Movie on PBS puts Texas in odd light

Posted Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy An embarrassing movie about Texas comes to PBS this week.

Yes, another one.

This time, it's The Revisionaries. But it ought to be called Texas vs. Science.

It's a documentary on how Texas school leaders write religion into science and history books.

It "stars" Don McLeroy, an amiable dentist who rose to chairman of the State Board of Education even though he believes humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together -- Flintstones-style.

Yet he is not embarrassed.

"The way I look at it, it's a good movie because frankly, it makes our point," McLeroy, 66, said by phone from Bryan.

"It shows our message. It talks about creationism. I consider that a victory."

McLeroy, chairman for two years and a board member for 13 before losing in the 2010 election, is shown as both a hero and goat as he debates scientists over evolution theory.

As a young-Earth creationist at odds even with some in his own Bible church Sunday school class, he is portrayed as eccentric but sincere.

His most quoted line from a 2009 board meeting: "Somebody's got to stand up to experts."

Director Scott Thurman, born in Lubbock, started the project as a graduate thesis at the University of North Texas. His movie depicts McLeroy more gently than another religious conservative board member, the also-gone Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond.

On the PBS website for the "Independent Lens" documentary series, McLeroy has posted comments praising Thurman but also complaining that the movie says conservatives want "separation of church and state" edited out of lessons. (They want that phrase from an 1802 Thomas Jefferson letter "examined," he clarified.)

Ironically -- or maybe not -- the movie hits PBS the same week as a new Texas Freedom Network report finding excessive religion in what is supposed to be a neutral, Bible-as-historical-literature course in Texas public schools.

For example, Southern Methodist University religion professor Mark Chancey found Amarillo schools teaching that African-Americans are descended from Noah's son Ham, while Eastland schools covered a Biblical rapture and an imaginary "lost day" of prophecy.

"I agree with the Texas Freedom Network -- I wouldn't teach doctrine in public school," McLeroy said.

"I think you gotta be careful what you teach."

So do scientists.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538.

Twitter: @budkennedy

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