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February 1st, 2024
No-“woke”: Arizona schools chief pushes PragerU lessons

“It’s masquerading as a serious educational resource when in reality it’s unaccredited right-wing propaganda,’’ Grijalva said. “Just as congressional Republicans want to ban books and eliminate diverse points of view, PragerU’s intent is to indoctrinate our children with disinformation, mistruths and whitewash history.’’

Originally published in Arizona Daily Star by Howard Fischer.

PHOENIX — Arizona’s schools now have the officially blessed option of providing lessons that include an animated video of Christopher Columbus saying “Being taken as a slave is better than being killed, no? I don’t see the problem.”

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is placing this and other PragerU lessons on the Arizona Department of Education website for schools to offer as part of their curriculum.

They also include interviews with those who seek to debunk “climate change’’ as well as videos about how Europe is “committing suicide’’ with illegal immigration, how Jews are “the indigenous people’’ of what was called Palestine, and, in particular, economic issues including lectures on why socialism is bad and why people should oppose federal legislation to create a $15 minimum wage.

The head of PragerU, which is not a university but rather a nonprofit, admitted she has no evidence the Italian explorer ever said the slavery vs. being killed quote. But she contends the video is justified.

“If you made a movie about Christopher Columbus and you had to portray what he would say, what would you have had him say?’’ said Marissa Streit, PragerU’s CEO. “Would you not have him say what he was likely going to say?’’

Horne said he sees nothing wrong with that. “They were having him say what he believed,’’ Horne said of the Columbus video.

Horne says the PragerU curriculum will provide balance in classrooms. The organization says it “creates free educational content promoting American values.”

“For too long, the left has dominated, both in the universities and in K-12 and we need some alternate viewpoints,’’ said Horne, who was elected in 2022. “All you have to do is look and see what’s going on in the universities or look and see what’s going on in Tucson Unified or Balsz (elementary) district that adopted the 1619 Project which is total mythology.’’

The first refers to an ethnic studies program offered in Tucson Unified School District; the second is about the New York Times series about the legacy of slavery in America.

Nothing requires school districts to use this or any other video. But Streit said it is available “so that parents who are showing up in our hearings that there’s been a left wing, Marxist domination of our educational market, they have an option for something else for our kids.’’

PragerU says it produces free videos of an “alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media and understanding.’’

“Yes, we do have an ideological viewpoint,’’ Streit said. “And that is a patriotic, wholesome viewpoint. We don’t support a political agenda. We support an ideological agenda.’’

Hobbs calls it “fake history”

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs said Wednesday she just learned about Horne’s plans to offer the materials to schools on the Department of Education website.

“I can say that when I talked to parents and teachers, looking for alternative history in their schools is not what they’re interested in,’’ said Hobbs, who was also elected in 2022.

“I don’t think we need to be looking at some alternative that teaches fake history,’’ the governor said. “It’s not a real issue that we’re hearing from folks in our schools.’’

Hobbs acknowledged she has not seen any of the videos or other materials produced by PragerU. But she said curriculum should be left up to school boards.

Horne said that remains the case, and that nothing in his plan imposes new standards.

“We don’t certify curricula,’’ said Horne. “What we do at the state level is we establish standards: what students need to know and be able to do at a given grade level. And we leave it up to the schools to teach their curricula as a way to teach those standards.’’

Just adds to choices, Horne says

What Horne’s agreement with PragerU does, he said, is “add to that choice by making Prager University materials available to the schools and also to the parents who may want to show them to their children.’’

He put it in an us-versus-them perspective.

“My adversaries don’t want parents to have those choices,’’ Horne said. “They want choices for themselves. They don’t want choices for other people.’’

The schools chief said later these “adversaries’’ include those who support elements of “critical race theory,’’ which he said “abandons the idea of individual merit and presses for racial entitlement.”

He defended what will be made available.

“Prager materials are rich in content and have a commitment to presenting facts for students to better understand American history,’’ Horne said.

“Unlike some people, I think it’s unprofessional conduct for a teacher to use a captive audience to push their own ideology,’’ Horne said. But he also acknowledged he has no “good evidence’’ that actually is occurring, saying if he did he would asked the State Board of Education to discipline that teacher.

Horne also said the Prager materials are “objective.’’

Asked specifically about the cartoon video of Columbus defending slavery as a better alternative to death, Horne said, “That’s what he believed. And you wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth that he didn’t believe.’’

Yet after his Wednesday press conference announcing the materials are available, Horne dodged questions about whether Prager was, in fact, putting words into Columbus’ mouth.

“Do you want me to lie to children?”

Many of the Prager videos are specifically aimed at children, using a fictional brother and sister who time travel and “converse’’ with historical figures such as John Adams and Frederick Douglass.

The animated video with Columbus has the younger child telling the explorer he was taught Columbus had “spoiled paradise and he had brought slavery and murder to peaceful people.’’

Columbus responds that there were some tribes that were not peaceful, including some who were cannibals.

“All the things that are bad in the world I come from, jealousy, lying, murder, war, it all exists in the land I just found, too,’’ he says. “In Europe, we draw the line on eating people and human sacrifice.’’

As to slavery, Columbus calls it “as old as time’’ and says it existed everywhere, including in the New World. “Being taken as a slave is better than being killed, no?’’ he is quoted. “I don’t see the problem.’’

Streit said it’s historically defensible.

“When we created the script of what he said, we relied on original documents of what his opinion would likely be,’’ Streit said, and had the kids express “our modern-times view’’ that slavery is bad.

Asked where in any original documents Columbus says slavery was preferable to death, she responded, “This is so absurd. Do you want me to lie to children and tell children that Christopher Columbus would have said that slavery is bad?”

Grijalva: Right-wing propaganda

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, released his own statement Wednesday saying PragerU and its materials do not belong in Arizona schools.

“It’s masquerading as a serious educational resource when in reality it’s unaccredited right-wing propaganda,’’ Grijalva said. “Just as congressional Republicans want to ban books and eliminate diverse points of view, PragerU’s intent is to indoctrinate our children with disinformation, mistruths and whitewash history.’’

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