Oklahoma will encourage its teachers to use material from conservative website PragerU, making it the latest state to take steps toward what critics call a whitewashing of American history in Republican-controlled states.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters announced the partnership last week, saying in a statement that it would "help ensure high quality materials rich in American history and values" are available to teachers and students.
While the state's Department of Education website is now linking to the PragerU materials, Walters cannot mandate their use in individual schools, where curricula is still decided by school boards. It’s the latest controversy surrounding Walters, who won the job in last year’s election. According to The Oklahoman, more than 80 employees have left the state education office since Walters became superintendent in January, with only 33 new hires in that time.
In addition to the Oklahoma announcement, PragerU was approved for use in Florida schools earlier this year and is being pushed by some state education officials in Texas, though it has not been approved for use in public schools there.
Read more on Yahoo News: 2024 Republicans want to eliminate the Education Department. What would that look like?, via Business Insider
What is PragerU
Created in 2009 by conservative radio host Dennis Prager and with funding by right-wing donors, PragerU has more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube, billing itself as “a free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.” The organization’s CEO Marissa Streit describes their product as “edutainment,” calling it “essential to shaping culture and preserving American ideals."
The bottom of the organization’s website includes the disclaimer, “PragerU is not an accredited university, nor do we claim to be. We don’t offer degrees, but we do provide educational, entertaining, pro-American videos for every age.”
Included on the site is a petition to sign in order to show support for putting their content in more schools, as well as the claim that thousands of teachers and school board members have already contacted PragerU in an attempt to get them into schools.
One of the videos uses an animated Frederick Douglass to essentially downplay slavery, calling it a “compromise,” and includes criticism of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison for being too strident. Another PragerU Kids video showing the end of the Civil War has Ulysses S. Grant calling Robert E. Lee a “good man” who happened to be caught on the opposite side. The site’s videos often minimize the graveness of climate change, with part of its funding coming from fracking billionaires.
Conservatives have pushed PragerU at the same time they’ve been targeting Critical Race Theory (CRT), an academic study of racism’s systemic impact that is generally not taught below the university level. A number of Oklahoma school districts, however, have already said they do not plan to use the PragerU material despite Walters’ endorsement.
“The ‘PragerU’ videos are right-wing propaganda, not history,” Princeton history professor and author Kevin Kruse told Yahoo News. “Dennis Prager has acknowledged that these materials represent, in his own words, a conservative campaign of ‘indoctrination.’ No parent should want these videos in their children’s schools, as they will only do more harm than good.”
Earlier this summer, Florida approved the use of PragerU materials in its schools. Led by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the group Moms for Liberty, Florida has been at the vanguard in the push for “parental rights,” which has generally translated to policies limiting or outright banning instruction and books that touch on race, sexuality or gender. Parental rights have become a go-to term in Republican campaigns, and was even incorporated into an Ohio campaign that would have made it more difficult to pass a ballot measure protecting reproductive rights later this year.
Read more on Yahoo News: Who are 'Moms for Liberty' and why is the group so controversial?
Walters and the ‘MAGA agenda’
A former teacher, state secretary of public education under Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and CEO of a nonprofit with ties to charter school expansion and public school privatization, Walters won election to his current office in November. During the campaign, Walters recommended that Oklahoma teachers should receive training from Hillsdale, a conservative college in Michigan whose curricula have been adopted elsewhere in GOP-controlled states.
During his campaign, Walters also repeated, without evidence, the frequent right-wing claim that students in schools were identifying as cats and demanding to use litter boxes instead of restrooms. While it was a common talking-point during the 2022 midterms, schools have unanimously said the urban legend is untrue. He also supported a law that bans certain race and gender lessons from kindergarten through 12th grade and called for the removal of “pornographic” books, which mainly center on LGBTQ issues, from school libraries.
Earlier this summer, Walters faced blowback for stating that the Tulsa race massacre could be taught without centering race. The 1921 attack by a white mob on the Greenwood neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street” resulted in the deaths of between 100 and 300 Black residents. Walters said his words were twisted, calling the events of that day racist, evil and inexcusable.
Speaking at an event Sunday with former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Walters said he would continue the “Make America Great Again” Agenda.
“What are we doing here in Oklahoma, folks?” Walters said. “We are continuing that MAGA agenda. We are going to put parents in charge of their kids. We’re not going to have pornography in schools. We’re gonna have no pornography. We’re gonna have PragerU in every school in Oklahoma. How about that?”