Fresh off the heels of “Bully” the salient and engaging documentary “The Revisionaries” could be the sequel to the “What’s Wrong With American Schools Now?” series.
“Revisionaries” centers on conservative Texas School Board member Don McLeroy, a creationist who’s apparently made it his life’s goal to impose creationist beliefs in public school curricula while simultaneously working to discredit the theory of evolution.
This is a compelling and surprising work by first-time director Scott Thurman; he manages to provide a thoughtful and impartial look at both sides of the “culture wars” while also giving plenty of air-time to the conservative players.
What sets McLeroy apart from any other creationist in power is that he heads the Texas school board during a time when it is tasked with creating guidelines for future textbook publishers. And what happens in Texas sets the standard for how all textbooks are published nationwide.
At the heart of the discussion in “The Revisionaries” is how to apply scrutiny to the theory of evolution. To quote Van Jones (an activist and civil rights attorney), who was interviewed in the film, “there are two types of smart people in this world, those who take simple ideas and make them difficult to understand or those who take difficult ideas and make them simple to understand.”
The conservative board members—clearly attempting to do the former—push their religious agenda on public schools while displaying a lack of understanding of the scientific method, a fact that will likely infuriate any knowing viewer, as the hearings continue and amendments are passed. Eventually the liberals side of the debate work out a compromise that isn’t perfect, but stands to be better than the alternative.
For the next decade textbooks publishers who publish not just in Texas, but for the entire school system in the U.S, will be vying for Texas School Board approval on these subjects. The result will be a massive overhaul of American Science, Social Studies and History texts.
“Bully” was a sleeper hit last year at Tribeca, overshadowed by “Bombay Beach” which challenged traditional techniques of documentary filmmaking. But it is “Bully” which, a year later, has not only received a wide release but also become a cause célèbre. The same outcome may turn out for “The Revisionaries,” although challenging the status quo (four out of ten Americans believe in creationism) could prove an uphill battle. At the very least, this new documentary may help mobilize the undecided voter block.