April 26, 2012
DALLAS (SMU) – A new documentary about the Texas State Board of Education’s ongoing battle over the insertion of politics and religion into curriculum standards for science and history education — featuring SMU Anthropology Professor Ron Wetherington — is drawing praise as it opens in film festivals across the country.
The Revisionaries, an 83-minute documentary directed by Texan Scott Thurman, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York April 20 and made its Texas premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival April 22.
The film focuses on resistance to the theory of evolution by prominent, conservative members of the Texas Board of Education. Wetherington was at both screenings, and says audiences in both locations reacted in disbelief to filmed board of education discussions ranging from the promotion of creationist alternatives to evolutionary theory in textbooks, to arguments over whether and how much the United States’ history of discrimination should be taught.
“The film was made to show the revisionists for what they are, the scientists for what they are, and the frustration between the two,” Wetherington said. “The beauty of the film is that it comes out completely neutral.”
Wetherington was appointed in 2008 as an expert reviewer by the Texas State Board of Education to evaluate new science curriculum standards. The process derails, Wetherington said, when the board decides to make changes in textbooks based on ideology without vetting those changes with either the teachers who are appointed to rewrite the standards or scientists like himself who are appointed to advise them.
Wetherington has become one of the state’s most visible proponents of dogma-free scientific education. Wetherington met Thurman as a member of the future filmmaker’s thesis committee as he was preparing for a master of fine arts from the University of North Texas. “If you stand up for what you believe in, and if what you know to be true is being misstated, it’s your obligation,” Wetherington said.
The film also will be screened at the upcoming Independent Film Festival Boston on April 30 and Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto starting on May 1.
Within SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Wetherington teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in human evolution and forensic anthropology, as well as a noncredit required course for departmental graduate students, “Learning to Teach – Teaching to Learn.” He also has served as director of SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence since 1997 and plans to return to full-time teaching in June. Wetherington’s research interests include population genetics, human paleontology, science pedagogy and the historical archaeology of the U.S. Southwest.
Wetherington is the author of Readings in the History of Evolutionary Theory (Oxford University Press, 2011) and five other books on anthropology and archeology, including Understanding Human Evolution (West Publishing, 1992).
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