Despite having an image of the villain in the movie, McLeroy feels almost oppressed by pompous experts with upscale university degrees who insist on a difference between scientific evidence and faith, based on personal opinion, while he genuinely believes that the foundation of modern science is based on weaknesses in evolutionary theory.
Thurman says that he grew to like McLeroy on a personal level throughout the filming of the documentary.
“On one hand you have your story; on the other hand you have the reality that you are presented with once you go out into the field. So, marrying those two is documentary filmmakers’ challenge. What I learned is basically, wait until you learn about the people and the issue before you have your mind made up to whether or not they are good or bad or how you feel on the particular issue. Wait until you learn and understand it. Don’t go in with a preconceived idea and let that play out.”
In his last term, McLeroy finds himself not only fighting to change what Americans are taught, but also fighting to retain his seat on the board. Challenged by his opponents, he will have the hardest term yet.
According to Thurman, the movie is edited from a pro-science, pro-separation of church and state perspective; however, he believes it still represents the right, conservative side fairly.
“They feel that we treated them fairly. It’s done in such a way that it’s even handed in it, and to prove that, the main character actually supports the film,” said Thurman.
The Revisionaries shines a spotlight on the key players affecting U-S high school textbook curriculum, representing a wide range of personalities and ambitions.
With the upcoming elections, Thurman hopes viewers will learn by watching his movie to be informed voters.
“I would want them to be interested and more informed, going in to voting,” said Thurman.
Thurman shows the back room discussions between the board members and the experts and takes us with them as they make their decisions.
The Revisionaries premiered on April Twentieth 2012 at the Tribeca Film Festival, winning the Festival’s Special Jury Prize. After the showing, the documentary stirred up a lot of mixed emotions. But American filmmaker Michael Moore said it’s a must-see film for anyone concerned about enforced ignorance and intolerance, and for those who still believe in science and in Thomas Jefferson.
From the Other Side of Radio, this is Veronika Kondratieva with Moviecation.