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PragerU Kids is Sesame Street for the Terminally Online
And it's a sign of a bigger fight over the future of education and history itself.
The far-left turned Bert and Ernie gay.
That simple fact, evidenced by a 2013 cover of The New Yorker, was enough to turn Dennis Prager mad.
“If a Martian were to observe the human condition, he would have to conclude that the Left has an agenda to deprive children of their innocence,” he began his column in the National Review a decade ago. The cover was just the most recent salvo in the left’s tireless crusade to impose themselves on the youth.
Seventh grade students, tweens and teenagers, are being taught how to use condoms, he lamented. This is “the robbing of children’s innocence by prematurely sexualizing them.”
Perhaps worse of all, Prager continued, was “this hysterical fixation on sexual harassment has labeled innocent child’s play a form of sexual deviancy.” Even as these radical leftists were teaching about safe sex and queering puppets on the cover of news magazines, he wrote, children were being punished for their participation in “slap butt day.” (May 4) What was the world coming to?
Prager’s particular appeal to nostalgia — when a marriage was between a man and a woman, ass-slapping was a friendly greeting from a man to a woman, and puppets were heterosexual felt monsters with a man’s hand inside them — was honed over his years on the airwaves. A radio host since 1982, he mixed a heavy dose of deeply conservative Jewish philosophy with a streak of won’t someone think of the children moralizing that became particularly popular in the mid-90s talk radio boom and subsequent “silent majority.” (Obligatory listen to The Flamethrowers wherever you get your podcasts plug.) He, in short, has always been like this.
In 2009, Prager decided to do more than just whine. If the radical left was going to infiltrate the school system to foist their brand of sex Marxism on the unsuspecting student body, he would combat it with his brand of age-appropriate moralism. He founded PragerU.
Originally envisioned as an actual university, Prager decided that would be hard. So, instead, he set up a website and began pumping out “educational” content. In recent years, as that parental paranoia became du jour, he founded PragerU Kids.
PragerU Kids really puts the radio host’s appeal to apolitical, education-based schooling system into practise by forgoing all the nonsense about Queer people existing. Instead, there’s a gross-out gameshow testing kids’ knowledge of Gold Meir facts, a crossword puzzle about Ayn Rand, and a challenge to come up with a fun campaign slogan for Margaret Thatcher. Yay.
This week, as Florida unveiled its culture war-inflected curriculum overhaul, PragerU announced their kids program has been approved and endorsed by Tallahasse. More states are set to follow, they promise.
On a very special Bug-eyed and Shameless, we look at the long arc of Dennis Prager’s quest to reshape education.
It’s just the beginning.
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In 2016, Dennis Prager recorded a particularly offputting bit of fanfic.
“To the students and faculty of our high school: I am your new principal,” a faceless bespectacled comb-over blob guy, ostensibly Prager himself, says in the video. “And honored to be so.”
This, Prager says in the introduction, is the speech that every high school principal should give. If they did, he says, “America would be a much better place.”
In this mythical school, with boss Prager in charge, race or ethnicity is out. “If you wish to affirm here an ethnic or racial identity — or a national identity other than American — you will have to attend another school.” That spans to after school, he goes on. Any club or group that features any identification of race, sexual orientation, or “whatever else may become in vogue in our society” is strictly banned. “Those clubs cultivate narcissism.” (Get bent, Nordic Ski Club!)
Principal Prager would impose a dress code, ban any and all foul language, and add a new fervent urgency to recite the Pledge of Allegiance word-for-word.
“I am reorientating the school towards academics and away from politics and propaganda,” the LARP principal continues. “No more time will be devoted to racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, global warming, tobacco, or gender identity. No more classes will be devoted to condom-wearing and teaching you to regard sexual relations as no more than a health issue.”
And, he wraps up, “there will be no more attempts to convince you that you are a victim because you are not white or male or heterosexual or Christian.”
I love this speech because it belies so well the deranged understand that Prager has always had about the public school system — an idea that has now infected the modern conservative movement more broadly. All that codswallop about, uh, the dangers of tobacco have to go out the window. No, it was time to fire the educational elites.
PragerU had Jordan B. Peterson detail the flipside of Prager’s vaguely-positive vision for what he would do if he was given a school full of impressionable minds to shape.
“You may not realize it, but you are currently funding some dangerous people,” Peterson explains. “They are indoctrinating young minds throughout the West with their resentment-ridden ideology. They have made it their life's mission to undermine Western civilization itself, which they regard as corrupt, oppressive and ‘patriarchal.’”
Peterson’s bug-eyed rant is about what you’d expect. Woke mobs, Venezuela, post-modernism, Marx, etc.
PragerU’s attempt to contribute to the body of academic thought has been, in a word, bad. For all the lectures about academics over politics, his supposed university has been nothing but grievance-fuelled rants by middling right-wing internet celebrities. Financially, it’s been pretty successful. In 2020, it raised more than $37 million. (This is all tax-free.)
It has managed to insert itself in the public discourse because it spends an obscene amount of money on advertising: $10 million last year alone. And it’s attracting fans.
In 2020, an Ohio teacher assigned PragerU videos to her class: Eliciting, seemingly, more confusion than anger. The videos were not educational at all, but political polemics: “Build the Wall,” “Why the Right was Right,” and “The Left Ruins Everything.” The class was supposed to watch the videos and write an essay about how the videos changed their beliefs. One student, The Huffington Post reported, suggested to the school that the class ought to allow students to consult a wide array of political content, instead of the propaganda hand-picked by the teacher. The school yanked the lesson altogether.
A spokesperson for PragerU told HuffPo: “Ideally, every school in America would show PragerU videos in the classroom on a regular basis to help educate the next generation.”
The American Prospect has done some great work tracing hown PREP’s content keeps showing up in schools across America. They spoke to one student whose teacher had played a PragerU video arguing that trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete in sports. “In an already hostile environment, it made me feel like my identity and who I am was up for debate,” the teenager told the outlet. “Having kids grow up with this in school is cementing the systemic political divide even deeper.”
Trying to break into the schools with political diatribes is probably a little too overt. So PragerU tried something a bit more clever: It would produce sunny, smiley, colorful kids content.
Enter PragerU Kids.
There, elementary school children can learn how Ania, a cartoon character, goes on an adventure to discover that the climate has been changing long before humans were on the planet, and how she “must face a devastating winter after the Polish government bans the use of coal.” (The happy ending involves a coal delivery.)
Or, they can hear about how Marcel, a Canadian, and his family flee to America so his father can get treated for a stomach tumor — students are left with the impression that his father would have died a painful death had he remained in socialist Canada.
They could also learn about how the French revolution was “the birth of left vs. right.” The right, in this telling, were reasonable constitutional monarchists who wanted responsibly democracy and the left were crazy radicals who wanted universal democracy — and then murdered everyone. Napoleon makes a brief cameo towards the end, but they yadda yadda yadda over it. (There is also convoluted point about how American conservatives are more noble than their European counterparts.)
PragerU has also partnered with Stephen Meyer, a major proponent of “intelligent design” (see: creationism.) Meyer is one of the most prominent anti-evolution agitators, and helped set up the Discovery Institute, a pseudoscience organization that pushes schools to “teach the controversy” on intelligent design. (This is in the present tense. They’re still doing this. Though they now peddle anti-trans propaganda too. Meyer was, depressingly, on the Joe Rogan Experience last week.)
There is something fundamentally unfair, I accept, about reviewing kids’ shows or beating up on intelligent design weirdos. Our current culture war and moral panic around Queer-friendly media has been enabled by deeply uncharitable reads of this youth-oriented content. Most youth-oriented program is, let’s be real, bad.
And, in the interest of fairness, some of the PragerU Kids content is perfectly fine — its telling of the stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman are airbrushed, but not entirely revisionist. And if people want to teach their kids that god sneezed and created the big bang, they’re free to do so. If PragerU shot these videos into the expanse of the internet as a resource for right-leaning and religious homeschool parents, fine.
What makes PragerU Kids so problematic is that it isn’t trying to augment public schooling, it is trying to supplant it.
Prager himself has been pretty blunt about the fact that the supposed far-left takeover of American schools require god-fearing parents to withdraw entirely. In 2021 he proclaimed “save America; home-school your children.” (Questionable use of the semi-colon his.)
PragerU has put out a “parent action guide” to help families weaponize the mechanics of the state to pivot the system’s focus. “It is our fundamental right to partner with schools to direct the education of our children,” it reads. It has a separate plan for how parents can launch an anti-Critical Race Theory crusade at their local school, encouraging them to strike a “school unity committee” and suggests they try co-opting Martin Luther King Jr. day. As it gets parents agitated and anxious about the Trotskyism infecting their child’s mind, it encourages them to shop through the PragerU Kids-approved lists of patriotic books on Amazon and to sign up for PREP (PragerU Resources for Educators & Parents) by making an annual donation of $25 or more.
In the manifesto for Meyer’s intelligent design organization, the Institute vows to “move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science” and to “use legal mechanisms to force intelligent design into public schools.”
This has been a long-running effort. And the culture war has finally risen to meet Dennis Prager and his deeply troublesome view of the education system.
And it’s paying off.
In a video uploaded this week, Jill Simonian, one of the network’s hosts, announced that PragerU Kids is now approved curriculum in Florida schools.
“If teachers in Florida want to use our PragerU Kids materials…they are able to and they will not be reprimanded, there will not be pushback about it,” Simonian said. “We are approved curriculum in Florida schools — and more states are following very soon.”
Fights over educational indoctrination are as old as public schooling itself.
Complaints that schools have abandoned rigorous academics — in favor of frivolity or “social intercourse,” as one 1937 column put it — are littered through the 20th century. Fears of indoctrination, too, took hold of the public psyche as the red menace rose. Police in Montreal even raided underground Communist schools through the 1930s and 1940s, sometimes held in barns, out of fear that children were being held hostage by the ungodly philosophy.
By and large, though, indoctrination was sold as a positive: Many religious courses were explicitly titled as much. There was a prevailing feeling like patriotism and civic duty had to be instilled through schools. Often, progressives were accused of being too wishy-washy on having schools push an agenda. As one 1943 column argued: “The progressives’ opposition to [indoctrination] is a natural attitude on their part, for they believe the child ought not to be compelled to learn anything that does not appeal to him; otherwise his ‘personality’ is thwarted and his ‘creativeness’ repressed.” They argued that American schools had an obligation to promote god and the American way of life, and to denigrate fascism, Nazism, and Communism. And that was a remarkably common take. (And not an entirely wrong one, either!)
A writer in the Edmonton Bulletin made a tortured comparison between Western religious indoctrination, “the illumination of religious experience by reason,” and the Communist way of thinking: “Shutting off of the floodlight of normal experience of life and focusing of a narrow spotlight upon on single distorted aspect of life.” School districts panicked on how they could root out Communist sympathies from the education system and seal up the windows to stop it from leaking in.
In the decades that followed, as we know, the state chilled out considerably. By the 1960s, some schools permitted thoughtful, objective(-ish) education on the nature of socialism. De-segregation further broke down the racial indoctrination omnipresent in whites-only schools. Indeed, North American schooling began to pride itself on teaching a wide array of thought and ideologies explicitly to contrast the Soviet indoctrination style.
That had limits, of course. Panic around teaching youth about sexuality has been a time-honored tradition. As the Utah Independent wrote in 1975, the “pro-pervert Congresswoman Bella Abzug” and her homosexual lobby were, by introducing a bill to outlaw various classes of discrimination, attempting to force “school systems to hire a certain number of sexual deviates as teachers.” Former orange juice pitchwoman Anita Bryant criss-crossed the country arguing that gay teachers could ‘turn’ their students. It was decades later before the histrionics around gay teachers was finally beaten down.
If I can squish a century of educational history, politics, and policy into a few short words: Education is political. Everything is political. Deciding the beginning and endpoints of what shows up in school — teachings on the red menace, the acceptance of a multi-racial society, tolerance of Queer people — have shadowed societal movement pretty closely. In some cases, education is at the forefront of those changes, sometimes it is far behind.
But there has never been one side advocating for ideology in schools, and another fighting for formal and pure education. Both sides have tried to advance their own policies and social agendas through the education system, for good and bad. That’s why there is a big, bureaucratic apparatus designed to take all these various inputs and come up with a thoughtful, evidence-led compromise on what gets taught in school, how, and when. It is not a perfect process, but no process ever is.
Where we should always be worried is when politics tries to denigrate and undermine that process so that they can hijack it.
You saw this play out in Alberta over the past year, where a politically-driven rewrite of the curriculum produced a racist, plagiarized, factually inaccurate set of lessons — it had to be shelved after mass protest. In Texas, meanwhile, the state board of education had to ditch its plans for a modest update of the history curriculum because legislators alleged it ran afoul of a ban on Critical Race Theory.
PragerU is founded on the idea that there is both a political imperative and a financial incentive to destroying this system. Dennis Prager has spent his entire career alleging that something rotten sits at the center of the American public education system, and that schools must return to basics. He then, in turn — and for money — offers programming to replace that ideological menace. Except his curriculum is even more nakedly partisan than the units he is trying to replace.
Others have jumped aboard.
The Daily Wire, an outlet that turned transphobia into a business model, claims to be investing $100 million into a kids network. Brave Books is putting out children’s titles from congressman Dan Crenshaw and Pizzagate enthusiast Jack Posobiec.
But PragerU has been at this game a lot longer, and it is getting traction.
It’s broken into the school system itself.
It’s worth looking at the changes to Florida’s curriculum being forced through by Ron DeSantis.
Like PragerU Kids’ offerings, it is more insidious than overt.
Florida’s new guidelines, for example, still have a unit — at every grade level — to highlight “positive influencers and contributions by African Americans.” And that includes, even in younger grades, Maya Angelou, the operators of the underground railroad, and the Tuskegee Airmen, amongst a host of others. One high school unit asks students to “explain why support for the Ku Klux Klan varied in the 1920s with respect to issues such as anti-immigration, anti-African American, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-women, and anti-union ideas.”
Florida’s defenders, when called out, are quick to point to these units, proclaiming “a ha! You didn’t even read the curriculum!”
The real problem is that this new education paradigm tries its damnest to strip historical significance from these ideas and lessons, turning them into two-dimensional icons. The idea of Maya Angelou may be palatable for these race-averse conservatives, but her actual writing tends to scare them: Her seminal book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, has been banned and slapped with odious warnings in school libraries across America, including Florida.
One unit calls on students to “describe the contributions of Africans to society, science, poetry, politics, oratory, literature, music, dance, Christianity and exploration in the United States from 1776-1865.” In other words: To celebrate the contributions to America of the people it still enslaved. Florida’s curriculum, by high school, also crams in a series of lessons on the use of slavery by Barbary pirates, pre-contact Indigenous peoples, various African nations, and others. It’s hard not to see the moral equivocation in that.
Many teachers will, I imagine, navigate this deftly. Others won’t: You’ll probably see more teachers asking students to write essays from the point-of-view of the KKK, or painting slavery as a mitigated good.
Unfortunately, DeSantis’ effort to insert his government into the schools extends far beyond setting the curriculum. One policy promises to “strengthen the rights of parents” by ensuring “the use of the child’s legal name in school.” If there is to be a “deviation” from the child’s legal name, the parent has the ultimate authority to specify what it is. (Sorry,
Phil, you’ll be Philmore like your parents intended!) Another rule makes clear that teachers could be fired, and their education license revoked, should they provide any education or guidance on sexual orientation or gender identity outside of the official line. They could face reprimand for even using a student’s pronouns if they “do not correspond to such person’s sex.”
All of this will, no doubt, create a serious chilling effect on any teacher deemed offside of DeSantis’ particular view of history.
This academic philosophy is indoctrination. It does not encourage rigorous debate or evidence-based lines of inquiry. It is rigid and intolerant. It seeks to keep certain ways of thinking out of reach. It dictates how kids are supposed to express themselves, and gives parents a veto over their social development.
Ron DeSantis, in a word, is replicating the Soviet education system that his conservative predecessors worked to reject.
Thomas Zimmer, over at, has been doing the yeoman’s work of reading DeSantis’ past writing to try and get a grasp on the philosophy that motivates the governor’s historical chauvinism.
The allegiance was never to getting the history right – not in any sense that a historian would recognize as a good-faith effort; the “first principle,” to use the term DeSantis likes so much, is the allegiance to a vision of America as a nation in accordance with the supposed laws of nature – a society still respecting a natural order as it manifests in traditional hierarchies of race, religion, gender, and wealth. Everything else – the policies necessary to uphold that order, no matter how radical, and the historical narratives that can be used to legitimize them – flows from there.
We should be worried about where this fight is going.
We have already seen school board meetings across North America erupt into recriminations around gender and race. The idea that students are being brainwashed into the wrong way of thinking is a hysteria that has captured millions of parents.
State governments, provinces, school boards, and local schools are succumbing to the paranoia.
Teachers are being fired for teaching Critical Race Theory or explaining white privilege. It is hitting Black educators hardest. Books are being censored and banned, and some school systems are only feeding the chaos by trying to purge problematic and antiquated texts. Governments, from New Brunswick to Indiana, have tried to crack down on how students use pronouns.
Some of these discussions are thoughtful exercises in how best to adapt to social change. It would also be worrying, I think, if governments simply threw their hands in the air and refused to engage on some of these shifting social paradigms.
But discussions about education only work if there’s still faith in the system — teachers, school administrators, school boards. Indeed, it’s their job to mix progress with conservatism, to figure out what ideas are best to introduce when. But if we listen to the Dennis Pragers of the world, we must believe that every school board on the continent is staffed by raging Communists working to groom children into a gender-free dystopia. And if you believe that, only patriotic politicians and right-thinking pressure groups, like PragerU, are to be trusted.
We have to get away from viewing the world through the eyes of the professional grievance-peddlers who make their bones by getting supporters fired up online. You can be skeptical of teaching young children about gender identity or the horrors of slavery without sinking into DeSantis’ brain-wormy conspiracy theorizing.
We made so much progress over the past half-century shaking away the notions of red agents and predatory homosexuals skulking the corridors. We wound up with a pretty good system of mixing orthodoxy and tradition with progress and innovation. Don’t let Dennis “They’re Turning the Muppets Gay” Prager turn the clock back.
Until next week.
I’ve reached out to the Florida Department of Education repeatedly to confirm that claim, but haven’t received a response.