It seem that everything is indeed bigger in Texas, including the influence of the Texas State Board of Education. That controversial government body is the focus of a new documentary I had the pleasure of seeing this past weekend: The Revisionaries
The movie focuses on the strong influence of intelligent design proponents and creationists over Texas's state board. In particular, the film presents a personal, in-depth look at the peculiar Dentist/young Earth creationist who headed the board from 2007 to 2009: Don McLeroy
This film is at once distressing, enlightening, and, at times, hilarious. Condensing days worth of board meeting footage, the filmmakers reveal the frequently ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary decisions that have a major impact on textbooks not only in Texas but also across the U.S.
Because the Texas textbook market is so enormous, the board can exert indirect influence over science education nationwide. After seeing the way some members of the board reviled experts and ignored basic scientific principles, that influence troubled me.
For instance, here's a few of the quotes from McLeroy:
- When crafting standards at board meetings that will affect textbook publishing for the next 10 years: "I would like to delete 'hip hop' and insert 'country music.'"
- "I would like to strike the words 'women and minority.'"
- And finally, one of his election mantras: "I disagree with these experts. Somebody's gotta stand up to experts."
McLeroy has some glaring misconceptions about evolutionary theory. For instance, he believes that dinosaurs and humans roamed the Earth together, dinosaurs rode aboard Noah's Ark, and the Earth is no more than 10,000 years old.
Despite holding these beliefs, he maintains that he can separate his religious convictions from the educational policy decisions he makes on the board. That doesn't seem to be the case, however.
He has consistently attempted to percolate intelligent design ideas into Texas' science education system under the guise of highlighting evolution's weaknesses.
What really struck me was the arrogance that several board members had when talking about this subject. As Director Scott Thurman said after the screening I attended, these board members wouldn't claim to be experts on string theory or quantum mechanics. Nonetheless, they'll talk your ear off when it comes to evolution.
So what can be done to keep legitimate science in the classroom? Thurman emphasized a calm approach.
Instead of attacking an opponent's character or beliefs, science education supporters need to continue a rational discussion with all parties involved, according to Thurman. For instance, despite McLeroy's misguided beliefs on science education, he's actually portrayed as a very likable, seemingly genuine person in the film.
McLeroy seems to have good intentions when it comes to education, but he distrusts much of the scientific establishment (which is ironic considering his background in engineering and dentistry). Although it can be difficult, more moderate board members have to work with the more reactionary members if they want to accomplish anything.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film. It was informative yet entertaining, and the crowd periodically burst into laughter over the absurdity of some of the board meetings. Furthermore, the audience of science teachers at the screening seemed to greatly appreciate the film as well.
As of now, the film is touring several festivals, and there will be a national screening early next year on PBS. Educators can find out more about how to see the film from The Revisionaries' website