Editorial: Reject ‘low-quality’ curriculum

PragerU is a right-leaning media nonprofit that produces videos providing lessons on history, politics, and social issues with a conservative perspective. (Screenshot)

PragerU is a right-leaning media nonprofit that produces videos providing lessons on history, politics, and social issues with a conservative perspective. (Screenshot)

Published: 08-21-2023 10:23 AM

The state Board of Education has paused New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s latest attempt to undermine the public schools, but we fear board members will not stay the course.

As the New Hampshire Bulletin reported, the board earlier this month tabled a proposal that would allow public school students to earn credit by taking a financial literacy course from something called PragerU, which despite its name is not a university but rather a nonprofit media organization. It describes itself as “the world’s leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.” Perhaps more candidly, its co- founder, conservative talk show host Dennis Prager, is reported to have acknowledged in a recent speech that its purpose is to indoctrinate children with its right-wing ideology.

A main sticking point for the board apparently was whether PragerU could be relied upon to adequately segregate the 15 five-minute financial literacy videos from its other, highly problematic content. A sample viewing suggests to us that while not all of that other content is objectionable, the best that could be said about most of the videos is that they blend half-truths with selected “context” to soft-pedal hard issues, or minimize their severity. For example, “A Short History of Slavery” assures us among many other things that slavery has been present in many places throughout human history and that it was abolished in Britain, the French colonies and the United States “by white men.” Not addressed is why a nation that was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” and prides itself on its moral exceptionalism required nearly 90 years and a bloody civil war to rid itself of the South’s “peculiar institution.” Nor does it mention the key role that thousands of newly liberated slaves played in fighting and winning that war for the Union, or the poisoning of American life down to this day that slavery spawned.

Edelblut contends that the financial literacy videos should be differentiated from the other PragerU content. That argument has not swayed New Hampshire conservatives when it comes to funding health-care contracts for Planned Parenthood, despite certification by the state Attorney General’s office and the state Department of Health and Human Services that the organization strictly segregates public funds from the abortion services it provides. Why PragerU should get a free pass on that question is something the board should take pains to answer when the proposal comes up again.

The commissioner also claims that the financial literacy videos are well-produced and informative. That assertion was rebutted by a number of educators who told the board that the videos lacked sufficient rigor to ensure that students mastered the subject. Certainly, it is hard to believe that competency in something as complicated as financial literacy could be achieved by watching 75 minutes of videos and then answering a multiple choice exam for credit. It’s also a question why an organization that manufactures propaganda in one context would be a straight shooter in another.

According to the InDepthNH news site, Michael Bessette, assistant superintendent of the Kearsarge Regional School District, compared using the PragerU videos instead of a locally developed curriculum to going to McDonalds but claiming you are going to a four-star restaurant. “It may be convenient,” he said, “but you are replacing something of high quality with something of low quality. You are doing a disservice to my children and all school children.”

Of course, doing a disservice to school children is right in the wheelhouse of Edelblut, who revels in diverting money from public education and squandering millions of dollars a year on unaccountable private schools and homeschooling through so-called Education Freedom Accounts.

It’s also possible that after the Legislature mandated last year that financial literacy be incorporated in the state’s core curriculum, Edelblut saw a Trojan-horse opportunity to introduce PragerU content by first getting the financial literacy curriculum approved and then insinuating the rest of its content into the public schools, as Florida has now done.

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If you find any or all of this alarming, you have the next month to make your concerns known to the state Board of Education, which is said to be leaning toward eventual approval of PragerU's financial literacy program. In our view, as important as financial literacy is, it's hardly worth the risk of promoting political, social and cultural illiteracy in children.