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PragerU is Now in HISD

From the very beginning of the state takeover of Houston Independent School District, critics worried that it would be a conservative power grab framed as a rescue mission. The introduction of PragerU into classrooms is unsettling evidence those worries were justified.

PragerU is a conservative advocacy group known for producing slick educational videos with extremely conservative points of view. It is not actually an academic institution, and is instead funded by oil and gas moguls and Christian nationalists like Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn. Videos often discount the effect of white supremacy on history, question manmade climate change, and push anti-LGBT bias. Notable conservative media figures like Ben Shapiro, Candace Ownes, and Jordan Peterson have appeared in their videos.

For several years, PragerU has been trying to infiltrate public school systems, and it looks like they have finally succeeded in HISD. State appointed superintendent Mike Miles has added “The Art of Thinking” from the Third Future Schools charter network to the curriculum. This unit includes videos from PragerU.

Interestingly, only the schools that have been deemed at risk are using the curriculum, the ones that Miles has designated New Education System Aligned. These schools have also seen purges of their libraries and the loss of special education support staff.

The video included in the curriculum is “How to Think Objectively.” It’s framed as a guide to critical thinking, but paints environmentalists as uniformed and overly emotional. A parody of a professor is seen saysing “humans are the real problem causing climate change” in an exaggerated and ridiculous voice as an example of who not to listen to. Then, a calm, white man explains that the climate has changed in the past, so man obviously can’t be the cause of the current warming of the Earth.

This echoes a recent debacle at the State Board of Education, where several members of the all-Republican body objected to content they felt painted the fossil fuel industry in a bad light. One member claimed that doing so would be bad for the state’s GDP, but did not actually refute the science in the textbook.

Like much of PragerU content, the video claims to instruct viewers in rational and objective truth finding, but uses only conservative talking points as an example. The funders of PragerU are dedicated to continuing the use and expansion of fossil fuels despite clear and present danger to the planet, and in the face of near-universal agreement that fossil fuels are the main cause.

In addition to the anti-climate change rhetoric, the video discourages viewers from “thinking like a victim” because it leads to emotional responses. This is a typical far-right talking point used to ignore systemic injustices that have very real effects on marginalized populations by accusing those populations of whining for attention instead of solving their problems. It’s gaslighting nonsense that has no place in a public school. Thanks to the state takeover of Texas’s largest school district, it’s now something that gets shown in classes.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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