Films / Reviews

The Revisionaries

Synopsis (from The Revisionaries website):  In Austin, Texas, fifteen people influence what is taught to the next generation of American children. Once every decade, the highly politicized Texas State Board of Education rewrites the teaching and textbook standards for its nearly 5 million schoolchildren. And when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas affects the nation as a whole.

Last night, I went up to Seattle to check out this documentary as a part of the Seattle International Film Festival.  The director Scott Thurman and one of the science experts shown in the film, Ron Wetherington, were there for q&a after the showing.

The documentary was a well-made, behind-the-scenes look at the Texas State Board of Education and how they write/rewrite standards for teaching and textbooks.  The first half mainly focuses on the fight between intelligent design and evolution.  The second half begins to show the same process for social studies.

Don McLeroy has been serving on the board for the past 12 years, is a creationist, a dentist, a father and husband, and has been fighting to have textbooks highlight all the weaknesses of evolution.  Kathy Miller and Ron Wetherington are the two main people that the film shows fighting against letting religion dictate what the standards are.

This has to be one of the most honest and respectful documentaries I’ve seen.  Of course, you can see the bias, but it’s not in your face or trying to force the audience to see it the filmmaker’s way.  It documents the process and hears from each side in a way so that most people might actually listen, coming to their own conclusions.

The Q&A:

As people began asking questions such as, “Is there any possible way to actually talk to those people?  How do you change their minds?”  Thurman and Wetherington tactfully told the audience how “those” people are people too.  “Those” people have come to screenings of this film, and liked it.  They have every right to believe what they believe.  The point of the film was not to force opinions or beliefs onto anybody, but to make the general public aware of how standards are made.  (When it was time to vote for board members, only 20% of voters in Texas actually voted.)  Both Wetherington and Thurman said how they like McLeroy as a person.  While they strongly disagree with his views, they respect him, and that showed in the documentary.  Thurman told us he was trying to reach out to more than just liberals, but to moderate conservatives as well, with this documentary.

There were some questions about why Thurman didn’t talk much about how Texas standards affect the entire nation, though it was mentioned.  Thurman explained that there simply aren’t enough facts about how exactly Texas textbook standards affect the rest of this country.  Basically, Texas is the biggest buyer from the textbook companies.  What Texas wants, the textbook companies write, and that typically is fine for every other state.  Since Texas is where the money is, in terms of selling textbooks, Texas is the state the publishers will make sure they sell to.

The questions of, “What can we do?” came up.  The quick answer: vote in your local elections.  Tell other people to vote, and get the word out about how these standards are formed.  Wetherington also went on to say that we need to figure out a way for the elections not to be partisan or appointed.  He says we need to find a way to change how the elections work, that political sides should not come into play.


According to the website, the film will be screened June 22nd and 23rd at  the AFI – Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival.  It has no screenings after that, and I don’t see info about it being released.

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