What parents should know about PragerU Kids videos, which can now be shown in Florida schools
Some videos downplay slavery, question whether humans really cause climate change, and insert opinions into what otherwise appears to be educational content for children.
Florida recently became the first state to give the green light for free online videos by PragerU Kids to be shown to children in kindergarten through sixth grade in public schools.
The move has sparked controversy. PragerU said that its content pushes back against what it calls "woke agendas infiltrating classrooms."
Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis' repeated assertions that Florida backs "education not indoctrination," conservative radio host Dennis Prager, the founder of PragerU, has said the content is meant to indoctrinate, showcasing pro-American, Judeo-Christian values.
WUSF's Kerry Sheridan spoke with Jessica Wright, a former teacher who is now the vice president of the nonprofit Florida Freedom to Read Project, about what parents should know.
What are the main things to know about PragerU?
"I think the unique thing to understand about PragerU is that there is no bid process for this. They aren't a traditional vendor that even requires payment, because it's free.
"It's not an accredited university. It does not have creators with a vast education background. And it says right on their website what their intention is, which is purely for indoctrination. And it says specifically for conservative values.
"A lot of educators who have a traditional education background, or they've been in the profession for a long time, they're going to be able to recognize in those materials, that PragerU is representing what we would refer to as a logical fallacy, meaning the material that you're reading or listening to might sound like it makes sense."Jessica Wright
"And, frankly, in education, when you look at parents, the supermajority says we don't want politics in our classroom, we don't want conservative or liberal values. There doesn't need to be an agenda.
"And so I find it interesting that as a state, we've said over and over again that we don't want indoctrination, but yet we are promoting this resource that's highly accessible, and doesn't require any sort of permission from our districts or our county leadership, and saying, 'Hey, this is what you can use.' And it's a complete slap in the face to say that we don't want indoctrination. But yeah, we're promoting this."
What's the difference between something like this and say, BrainPOP, which also has short animated videos, covering topics like history and world events?
"The difference with BrainPOP is that it has to be purchased, it's typically added onto a student's platform. So, my child would be able to access it by logging in, and then logging into BrainPOP. And they would have access to all their different lessons. The difference with PragerU is that it's just a URL, it's an open source, it takes two seconds to go on to their website, you could download reading material that is supplemental, you could show a video.
"And throughout the state of Florida, teacher contracts largely protect them to have the autonomy to build this in their lessons should they choose to. And so a district may be able to say, 'we don't recommend this, it's not in our curriculum maps, we do not promote it being used,' but the teacher could still have the autonomy to use it, and virtually have no negative repercussions for it, because it's been endorsed and promoted by the state."
Tell me what is it about the videos or the message that you find most problematic or dangerous?
"The videos and the writing do an incredibly good job of coming across very professionally. The layout of the writing looks like actual curriculum that would come from an accredited institution. And so that could be very misleading in and of itself, along with the videos that are very interactive and engaging. A lot of them are in cartoons. And so the state specifically promoted PragerU for K-6. And so it is geared toward that age group.
"A lot of educators who have a traditional education background, or they've been in the profession for a long time, they're going to be able to recognize in those materials, that PragerU is representing what we would refer to as a logical fallacy, meaning the material that you're reading or listening to might sound like it makes sense. But if you are educated on that topic, you would know that they came to a conclusion that's not based on fact.
"I think that it becomes increasingly dangerous when we see the amount of vacancies that we have in Florida. We have 8,000 vacancies for instructional teachers and 6,000 for school-related personnel. That's the highest that we've ever historically had.
"They cut out a lot of curriculum that we typically would be able to choose from, and so they've created what a lot of us refer to as a resource desert. So if you're in a resource desert, you're gonna reach for the most accessible resource, which could be PragerU in this situation."Jessica Wright
"So when you have people who are filling in those positions for those instructional teachers, and maybe they haven't had the same education background, the same training. While they're getting on their feet, they're going to be looking for those resources to build out their lesson plans, and sometimes getting used to the time period for a class period, they might end up with 10 minutes at the end that they're trying to fill.
"I don't think that all of our educators are going to have some sort of, you know, sinister agenda, I think that we'll have well-meaning people who are just looking for resources to use in their classroom.
"And along with that, the amount of resources that the state has approved that's traditional curriculum to use has been very limited this year. They cut out a lot of curriculum that we typically would be able to choose from, and so they've created what a lot of us refer to as a resource desert. So if you're in a resource desert, you're gonna reach for the most accessible resource, which could be PragerU in this situation."
What would you say to parents who say there's just too much liberal ideology in schools, or they don't want gender, sexuality, things like that being taught? They want their kids to have more of a traditional upbringing.
"When it comes to gender ideology, specifically when we're talking about gender identity and sexual orientation, I think it's important to know that those topics have been in our curriculum for upwards of 15 years. So this isn't entirely new. And I also really want to encourage parents to stop and ask, what does that really mean by liberal ideology? Are we talking about truly actually pushing a political agenda? Or are we talking about topics that might just make people a little bit uncomfortable? And I think that that uncomfortable feeling comes from growing pains.
"Anytime that you're getting into the nitty gritty of different topics that you haven't heard before, or might be atypical to you, you're going to feel those growing pains, right?
"But even within our K through 12, Florida general education standards, you technically still have to teach on gender, you have to teach about how women gain the right to vote, what roles they played in the various world wars, or how they were able to come into their own in different industries, and contributions that they may have made in education or science. And so that in and of itself is a gender study."
What else can parents do, if they're concerned about this?
"The best thing you can do for your child's education is just to be involved. And that might just be sending a simple email to the teacher making sure you show up on meet the teacher day or open house or conferences. And, you know, there's been a huge movement, I would say, in people trying to opt out of PragerU. And we definitely don't want to inundate teachers with like those emails and things like that. But if you're concerned, just ask, 'Hey, do you plan on using this in your classroom? If so, can I please have an alternate assignment for my kid?' "