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PragerU—a threat to keeping our history alive

Josephine Lim
PragerU is an FLDOE approved educational vendor. Their videos can now be shown in the classroom, and pushes a political agenda on students through misinformation.

Being kept as a slave is better than being killed, no?

Slavery was part of life all over the world. It was America that began the conversation to end it.

Feminists, celebrities and politicians spreading a wage gap “myth.”

These statements are taken directly from the PragerU, an approved educational vendor in Florida, digital platform. An educational channel hosted by and named after conservative author Dennis Prager, PragerU specifically creates media that pushes a right-wing agenda. Contrary to popular belief, PragerU is not an accredited university like its name suggests, rather,  PragerU’s content is solely designed to “share the conservative perspective” and combat “woke agendas” that are “infiltrating” classrooms and culture, according to their website. 

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 Along with other shows, the station also has a kids section that creates content geared towards children to combat “dominant left-wing education.” These videos were approved in July by the Florida Department of Education to be shown in classrooms and to teach students inaccurate information.

Florida is the first state to approve PragerU as an educational vendor, with 10 more states potentially following. This means that the supplemental curriculum meets state standards and can be purchased with state funding.

The fact that PragerU shares a conservative viewpoint isn’t an issue. In fact, students should learn from multiple perspectives in order to get a true understanding of certain topics. However, PragerU goes beyond a conservative agenda; the site spreads misinformation that is dangerous to the knowledge of students.

Typical PragerU Kids’ content shows two fictional children, Leo and Layla, having a conversation with a historical figure from the past to learn more about U.S. history. In a now-viral clip, Leo and Layla have a conversation with Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer who voyaged to and colonized America. Animated Columbus describes what life was like in the 15th century, including slavery. The kids discuss the immorality of slavery, only to have Columbus refute it with “Being a slave is better than being killed, no?” Combined with the new Florida black history curriculum that emphasizes how “slaves developed skills” that could be used for “personal benefit,” the state’s stance on history is clear: lessons need to show U.S. in a positive light no matter what. National pride is not a bad thing, but teaching ignorance of our past faults is. The horrors of slavery will always be part of U.S. history, and it is important that we as a society acknowledge and properly study controversial topics in order to ensure that something like this will never happen again. Belittling and undermining the impacts of slavery is a move in the wrong direction.

“It is clear that they have a political agenda. It is clear they’re not about educating kids. They’re about promoting propaganda.”

— Andrew Spar, president of Florida Education Association

Within these videos, the historical subjects use language that is politically charged, rather than providing viewers with factual information. In another viral clip, a fictional Fredrick Douglass, known leader of the abolitionist movement, describes how radical abolitionists rioted because of slavery and “lit things on fire,” to which Leo and Layla replied, “sounds familiar.” It doesn’t take much critical thinking to connect this comment to the Black Lives Matter protests and riots, demonized by conservative media outlets, that occurred in 2020 after the death of George Floyd.

Also within this video, Douglass welcomes Leo and Layla to 1852 and says: “There was no real movement anywhere in the world to abolish slavery before the American founding. Slavery was part of life all over the world. It was America that began the conversation to end it.” This information is inaccurate, as the video ignores that Denmark, Britain and France had already outlawed the trading of slaves; it’s a poor attempt to make the U.S. ‘s history look more favorable.

One bit of good news–Florida approved PragerU to be shown in the classroom, school boards were left with the decision as to whether or not this content would be shown in their individual public school districts. 

While these videos are not being integrated into Seminole County Public Schools curriculum currently, the fact that these videos were even approved by the Florida Department of Education is appalling, as this brings a level of esteem and legitimacy to the organization, which otherwise would have just been ignored for its lack of accredited information.

The state’s political climate is clearly being reflected in FLDOE statements and legislation, as the approval of PragerU directly correlates with Governor Ron Desantis’s House Bill 7 (Individual Freedom bill). This bill specifically targets so-called “woke indoctrination,” which has targeted black history and other minority and LGBTQ+ education programs, which PragerU claims to combat.

“It is clear that they have a political agenda. It is clear they’re not about educating kids. They’re about promoting propaganda,” the president of the Florida Education Association Andrew Spar said in an official statement after the approval of PragerU.

It is essential that students consume knowledge and factual information that is as unbiased as possible and free of any political ideologies. Students should be able to research a number of political sources from varying points of view and come to their own conclusions outside of the classroom. Curriculum materials used in classrooms should only be based on fact, whether they are historical or scientific facts, as any deviation from fact results in the loss of integrity of historical events. It is important that American history isn’t “sugar-coated” to push a political agenda, no matter what side the information comes from, and this includes prohibiting PragerU from being used as supplemental education within schools.

This story was originally published on Hagerty Journalism Today on August 29, 2023.