The Revisionaries (2012)
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Critic Reviews for The Revisionaries
Thurman presents a largely even-handed recounting, wisely letting folks - and events - speak for themselves.
Of all the scary movies you may see this month, none will be more chilling than Scott Thurman's documentary about the Texas State Board of Education.
Such a feature-length bludgeoning, even in the service of basic social and scientific literacy, is truly discomfiting.
Audience Reviews for The Revisionaries
Anyone who's watched The Daily Show or The Colbert Report knows there's a humorous side to even the most poisonous political battles. In The Revisionaries, director Scott Thurman skewers the Texas State Board of Education in a similar vein and to great effect. Unless you're a "young-earth creationist" like board member Don McLeroy (pictured above), or a Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson disciple like Don's fellow board member, Cynthia Dunbar, you'll find The Revisionaries quite frightening. But Thurman thankfully manages to keep things light enough that your blood pressure won't increase-at least not to fatal levels. Every decade, the Texas State Board of Education meets to set new standards for public school textbooks. Publishers are free to write what they want, but for a book to be sold in the state of Texas, it must be approved by this group of 15 locally elected officials, meaning if you don't follow what the guidelines they set, you're not selling a single book. The implications, however, reach farther than just Texas. According to a University of Texas study, somewhere between 45% and 85% of textbooks in America's public schools come from Texas. In 2010, the board met once again to review and amend the textbook standards. The board was led by McLeroy, a dentist and (to steal a phrase from Mitt Romney) severely conservative Christian, who subscribes to the school of thought that the Earth was created between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago and that man walked with the dinosaurs. Unsurprisingly, then, one of the most fervently debated issues at the first set of hearings is how to teach the theory of evolution. Don and his closest allies, including the aforementioned Dunbar, want to include the words "strengths and weaknesses". They think not including these words is tantamount to intellectual censorship, though they're careful not to call for the inclusion of any sort of intelligent design or creationist language. Opponents to this group includes a number of moderate and liberal activists, as well as scientists, writers, and professors that come to testify at the public hearings. They believe the "strengths and weaknesses" standard is a slippery slope that can ultimately lead to teaching intelligent design, despite the absence of such explicit language. They also don't equate a hole in the theory of evolution to a "weakness". Just because science hasn't uncovered the source of life doesn't mean Darwinism is a weak or flawed premise. Ultimately, a "compromise" is reached by the board members, but for all intents and purposes, it's a loss for those on the Left and Center of the political spectrum. But the evolution debate is only the beginning. Months later, the board turns its attention to American history, and things, if it's even possible, get even uglier than they did the first time. But the hearings are now on the public's stream of consciousness, and McLeroy must balance his dental practice and board duties with a heated re-election battle. The Revisionaries is just flat-out crazy. As is my policy with documentaries, I'm not giving the film a star rating, in order to leave me free to editorialize. So I don't feel conflicted saying Don, Cynthia, and most of their colleagues are out of their minds. Don is quoted saying education is too important not to politicize it, while Cynthia wrote in her book, One Nation Under God, "The establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and even tyrannical." Their American history debates are truly maddening, what with their insistence that discussing racial discrimination in America be removed from the standards, references to hip-hop music be replaced by country, and the 44th President of the United States be consistently referred to as "Barack Hussein Obama" (really, will you be requiring all American presidents to go by their middle names? Also, fuck you.) Writing about The Revisionaries isn't as fun as watching it was because the Thurman's playful style (particularly when it comes to music) is sadly absent from this post. But he and his team manage to make dull-as-dishwater C-SPAN fodder interesting and entertaining. The cuts to the more rational board members are always deliberate and, nine times out of ten, they elicit laughter. Don, too, is such an unusual guy that you can't help but begrudgingly admire his earnestness while simultaneously being scared to death by his power and influence. Still, when he (spoiler alert!) loses his seat on the board, you'll feel a twang of sympathy for him. He means well. He's just extraordinarily misguided. The Revisionaries is fascinating if for no other reason than you get to see how far some of our fellow countrymen and women are detached from reality. Their scorn for "science" and "experts" is comical but bizarre and very real. Having faith is one thing but having faith at the expense of logic, fact, and ironically enough, compassion is another. The two schools of thought can be reconciled easily enough if one has an open mind, but the people depicted in The Revisionaries do not. I'm happy Thurman and company have shed some light on them in an amusing way, but in the process, he scared me shitless and made me angry. His film is one that will undoubtably stir you on some level, and though the feelings might not always be pleasant, at least we still have seven years before this process must start up again. http://www.johnlikesmovies.com/revisionaries/
Documenting the conservative influence on the extremely influential Texas Board of Education, "The Revisionaries" provides shocking insight into the ways these groups attempt to re-write history to fit their ideological agenda at the expense of scientific fact.
I don't think this is going to be so much a review as much as it is a rant on the manipulation of the Texas Board of Education to make textbooks feel more in-line with their personal religious beliefs. There's a moment in the film where Cynthia Dunbar says why should they put something in textbooks if it disagrees with what the majority of Americans believe. And this, of course, is absolute insanity. You can't say that because the majority of Americans are Christians that then the textbooks that public schools buy should reflect those beliefs. It is unacceptable that people can so openly make decisions that affect the education of MILLIONS of kids, ages 5-18, based on the fact that their religion isn't reflected in the books' teachings. That's why there's such a thing called Sunday school, where you can teach kids all you want about the ark and how dinosaurs were on the ark, a ridiculous notion. Nobody can come in and tell you what you teach your kids in bible class, even if I sometimes wish that scientists would protest the nonsense they teach these kids at these Sunday schools. So don't use your religion to negatively affect what kids in public school learn. At first I thought this would affect science textbooks and the theory of evolution, even though it's fact and not even a theory, but it also ends up affecting social studies classes. The big offender here is Cynthia Dunbar putting forward an amendment that completely REMOVES Thomas Jefferson from history textbooks and replaces him with John Calvin, a Christian theologian. The reason for justifying this, and pardon the word, retarded amendment is that, as Cynthia Dunbar puts it, Jefferson got his theological ideas from Calvin so therefore that, somehow, makes him more important, historically, than Thomas Jefferson, ie: one of the men who drafted the Declaration of Independence. One of the founding fathers. While I think that the founding fathers are sometimes put on a gigantic pedestal as one of the greatest men who ever lived, this notion that Calvin was more important in the history of the United States of America than one of the men who helped WRITE the Declaration of Independence is absolutely fucking insulting. It's an example of the Board FORCING their religion into what kids learn and that is simply bullshit. There are scenes of these elected officials openly PRAYING in the office where they're about to decide the future of millions of kids. Religion should simply be kept out of politics and most importantly education, without exception. And the funny thing is when someone even BRINGS up the subject of separation of Church and State, Dunbar goes on a fucking hissy fit and refusing to vote on the amendment put forward, which lost handily. And then there's Don McLeroy, the single most idiotic man in the film, as if Dunbar wasn't a handful already. This guy comes across as an uneducated and uninformed bumbling fool. He really does, there are sometimes where you can see the guy is simply way over his head. There's one scene where he's trying to make a case against the science experts where he doesn't even put together ONE coherent sentence. And THIS was a guy that was a former chairman of the Board of Education, deciding what millions of kids learned. That's a fucking scary thought. I always find arrogant and idiotic when these creationists think they know more than the scientists who have studied, tested, hypothesized and come to a consensus on a subject. Why would we elect officials to office to decide what kids should or should not learn about science when they don't even understand anything about it? What information do these creationists have, that can be scientifically studied, to trump what the experts say? The Bible? I find it insulting that these people like McLeroy thinks that he's so smart that he knows better than the people who studied this despite having no background in science. Again, these are people making decisions on what your kids learn in school. This is unacceptable. There's also a scene where McLeroy, teaching kids in a Sunday class, tries to make the case that America was, and was always intended to be, a Christian nation. Are you ready for this? McLeroy thinks that because there is similar wording between the Declaration of Independence and the Bible that that must mean that the founding fathers meant for this to be a christian nation with christian ideals. He really said this. No one this dumb should be allowed even 2 miles within a school. It was embarrassing to the point that I really felt bad for the kids in his class. There's also another scene in the film where Cynthia Dunbar is OPENLY PRAYING to the Lord that he should invade every aspect of our lives, INCLUDING OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS. This really happened. This REALLY happened. Don't get me wrong, you can have your religious beliefs, but keep that shit out of politics and even more so, out of education. This is the future of the country and you're depriving them of a chance to REALLY learn something by forcing your religion in their textbooks. And the even more sad thing about this is that these books with these idiotic amendments on evolution and social studies CANNOT be fixed until 2020 when the textbooks are up for review again. That means for SEVEN more years, kids in Texas will have textbooks that refuse to give them the TRUTH and would rather they just become indoctrinated religious fanatics. I hope to GOD, pun intended, that when these kids go to college and universities that they actually learn something about real science and REAL history. Anyway, I believe I have ranted long enough. As you can tell, at least if you believe in evolution and keeping religion out of education, this will be an infuriating watch. But it is also eye-opening and hopefully the film reaches enough eyes to where in 2020 there is more awareness towards this issue and positive changes are made. You could say the film is "biased" but they show Cynthia Dunbar and Don McLeroy's point of view too, the film lets them dig their own grave without much help from the editors. Highly recommended viewing, even if it's an infuriating watch.
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