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Videos by PragerU, a conservative media company, can be played in Florida classrooms

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Florida is the first state to approve videos made by PragerU Kids for use in public schools. The content is geared toward conservative values. It includes videos animated in a way that is appealing to kids. As Kerry Sheridan from member station WUSF reports, teachers can now use it as they see fit.

KERRY SHERIDAN, BYLINE: PragerU is not an accredited university. It presents itself as educational, but it's primarily an online media organization. PragerU Kids produces these catchy, short videos. Here's an intro to one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: PragerU Kids is dedicated to teaching what most schools aren't - our American values, history and blessings.

SHERIDAN: In another video, slavery is portrayed as just something normal for its time. It even shows a recreation of Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery and became an abolitionist in the 1800s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There was no real movement anywhere in the world to abolish slavery before the American founding. Slavery was part of life all over the world. It was America that began the conversation to end it.

SHERIDAN: But the video ignores that Denmark, Britain and France had already outlawed the trading of slaves while slavery continued here. According to VICE News, two of the main funders of PragerU are fracking industry billionaires Dan and Ferris Wilks. And PragerU Kids has a video questioning the origin of climate change. In this one, a narrator sets up a conversation between a girl and her parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: But when her anxiety gets high and she tells them that fossil fuels will soon lead to a climate disaster, they challenge her with some thought-provoking questions. They encourage her to consider how the planet has been warming and cooling since prehistoric times, long before carbon emissions were a factor. Can she explain that?

SHERIDAN: The science of greenhouse gas emissions doesn't come up in this video. Jessica Wright, vice president of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, says the videos have elements that are accurate, but sometimes they mix in opinions and skip over important facts.

JESSICA WRIGHT: I think that 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's 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.

SHERIDAN: Wright says Florida's endorsement of PragerU Kids means this content could easily make its way into classrooms because it's free, easily accessible and teachers don't have to ask permission.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: But in the state of Florida, we're proud to stand for education, not indoctrination, in our schools.

(APPLAUSE)

SHERIDAN: That's Governor Ron DeSantis. His Department of Education gave the green light for PragerU Kids in July, the same month its founder, conservative radio host Dennis Prager, said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DENNIS PRAGER: We bring doctrines to children. That's a very fair statement. I said, but what is the bad of our indoctrination?

SHERIDAN: A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education said in an email that they've reviewed PragerU Kids and determined the material aligns to Florida's revised civics and government standards. She described PragerU Kids as, quote, "no different than many other resources." Some parents, like Michelle Pozzie, a conservative who's running for the state House, say PragerU Videos are just a counterforce to what she calls a liberal agenda in schools.

MICHELLE POZZIE: I used them as a tool in homeschooling my children. I have a right as the parent to drive that education the way I see fit. It should line up with what I believe.

SHERIDAN: No Florida school district has yet announced plans to use PragerU Kids videos, but they can't stop teachers from showing them, either.

LIZ BARKER: I do not want my kids exposed to this - absolutely not.

SHERIDAN: Liz Barker is a mother of four in Sarasota. She says she plans to talk to her kids' teachers about her concerns.

BARKER: I think it's great when children see multiple perspectives, but if you're pushing one perspective as being fact, that is problematic.

SHERIDAN: Some public school advocates are urging parents to submit an opt-out form, letting teachers know they don't want their children to watch the videos. For NPR News, I'm Kerry Sheridan in Sarasota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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