(The Hill) — The Florida Department of Education is raising alarm with its recent approval of the conservative education platform PragerU, which touts itself as an alternative to progressive “indoctrination,” for use in classrooms this school year.
The “supplemental curriculum” means educators can if they choose show PragerU materials in class without fear of repercussions, with video titles ranging from “Was the Civil War About Slavery?” to “The Inconvenient Truth About the Democratic Party.”
Critics contend PragerU has promoted videos with misinformation and is too biased for public schools, escalating the controversy regarding changes to Florida’s education system under Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Here’s what to know about PragerU and the fallout in Florida:
What is PragerU?
PragerU is a conservative platform that was founded by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager and Allen Estrin back in 2009.
On its site, it touts itself as a nonprofit focused on “a free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.”
The platform gained popularity from short videos on topics ranging from a host of political issues. Some of the platform’s most popular 5-minute videos include “Is Islam a Religion of Peace” and “Make Men Masculine Again.”
PragerU says its videos have garnered 7 billion views and that 70 percent of viewers changed their mind on at least one topic after watching their videos.
In 2021, PragerU launched PragerU Kids and started creating lesson plans for educators to use. The lessons cover a variety of topics such as history, financial knowledge and political issues.
PragerU in Florida schools
PragerU celebrated last month that educators in Florida are now allowed to use their content in schools.
“The state of Florida just announced that we are becoming an official vendor,” CEO Marissa Streit said. “This means if you are a teacher in Florida you can not be fired for using PragerU content.”
Streit said in the announcement video other states are also “signing up” for their content, although no additional states have yet been announced.
None of PragerU’s materials are considered required content.
“The Florida Department of Education reviewed PragerU Kids and determined the material aligns to Florida’s revised civics and government standards. PragerU Kids is no different than many other resources, which can be used as supplemental materials in Florida schools at district discretion,” a spokesperson for the agency said.
For the average educator, the development is unlikely to change much.
“I think its approval by the state, you know, certainly opens the door and maybe puts it on a few more people’s radar, but I think it’s probably, at the end of the day, something that’s not going to show up a whole lot in the average class,” said Chris Curran, director of the Education Policy Research Center at the University of Florida.
Pushback from critics
The approval spurred backlash from critics who say PragerU has pushed misinformation and shows the direction Florida education is going.
“I think, broadly, the videos on the content have been criticized by some for their portrayal of things like race, explanations of differences of poverty levels by race or the history of racism and slavery in the country. I’ve also seen criticisms around issues like climate change,” Curran said.
One of the PragerU Kids lessons challenges climate change and the effects of fossil fuels.
“Kids are told to fight climate change but are rarely taught about the human cost of reducing emissions. This animated video teaches middle and high school students about energy and the environment through the eyes of young Ania living in Poland, who must face a devastating winter after the Polish government bans the use of coal,” the video description reads.
Ania becomes a climate change activist until she is challenged with some “thought-provoking questions” from her parents.
“Recently, Ania’s classmates have all been talking about climate. Like many people around the world, they think that Poland’s smog and carbon emissions will contribute to rising temperatures across the planet,” the narrator of the video says.
Later, the video says her parents raised questions after Ania became anxious about climate change, saying the Earth has always been warming and cooling and pointing out Poland has fewer emissions than countries like China.
“Her parents’ questions have made Ania wonder if she’s only been hearing one side of the argument at school and in her online community. She definitely has some research to do,” the video says.
Other PragerU Kids videos include “How to be a rational patriot” and “How to embrace your femininity.”
This is not PragerU’s first brush with controversy.
In 2020, it lost a lawsuit after suing Google for YouTube flagging some of its videos as “inappropriate.” Some of the video titles that were flagged were “Are 1 in 5 Women Raped at College?” and “Why Isn’t Communism as Hated as Nazism?”
Escalating tensions in Florida
Florida has become a hotspot for education controversy as DeSantis’ solidifies what sort of curriculum it wants to be taught in its classrooms.
Lawmakers have buckled down on approved materials, with state officials banning the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 schools.
The curriculum standards for African American history also got revamped, with criticisms arising after the changes said students would learn that enslaved people “developed skills” that helped them during American slavery.
The curriculum changes led to AP African American studies getting rejected in Florida. The College Board is also battling with Florida over AP Psychology, with the company saying the course cannot count for credit without lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation.
“We hope now that Florida teachers will be able to teach the full course, including content on gender and sexual orientation, without fear of punishment in the upcoming school year,” the College Board said.