Republican governor and presidential aspirant Ron DeSantis has made little secret of his political ambitions to turn Florida — and by extension, the whole of the United States — into the place where, in his words “woke goes to die.” DeSantis’ philosophy of aggressive culture war provocation has made his state the political ground zero for a broader conservative enterprise to reshape everything from public displays of gender identity to the nature of public education across the nation. To that end, right-wing advocacy group and media outlet PragerU announced last week that Florida had become “the first state to officially approve PragerU as an educational vendor.”
“If you are a teacher in Florida, you cannot be fired for using PragerU content,” CEO Marissa Streit said in a brief video trumpeting Florida’s decision, adding that “additional states are signing up” to use the group’s material.
So what does it mean that a group with an overt political agenda, and which lacks academic accreditation, is now an official resource for Florida schools? Is PragerU truly “just getting started,” as Streit bragged in her video announcement, or is Florida’s embrace of a group accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center as pushing “dog whistles to the extreme right” another isolated example of DeSantis’ political posturing?
What are the commentators saying?
PragerU’s material “aligns to Florida’s revised civics and government standards,” a Florida Department of Education spokesperson told The Daily Beast, while a representative from PragerU itself said that teachers could use the “supplemental curriculum” at their own discretion. PragerU also claimed its materials come at the behest of teachers who “are sick and tired of curriculum laced with radical political agendas.”
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The new partnership announcement comes in the midst of a larger controversy over Florida’s revised social studies standards, which include lessons on American slavery that focus on how enslaved peoples “developed skills” that could later be “could be applied for their personal benefit.” While Florida’s Education Department claimed to the Miami New Times that PragerU’s content was not submitted as part of the new curriculum, the paper noted that “the very first section on slavery in Florida’s Black history curriculum closely mirrors a PragerU segment in which conservative pundit Candace Owens, who is Black, reminds viewers that ‘slavery was not invented by white people.'”
“It’s unclear if traditional PragerU videos — with titles such as Why I Left the Left and Immigrants! Don’t Support What You Fled among their most popular—will be permitted for use in Florida classrooms,” The Daily Beast noted.
Florida’s new education standards are an “invitation to disaster in the classroom” professor and African American history author Marvin Dunn told the New Times. “I just see this as being extremely chaotic going forward because Black parents are not going to stand for this.”
“In Florida, where Ron DeSantis promised to remove political ideology from classrooms, teachers can now show students PragerU videos like this one, teaching that America was founded as a Christian nation and should be again,” NBC investigative reporter Mike Hixenbaugh tweeted, along with screenshots from PragerU videos.
This is merely the “latest example showing that DeSantis hasn’t removed political ideology schools, but rather amplified conservative Christian ideologies that he favors,” Hixenbaugh continued.
PragerU’s announcement is not, in fact, the first association between the conservative group and DeSantis’ administration; late last year Semafor reported on a newly launched “Florida Standard” conservative website conspicuously favored by the governor and created by pro-DeSantis donors. As detailed by Media Matters, the Florida Standard’s founder is former PragerU pundit Will Witt, whose time with PragerU was peppered with instances of bigoted conspiracy theorizing.
What could happen next?
While PragerU’s inclusion in Florida’s list of approved educational vendors is the first instance of the group being officially accepted by a state’s governing body, its content has reportedly been spreading across schools nationwide for years. A 2021 investigation by The American Prospect determined the group “already [had] over 6,000 educators and parents signed up” — a surge fueled in part by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the shift toward remote learning having “exacerbated the trend of classrooms showing PragerU’s content. Teachers are strained and often in a desperate search for multimedia materials to keep kids engaged.”
“The point of attacking public schools with the gay and trans conspiracy theories was always to oppress vulnerable groups,” commentator and author Jared Yates Sexton said, linking the certification of PragerU to a broader conservative fight over public education. “But,” he added, the goal was “also to weaken public education and create a controlled market for ideology-driven curricula producers.”
To that end, PragerU has been unambiguous about its agenda to extend its official reach into other public school systems, with one host promising that “PragerU Kids is going to more states soon” while directing followers to sign a petition to that effect on the group’s website.
With Florida’s unique suite of new educational standards backed by the singular push by DeSantis to maneuver his state to the forefront of the conservative culture wars, it’s unclear whether PragerU will have similar success in other places anytime soon. However, given the organization’s gargantuan popularity and ubiquity already — more than a billion views on YouTube alone — official state approval may simply be gilding a lily whose roots have gone permanently deep already.