Detractors of critical race theory have pushed for the inclusion of alternate courses, such as those provided by institutions like PragerU. With these courses offering a heavily skewed perspective of US history, the validity of Black history (and Black suffering) is again up for debate.
Last week, PragerU posted a video declaring that, “PragerU is Now in Texas!” with video endorsement from Texas State Board of Education member Julie Pickren. However, officials from the Texas Department of Education state that PragerU has not submitted materials to earn approval as an education vendor in the state.
Despite this claim being rendered either false or premature, the nonprofit advocacy group’s inclusion in Texas’ educational spaces would not be far-fetched. As earlier this year the school board made moves to limit climate science education in the state, Texas’ education standards are subject to politicization. Much like fellow red state Florida, conservative leadership has already failed to provide a comprehensive education on the environment and has the power to make corresponding changes to the field of history, as well.
In a video titled, “Are We Living on Stolen Land?” the narrator, Professor at Leiden College in the Netherlands Jeff Fynn-Paul, attempts to debunk claims that the United States is a country built on the backs of Black slaves on land stolen by the Indigenous people living here prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Fynn-Paul leads his lecture with the point that teaching young people that the history of our country is “uniquely awful” will lead to societal collapse, following this with statements defending widespread enslavement, death from disease, and displacement and then adding that some Europeans had moral qualms about the colonization of the United States. Fynn-Paul’s arguments are disjointed and inconsistent in their directed points.
PragerU’s content has been called right-wing propaganda and its founder has even admitted that the non-profit engages in indoctrination. The platform made waves during the George Floyd protests when it released a video defending Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In a video narrated by Candace Owens covering the topic of Slavery, Owens states early on that the Caribs, one of the tribes enslaved by Christopher Columbus, partook in slavery themselves. While it’s generally accepted that in the early history of America warring tribes would often keep slave wives, this is a false equivocation to compare this to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Owens also points out that the African and Middle-Eastern continents participated in slave trading to purchase Slavic slaves in the 9th and 10th centuries, excluding the fact that the Slavs were sold by white Russian Vikings.
In a more in-depth perspective on Columbus featuring PragerU Kids characters Leo and Layla, Columbus negatively paints the Carib tribe as violent and uncivilized compared to the peaceful and intelligent Taino.
The primary source of the Caribs’ practice of slavery is Samuel Eliot Morrison’s biography of Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Open Sea, which only draws from the writings of the Spanish and Columbus himself, heavily limiting perspectives on both the Carib and the Taino. Additionally, PragerU makes no mention of Columbus’ enslavement of the Taino, which caused the deaths of over 7 million Taino and erased the tribe’s culture. Columbus provides justification for slavery, asking, “Being taken as a slave is better than being killed, no?”
PragerU Kids’ featured characters Leo and Layla are two siblings who travel through time to speak to historical figures throughout history. Christopher Columbus is just one of many historical figures the children interact with, as they also meet Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.
Leo and Layla’s interactions with Frederick Douglass are highly skewed, derived from minor elements in the abolitionist’s life stretched to accommodate the views of PragerU rather than portray an accurate depiction. In this video, Leo and Layla lament over protests and riots covered on the news, later interacting with a fictionalized Frederick Douglass to realize he also finds civil disobedience unsavory.
Douglass goes on to claim he stopped associating with mentor William Lloyd Garrison due to Garrison’s extremism. In reality, it was Douglass whose politics became more accepting of violence and direct action in the fight for abolitionism, partially inspired by his contemporary and colleague John Brown.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s portrayal is consistent with most whitewashed iterations: paternalistic, staunchly non-violent, and faithful to the functionality of the American system. Non-violence in the civil rights movement is reframed by PragerU as a display of higher moral standards, rather than a militant dedication to the movement. This revisionist characterization is a popular iteration of the civil rights leader, though highly problematic and inaccurate.
In truth, Dr. King eventually abandoned his message of non-violence and embraced direct action in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King was later killed by James Earl Ray, who was solely convicted for the crime until 30 years later in 1999 when a Memphis Jury found the US Government guilty of conspiring to assassinate Martin Luther King Jr.
While Black students feel increasingly alienated throughout their education, disillusion becomes more common by the time they’re attending high school. Many Black students cite a lack of resonance with education as a primary reason. History curriculums have been fraught with misrepresentations of certain individuals and events since formal education was developed in the United States and CRT has been instrumental in combating false narratives. As states resist these clearer perspectives on the Black experience in the United States across history, greater miseducation is instituted as an act of defense of the status quo.
Twenty-eight states have taken measures against CRT to deny its integration into curriculums. As these states avoid deeper conversations about the country’s moral background and deprive Black students of truthful representations of the past, in turn, instability, distrust, and a purely negative estimation of the United States’ history are more likely when true narratives are left out of the discussion. Regardless of whether PragerU will be included in Texas’ approved educational materials, a continued effort to erase Black complexity, depth, pain, and power will remain in order to combat critical discussions on race in the US.