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Advocacy group launches probe of PragerU Kids videos in Florida schools

  PragerU Kids videos include a series called "Street Smarts," in which children are quizzed for cash rewards.
PragerU Kids videos include a series called "Street Smarts," in which children are quizzed for cash rewards.

In July, Florida became the first state to approve the use of PragerU Kids videos in public schools, followed by Oklahoma schools a few months later.

This month, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national non-profit that includes religious and non-religious members, launched an investigation into how Florida and Oklahoma approved the videos.

The group says PragerU videos advance a Christian nationalist perspective, aren't made by an accredited educational organization, and skip over certain historical facts.

PragerU's founder, conservative radio host Dennis Prager, has admitted the aim of the videos is to indoctrinate children with Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Among the problems Americans United for Separation of Church and State points to:

  • A video that presents Americans’ right to religious freedom as being granted by the God of the “Hebrew and Christian Bibles,” and says “America was founded on what’s called Judeo-Christian values” that are “at the very core of who America is.”
  • A video that shows a cartoon George Washington, the country’s first president, emphasizing the need for America to have “a religious and moral population.”
  • Numerous videos that praise controversial historical figures for spreading Christianity.

WUSF's Kerry Sheridan spoke with Rachel Laser, Americans United for Separation of Church and State's president and chief executive officer.

What is it about PragerU videos that make you think they just shouldn't be in schools?

There are so many problems with PragerU videos, from whitewashing our country's history of racism and slavery, to denying climate change. At Americans United, our main concern has been the potential use of videos that undermine church-state separation, and advance white Christian nationalism.

To name just a few of these problems, the videos describe religious freedom as being granted by the God of the Hebrew and Christian bibles, describe America as being founded on Judeo-Christian values, claim Church-State separation isn't in the Constitution, highlight 'In God We Trust' as part of some quote, Trinity of American values, and praise controversial historical figures like Christopher Columbus for their Christian beliefs or for spreading Christianity through colonialism.

And what's your strategy to find out more about how this got into Florida and Oklahoma schools?

What we did specifically was send public record requests to the Florida Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Department of Education that detail communications with and about PragerU, as well as records pertaining to the review process the departments use to vet and approve the use of PragerU materials in public schools.

And as far as we know, Florida and Oklahoma have issued blanket authorizations allowing public schools to use any PragerU content. So we're monitoring whether schools are actually going to be using their videos, and which videos they're going to be using.

And how do you find out how much these videos are being used or how widespread these videos are in schools?

We are encouraging parents and families to please contact us when they see these videos in use or when they hear about them through their kids. We have a place where you can file a report on our website. We get hundreds of these throughout the year, and respond to them. And often, through receiving these reports of violations, we're able to fix situations without having to actually file cases. So we do it in a pre-litigation way.

So honestly, let's go for parents' rights to hold our country accountable to its promises of freedom and equality for all of us.

What undergirds that freedom and equality is this pillar of our democracy called church-state separation. It ensures that no one narrow set of religious beliefs have privilege or priority in America, and that we can all live according to our own religious beliefs.

Some of the people who support PragerU videos say they push back against a liberal ideology in classrooms. And supporters say, what's the harm of a little Christianity in schools? What would you say to that?

I'd say, oof. I'd say the Founding Fathers would be doing somersaults in their grave, I would say church-state separation and true religious freedom is an American original. It's part of what defines America, that makes America, America, and that our public schools are a glue for our American democracy, and therefore, we must insist that our public schools, where our children are captive audiences, are teaching our kids facts, are not teaching our kids religious indoctrination or political ideology, but instead are teaching our shared American values and are teaching our accurate history.

What have you heard so far about whether PragerU videos are being used in schools?

These partnerships are so new. They're just from the summer, and it's July (for Florida) and September with Oklahoma. So we're waiting to see what reveals itself, this is just the beginning. What we're witnessing across the country is this assault by Christian nationalists on public schools. And so we're trying to put an immediate halt to this before it catches on throughout the country.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.
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