The Revisionaries: Documentary Goes Inside Texas Textbook Controversy

About Rachel Tabachnick

Rachel Tabachnick is a PRA fellow and researches the impact of the Religious Right on policy and politics in education, economics, the environment, and foreign policy. She has spoken at conferences on progressive activism, labor, environmental policy, and the impact of Christian Zionism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is also a regular contributor to Talk2action.org
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Texas Board chair Don McLeroy in The Revisionaries.

Texas Board chair Don McLeroy. The Revisionaries.

From 2009 to 2010, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) set about the once-a-decade task of writing curriculum standards for Texas’ almost five million school children. Claiming that “Academia is skewed too far to the left,” right-wing Board members voted to undermine the teaching of evolution and rewrite history from a Christian nationalist perspective.

The Revisionaries, a documentary available from PBS for online viewing through February 27, follows the Texas Board during this controversial process with nationwide repercussions: because their curriculum standards serve as guidelines for textbook publishers competing for the massive Texas market, decisions made in the Lone Star State can impact education across the country.

Filmed over a period of three years, the documentary focuses on three major figures: Board chair and self-described creationist Don McLeroy; Kathy Miller, head of the Texas Freedom Network, the “state’s watchdog” monitoring the Christian Right; and Ron Wetherington, an anthropologist specializing in evolutionary theory who reviewed the proposed science curricula. The Board’s other anti-evolution advocates included Cynthia Dunbar, who commuted from her Texas home to teach at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Virginia.

Historian Eric Foner summarized some of the changes in The Nation: “conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of: women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military and religion. They do not think students should learn about women who demanded greater equality; other parts of the Constitution; slavery, Reconstruction and the unequal treatment of nonwhites generally; environmentalists; labor unions; federal economic regulation; or foreigners.” My own Public Eye article, “From Schoolhouse to Statehouse,” looked at the new standards’ promotion of creationism and denial that “separation of church and state” was intended by the Founding Fathers.

Since the controversial events of 2009 and 2010, Texas Senate Bill 6 has shifted the authority to select textbooks from the state to local school districts. But The Revisionaries demonstrates only one of the many ways that creationism and is being taught with public dollars. Another avenue is through bills that mandate “teaching the controversy,” which allow creationist materials to be introduced into classrooms as a counter to evolution. Such bills passed in Louisiana (2008) and Tennessee (2012), and at least five other states are considering similar bills this year.

In addition, sixteen states have “private school choice” programs that divert public funds to private schools, promoted primarily by the American Federation for Children and its affiliates, which push legislatures to pass school vouchers and corporate tax credit programs. Several hundred schools in these programs, as documented by Rice University student Zack Kopplin and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry, use textbooks from A Beka Books, Bob Jones University Press, and other publishers that teach young earth creationism, revisionist history, and bigotry toward other faiths.

Following is an excerpt from a video created by Bruce Wilson of Talk2action.org and myself, documenting what appears in some textbooks currently used in private schools receiving “school choice” funding.

Examples from A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press Curricula

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