The Prophetic Film that Forewarned Today’s Education Wars

The Revisionaries” has undoubtedly stood the test of time, its relevance magnified in the contemporary political environment. The reflections and insights shared in this article are sourced from my conversation with Scott and an article published by Filmmaker Magazine in 2012, which is available here.

The Revisionaries Revisited: The Prophetic Film that Forewarned Today’s Education Wars

Over a decade ago, in a landscape where ideological battles often spilled into our classrooms, Scott Thurman’s documentary, “The Revisionaries,” emerged as a harbinger of potential challenges to come. Set against the backdrop of the Texas State Board of Education’s discussions on curriculum standards, the documentary has grown only more relevant, especially in light of Florida’s recent educational upheavals.

Austin, Texas: A nexus where just fifteen individuals had the enormous responsibility of shaping the educational narrative for millions. “The Revisionaries” illuminated this daunting scenario, meticulously exploring the intricate dynamics and personalities within the Texas Board of Education. Thurman emphasized that the board’s decisions not only shaped Texas but echoed across the nation, given the state’s textbook influence.

At the heart of the film stood Don McLeroy, the then-chairman of the board, a devout young-earth creationist and Sunday school teacher. While many narratives would simplify McLeroy’s role given his deeply rooted religious convictions, Thurman chose a more nuanced approach, revealing layers to McLeroy that often remain hidden in the political discourse. This intricate storytelling technique can be attributed to Thurman’s background in news photography and his evolution into observational documentary filmmaking.


texas state capitol at the bottom, a large title wave on top with noah's ark on the top of the wave

 Reflecting on the making of the documentary, Thurman, now associated with Austin Documentary Fans, had shared insights into his journey. “My initial curiosity was the debate over teaching evolution,” he had noted. “But as I delved deeper, it became evident that this was just a fragment of a broader narrative about power, influence, and shaping future generations.”

Fast forward to today, and we witness echoes of Thurman’s insights in Florida. The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has been proactive in his attempts to mold educational content, particularly around subjects like critical race theory and gender studies. The resonance between the events captured by Thurman in Texas and today’s Florida is undeniable.

So, in retrospect, was “The Revisionaries” a prescient warning of the present-day educational battlegrounds? It certainly appears so. Thurman’s film expanded beyond Texas, offering a lens into the ongoing American culture wars, particularly their manifestation in education. It showcased that curricular disagreements aren’t just about factuality, but deeply entwined with values, worldviews, and societal visions.

Revisiting “The Revisionaries” today is a potent reminder of the film’s enduring message. Thurman may not have been prescriptive in his approach, but he certainly hoped to shed light on the intricacies of educational decisions. As we grapple with similar challenges today, his work stands as a poignant reflection on the battles that define our educational landscape.

Before the public unveiling of “The Revisionaries,” Tom Parish, the colorist for the film, reached out to me, extending a unique opportunity. It was an invitation to a private screening of the documentary at Tom’s residence, where I would also get the chance to engage with the film’s director, Scott Thurman. This intimate gathering was not only meant for an early viewing of the film but also game me the opportunity to have a detailed discussion with Scott. This discussion gave me deeper insights for a subsequent write-up and to organize a screening event with Austin Documentary Fans, (AKA: Reel Doc Fans).  Cara Harpole