How a conservative group’s videos gained a foothold in classrooms with help from Republican officials: Report

How a conservative group’s videos gained a foothold in classrooms with help from Republican officials: Report

The promotional videos all start the same: Each begins with Marissa Streit, chief executive of PragerU, the conservative nonprofit primarily known for producing web videos featuring right-wing pundits and short documentaries criticizing progressive policies, NBC News reported.

Streit introduces a top state education official, who then raves about the new partnership between PragerU and their state’s public schools.

In one clip, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters says he “could not be more excited to get this content into our classrooms,” adding that he used PragerU videos himself as a history teacher.

New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, in his appearance, explains enthusiastically that students in his state can use PragerU videos to meet a high school graduation requirement, noting, “It’s quality content — it’s highly engaging for the kids.”

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, meanwhile, says her state’s new relationship with PragerU will help educators recognize “how to teach things.”

PragerU was founded in 2009. Its recent videos feature messages opposing transgender health care and suggesting Americans say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays.” Last year, the organization debuted a line of cartoons and classroom materials aimed at school children, called PragerU Kids, which over the last six months has received approval from four state education agencies.

The PragerU Kids video content ranges from lessons for teens about why universal health care systems in countries like Canada are worse than the United States’ system, to an explanation for young children about Israel’s Iron Dome.

In one animation, two time-traveling kids ask Christopher Columbus whether he enslaved Indigenous people. Cartoon Columbus responds, “Being taken as a slave is better than being killed,” and insists it is “estupido” to judge him by modern moral standards. In another, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass defends the Founding Fathers for not outlawing slavery.

The expansion of PragerU into public schools has alarmed some parents and educators — especially leading into an election year in which culture-war debates over education promise to be a prominent issue. Critics contend that the group’s videos inject a right-wing bias into the classroom, and civil rights groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign have described PragerU content as propaganda.

Some videos have also drawn ire from scientists. Several researchers told Reuters that PragerU misrepresented their findings in videos about climate change. An official at the National Center for Science Education said that allowing PragerU’s content in classrooms sent an inappropriate message about how to teach global warming.

Emails obtained by NBC News via records requests offer a glimpse into how PragerU has been able to expand into public schools, thanks to relationships with Republican politicians who helped with the organization’s marketing.

Edelblut and Walters each visited PragerU’s headquarters in Southern California; emails show Edelblut agreed to speak to the nonprofit’s donors at a private event there, and a video on PragerU’s website shows Walters speaking to staff and donors at a ribbon-cutting on the campus in November.

“We literally have an education system that has been indoctrinating kids with radical left wokeism,” Walters said at the ceremony. “There is no organization, no individuals, that have done more to strike at the heart of that left-wing dominance of education than PragerU.”

NBC News spoke with education policy specialists, attorneys and ethics experts who say PragerU’s courting of elected officials raises red flags. All said it is abnormal, and even alarming, for an organization to try to get its curricula into classrooms by appealing directly to politicians and to ask state leaders to film commercials.

The officials’ willingness to appear in PragerU’s promotional videos “is highly unusual,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, a nonprofit that seeks stricter campaign finance laws. “It crosses the line of ethics when you use your official position to promote the interests of any single entity.”

Streit said in an interview that PragerU is on the front lines of a “cultural war” in which one side is trying to manipulate children into hating the country through schools.

“I don’t actually believe that America is going to be taken down by bullets and tanks,” she said. “I think that if America would be taken down, it’s through the erosion of the values and the ideas that have made our country what it is today.”

Dennis Prager, a long-time radio host and PragerU’s co-founder, has acknowledged that the organization is in the “mind-changing business” and doesn’t see an issue with allegations that it indoctrinates children.

“We bring doctrines to children. That is a very fair statement,” he said at a recent conference hosted by the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty. But he added: “What is the bad of our indoctrination?’”

In an interview with NBC News, Prager said his group’s messaging is superior to progressive ideology that he believes causes teachers to focus too much on the United States’ sins.

Read the exclusive in NBC News’ report.

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