Horne plan for conservative videos for state schools called ‘irresponsible’

Schools Superintendent Tom Horne, shown at an event earlier this month, says making PragerU videos available in state schools will give parents more choice in their child’s education, but critics say the partisan videos have no place in schools. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Education is partnering with conservative advocacy group PragerU to provide K-12 schools with the group’s video content — content that Democratic lawmakers say is inaccurate and does not belong in public schools.

State Superintendent Tom Horne, backed by PragerU CEO Marissa Streit and GOP lawmakers, said at a Capitol news conference Wednesday that the company’s content would be promoted on the Department of Education’s website. Horne said schools will not be required to use the content, but the partnership will help give parents and schools “a choice.”

“PragerU and I share the belief that parents should be empowered to make educational choices that are best for their children and my adversaries don’t want parents to have those choices,” Horne said.

But critics said PragerU’s videos often distort history and misrepresent scientific facts. They questioned how it will help students and why a partnership is necessary since PragerU content is already free and available to the public.

“Today’s press conference was primarily focused on the proficiency of students in our state,” Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said in an emailed statement. “What was not clear from the conference was how this new resource endorsed by the Superintendent Horne and Republicans is going to improve the proficiency of our students.”

Despite its name, PragerU is not a university but is instead a nonprofit media organization that “offers a free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education,” according to its website. The videos, which it describes as “edutainment,” feature content from prominent right-wing activists like Candace Owens, Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk.

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But critics say the organization’s edutainment often distorts history and misrepresents scientific facts. A report from NBC News said some of PragerU’s children’s content includes a video of an animated Frederick Douglass praising the Founding Fathers for not outlawing slavery. Other videos downplay climate change and ridicule the Black Lives Matter movement.

For Republican lawmakers at Wednesday’s event, PragerU is valuable precisely because it challenges the ideology of the left.

“PragerU, in this new partnership, is offering free, transparent, truth-based curriculum and supplementals to teachers and school districts all across our state,” said Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.

“This new partnership, it’s not just for show, it’s not just because we’ve got a great organization that we can stand here with,” Hoffman said. “This partnership is about supporting the children of this state and it furthers Arizona Republicans’ commitment to fighting for the futures of every child that calls the state home.”

Arizona is not the first state to partner with PragerU. Its content is already approved for use in states like Florida, Oklahoma, Montana and New Hampshire. Horne said that the Arizona Department of Education did not vet the group’s content because “there’s no need” to.

But Beth Lewis, the founder of pro-public school group Save Our Schools, said it’s “incredibly irresponsible” for Horne to promote content to schools that hasn’t even been vetted.

“Just the sheer act of putting this on the ADE website gives the veneer of credibility to PragerU videos,” Lewis said. “And it’s really important to know that these videos don’t have any credibility.”

Lewis said her group will work to educate teachers about the nature of the content and will encourage school boards not to adopt PragerU videos into their curriculums.

“I think that we are going to see a lot of pressure on not only individual educators but also on local school boards to adopt PragerU materials as curriculum,” Lewis said. “I definitely think that we have a role in educating school boards about what these videos really are and making sure that never occurs.”

Reagan Priest Ray-gan Priest (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Reagan Priest expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Priest has also worked at The Copper Courier, The State Press, Cronkite News D.C., The Arizona Republic and Arizona PBS.