PragerU Kids video use in Sarasota Public Schools: What parents need to know

Guest Column from
League of Women Voters of Sarasota County

As the Sarasota County school year starts, the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County urges parents to pay even more attention to teacher lesson plans and additional materials made available on school portals.

Teachers statewide now have the option of adding newly approved PragerU Kids videos. In the League’s view, these videos clearly violate Florida’s new civics standards approved for use for the 2023-24 school year.  The new standards are a result of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ consistent call that education is too “woke” and should be free from “indoctrination.”

The standards’ guidelines are clear. The training that media specialists, materials reviewers and others received from the Department of Education in January explicitly states that supplementary material must be “without bias or indoctrination.” Additionally, materials should “[avoid] the use of any unsolicited theories or strategies that may lead to student indoctrination.”

PragerU is a partisan advocacy media company named after self-proclaimed conservative talk show host Dennis Prager. PragerU is not an accredited university; it publicly claims the group is a “force of good” against the left.

Prager himself announced on July 20 that his company’s videos, produced by a division called PragerU Kids, which was created in 2021, will be a resource for Florida schools. This is the first time his company’s videos have been approved for use by any U.S. state.

The League of Women Voters of Sarasota County believes that most parents and voters would be hard-pressed to ignore the hypocrisy on display because PragerU videos are created for the purpose of indoctrination.

Founder Dennis Prager proudly asserted this recently when he said, “We bring doctrines to children. That is a very fair statement. But what is the bad of our indoctrination?”

PragerU is best known for 5– to 10-minute videos on history, news and civics. Patriotism is a common theme, as are gender and race. Among the titles are “How To Be a Rational Patriot,” “How to be a Victor & Not a Victim” and “How to Embrace Your Masculinity.”

Following Florida’s rejection of the AP course on African American history, the PragerU videos on the history of slavery and race are irrefutably problematic. One video discusses the history of race relations. Two children travel back in time to meet Christopher Columbus, who tells them that the practice of slavery was “no big deal” at the time and that “being taken as a slave is better than being killed.”

In a video called “A Short History of Slavery,” a narrator tells children that the most important thing they should know is “slavery was not invented by white people” and that “white people were the first to put an end to slavery.”

Is this truly the most important takeaway from a lesson on slavery?

The League can answer that question. The League believes emphatically that public education should allow the free and open discussion of ideas — even those with which we are uncomfortable. Further, public education should challenge all ideas with evidence and debate.

PragerU’s distorted take on history extends to science as well, according to Scientific American, (a Nobel Prize-winning scientific magazine that has been published since 1845). A PragerU video tells students that fighting climate scientists is akin to fighting Nazi oppression; that wind and solar power pollute the Earth; and that recent global heat records are natural temperature cycles.

PragerU claims it is combatting “climate hysteria,” according to the company’s CEO, Marissa Streit.

Theoni Soublis, professor of education at the University of Tampa, believes, “PragerU materials are the epitome of indoctrination that current Florida laws heralded against in the name of protecting students. The videos describing slavery are a gross manipulation of history, the curriculum denies climate change and influences students to ignore the hard evidence regarding carbon emissions, and the materials include offensive perspectives of cultural appropriations with specific regard to indigenous people of North America.

“Parents should be very concerned if these videos are being used in their children’s classrooms.”

Good governance is about accountability. In this case, the State of Florida is not following its own policy prohibiting indoctrination.  The greater harm is to our schoolchildren, who are being deprived of a curricular framework that includes broad common standards developed by educational experts.

How does PragerU Kids’ curriculum help our children adequately prepare for the world they are to inherit? It doesn’t.

In Sarasota County, because these materials have not been vetted fully by the district, if a teacher wants to use these videos, the teacher must get permission from the principal. If permission is granted, parents will receive permissions slips to allow them to opt out or in for their children.

If a parent says, “No,” the teacher must make other accommodations — accommodations that will be harder to make because the state has cut out a great deal of curriculum that was used in the past, creating a resource desert for educators.

The LWV of Sarasota recommends that parents pay particular attention to this supplemental curriculum, and if they do not want their children indoctrinated by PragerU’s unsubstantiated curriculum, they should insist on the opt-out provision.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.