The theory of evolution and a re-write of US history are caught in the crosshairs when an unabashed creationist seeks re-election as
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. Don McLeroy, a dentist, Sunday school teacher, and avowed young-earth creationist, leads the Religious Right charge. After briefly serving on his local school board, McLeroy was elected to the Texas State Board of Education and later appointed chairman. During his time on the board, McLeroy has overseen the adoption of new science and history curriculum standards, drawing national attention and placing Texas on the front line of the so-called "culture wars." n his last term, McLeroy, aided by Cynthia Dunbar, an attorney from Houston and professor of Law at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, finds himself not only fighting to change what Americans are taught, but also fighting to retain his seat on the board. Challenged by Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, and Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor from Southern Methodist University in Texas, McLeroy faces his toughest term yet. THE REVISIONARIES follows the rise and fall of some of the most controversial figures in American education through some of their most tumultuous intellectual battles.
A few years ago I was inspired by an article by physicist Brian Greene called "Put a Little Science in Your Life." The article encouraged educators to communicate science in ways that capture the drama and excitement of new discoveries mixed in with the standard technical details. My fifth grade science teacher created this energy, sparking my imagination and interest in science and so I sought to produce a short portrait of a science teacher in Texas that's also moving minds with an intense and electrifying message.
At the time, I discovered a survey stating that half of the American public did not accept the theory of evolution and so I decided to focus my film on a Biology teacher and the lessons on evolution. Not long after I started following these classroom discussions, I learned about the political debate on the State Board of Education in Texas over how evolution would be taught in science and later how the concept of "separation between church and state" would be understood in social studies, among other controversial topics.
I became more interested in the political issue over time, but remained focused on having a character driven story. As I continued to seek intimate access to a few people that were heavily involved, I was drawn to the magnetic personality of Don McLeroy, chairman of the board, and outspoken creationist on a mission to convince the public and next generation of students that evolution is not sound science and that America is exceptional in part because it was founded on Christian principles. After a year of efforts to gain access, Don slowly opened up to me, eventually allowing me full access to his personal life at work, in his fourth grade Sunday school class and in his home.
I'm grateful for Don's willingness to have shared such exclusive aspects of his life for the documentary and my goal is for the compassion and complexities of Don's character to be appreciated and understood beyond the stereotypical persona that's been given to this small town dentist in the past.