“How To Be a Rational Patriot”
“How To Be a Victor & Not a Victim”
“How To Embrace Your Masculinity” / “How To Embrace Your Femininity”
These are some of the videos produced by PragerU Kids, a resource for schools approved by the Florida Department of Education, the company announced July 20.
PragerU Kids is a division of PragerU, a media company established in 2009 named after conservative pundit Dennis Prager. The company is best known for its 5-10-minute videos on news, history, and civics topics. In the coming school year, Florida grade school students could be assigned PragerU Kids videos to watch in class or for homework, perhaps alongside longtime classroom aids like Scholastic and Highlights magazines.
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The goal of PragerU and its kids division is to provide an alternative to what it sees as a leftwing perspective trending in American public schools and media in recent years, its CEO tells TIME. “America's education system has been hijacked by one side,” says Marissa Streit, PragerU CEO. “How are we going to have great teachers, if the teachers themselves are basically held hostage to one ideology? That is essentially what we're trying to break here.”
Of course, to many Americans on the other side of the aisle, those who take the PragerU perspective are the ones doing the hijacking. Florida has become ground zero for the education culture wars animating the country and the presidential race, and making PragerU Kids available in schools fits into Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ goal of making Florida the state where “woke goes to die,” as he puts it. Earlier this year, DeSantis, who is running for President in 2024, tried to ban AP African American Studies; in PEN America’s ranking of states with the most book bans, Florida came in second place. And New College, the state’s undergraduate liberal arts college, is in the middle of a conservative makeover. Florida's Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.
Florida's decision on PragerU Kids, which is organized by grade levels K-2nd, 3rd-5th, and 6th+, exemplifies the core battle over classroom instruction being waged throughout the country. One side says children are being indoctrinated by progressive teachers making them feel bad about their race, privilege, and gender; the other argues the right is trying to further marginalize marginalized groups and stifle legitimate academic inquiries.
PragerU's content had critics in academia even before it became an approved educational resource in Florida. PragerU has published videos questioning the scientific consensus on the extent of fossil fuels' contribution to climate change. Historian Kevin Kruse went viral on Twitter for fact-checking a PragerU video about why the South predominantly votes Republican (PragerU argued the racism that once defined the South "doesn't anymore"), accusing it of "cherry-picking" info. “It’s very important to recognize that these are not educational videos,” says Francesca Tripodi, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who found during 2017 research that college students raved about PragerU's trustworthiness as an academic source. “These videos are very explicitly created to get people to think a certain way... And the goal of PragerU is to advance a conservative agenda.”
Despite the controversies—or perhaps because of them—the company has significant clout: According to its latest annual report, PragerU racked up more than 1.2 billion views in 2022 alone. Its sources of funding include 300,000 small donors, according to Streit, who give an average of $45 per year.
And Florida's move has just lent the company new legitimacy. Becoming an approved resource in Florida schools is like PragerU has “just taken a strategic hilltop,” argues Lawrence Rosenthal, Chair of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California; PragerU now has that “status” conferred by being a state's official vendor to schools. And with it, the platform to elevate its ideas to a wider audience of impressionable young people.
Children 'are taught to be ashamed of America'
The PragerU Kids division was started in 2021 as a reaction to the debate raging at the time over how American students should be taught about the nation's history of racism.
Streit says PragerU Kids was an effort to provide an alternative to critical race theory—even though the scholarly framework, which analyzes discrimination in society, is not actually taught in K-12 schools—and to push back against the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a 2019 multimedia project that attempted to refocus the story of America’s founding around the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia. A major PragerU donor, the investor David Blumberg, provided the seed money to launch the PragerU Kids division, according to Streit; Blumberg did not respond to a request for comment.
Children in public schools "are taught to be ashamed of America," claims Jill Simonian, PragerU’s Director of Outreach and a host of several PragerU Kids videos, expressing a commonly held idea among those who argue that curricula focus too much on the worst aspects of the country's past. Simonian recently pulled her young kids out of public school and put them in private school after she observed their remote schooling during the COVID-19 lockdown. "I was not getting any kind of choice regarding what my kids were learning," Simonian says. "There was no transparency for me to be able to see what materials teachers were using."
PragerU has more than 100 employees and maintains offices in Los Angeles and Florida. Among the staffers producing PragerU Kids videos are former educators turned off by what they perceive as a leftist turn in schools. When asked who comes up with ideas for videos and whether any subject-matter experts are consulted, Simonian declined to provide names. "Are you kidding? We live in a country now where people are harassed and stalked and have had dangerous situations been put upon them," she says. "I'm not going to name anyone."
PragerU Kids offerings range from profiles of U.S. Presidents to business tycoons like J.P. Morgan and Charles Schwab. Some are supposed to be lessons in "character development": the 'How to Embrace Your Masculinity' video says masculinity was needed to defeat Nazi Germany and mine coal. Others promote skepticism about renewable energy sources and the factors contributing to climate change. A 2022 video describes solar and wind power as unreliable, while a 2023 video featuring an animated young Polish girl compares taking a stand against green energy to fighting Nazi oppression. When TIME asked Streit why the video teaches kids that arguing with scientific consensus is the same as fighting oppression, Streit said: “This concept that all scientists agree on something is an unscientific claim, because science is about constant discovery and wrestling with innovation and ideas. There is another narrative that scientists are trying to share, except that they're not allowed to do it because they're being bullied out of the conversation.” (97% of actively publishing scientists agree that humans are causing climate change, according to NASA.)
PragerU is going through the process of becoming an approved educational resource in other states, but would not reveal which ones. Streit says the company is not trying to write curriculum; PragerU Kids videos are supposed to be supplementary—and boost the company's sales along the way. Streit says: “The grand vision is that parents on the weekends will sit with their kids and watch our videos and order our books and order our magazines and have really great conversations with their families that can be supplemented with the work that's being done in school.”
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