Arizona teachers’ reception to the state education department’s partnership with a nonprofit advocacy group that creates online content promoting conservative viewpoints was less than thrilled.
“I feel infuriated. I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone,” said Raquel Mamani, a special education teacher in Madison School District. “If anybody ever came to me and said, ‘you must teach this’ [that] is the day that I walk out the door.”
“Prager materials are rich in content and have a commitment to presenting facts for students to better understand American history,” said Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne when the partnership was announced.
Parent’s voices in their child’s education
Mike and Kandi Mosier are supportive of the Arizona Department of Education’s new partnership with PragerU.The Chandler family has chosen to homeschool one of their daughters, while their other daughter attends a private Christian school.
“It is really good for our family. It’s gonna allow us to actually conversate and grow together,” Mike said. “It’s huge because this opens up conversations about real history…”
While they had originally enrolled their kids in public school, Mike said he didn’t agree with the curriculum being taught and took them out of school. He recalled one day in particular, when the girls came home and told him they learned Pluto wasn’t a planet—which was contrary to what he had been taught growing up, and contrary to what he believes to this day.
“I can’t un-teach that. She is programmed that Pluto is not a planet,” Mike told The Copper Courier. “If we had risked her staying in school longer, how many other things would have been reprogrammed that we wouldn’t have been able to fix?”
What is PragerU?
PragerU is known to spread dangerous misinformation to students, and have openly admitted that their videos attempt to indoctrinate kids, said Beth Lewis, executive director of the non-partisan public schools advocacy organization Save Our Schools Arizona.
“He doesn’t support public education and he’s the Superintendent of Public Education,” Lewis said. “It’s really painful, I’m just disheartened and frustrated that our leader doesn’t have kids back and doesn’t have teacher’s backs.”
Lewis, who was a public school teacher for 12 years and has two children in elementary school, hopes the partnership will have minimal impact on students and trusts that teachers will make good decisions for their students.
“I think that by putting them [PragerU] on the State Department of Education website, it gives sort of this appearance of credibility that really could lead parents, teachers, students astray,” said Lewis.” Leading them into thinking that this information is correct when in fact they’re teaching wrong history and inaccurate science.”
The free content from PragerU is not accredited through any kind of professional organization, and neither schools nor teachers will be required to use the material in classroom settings.
Kristin Roberts, a high school teacher in the Valley, says she found the material to be one-sided and does not have any intention of using it in her classrooms.
“That is not at all what teachers are charged to do with our students,” Roberts said. “That’s not what learning is, we want to teach students to think critically, to understand all kinds of issues and to be able to evaluate pros and cons and weigh out for themselves how they view the world instead of just being told one way to think.”
Why Arizona schools?
PragerU has brought in millions of dollars from conservative donors like the National Christian Charitable Foundation and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, according to the Guardian.
Historians and researchers say PragerU’s videos spread misinformation about science and history.
The organization’s materials were welcomed into Arizona schools last month by members of the far-right legislative body known as the Arizona Freedom Caucus, who gathered behind Superintendent Horne and PragerU CEO Marissa Streit at the Arizona Capitol. They highlighted that, by their account, Arizona’s parents have lost their voices in their children’s education, and the PragerU partnership will help give parents and schools “a choice.”
“Arizona Republicans stand for giving every child the greatest potential for achieving opportunity, prosperity, and a happy and robust life as they get older. That foundation begins first in the family, first in the church, and then in the classroom,” said Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.
Educators emphasize role of parents
State lawmakers were also joined by Carine Werner, a member of the Scottsdale Unified School District governing board and mother of three children who attend school in the district.
“It is time that we defend a parent’s right to have a say in their child’s education,” said Werner. “This type of transparency empowers parents to engage with our children on what they are being taught and returns parents to the driver’s seat of their child’s education.”
But Mamani, who is also the community action team coordinator and Latino outreach director for Save Our Schools Arizona, said the scenario PragerU and its supporters described does not align with reality.
“It’s a false narrative that parents have lost their voice, these legislators are out of touch with,” said Mamani. “What really happens in the classroom, our doors are fully open, and we are begging parents to come to parent-teacher organization meetings.”
Mamani’s experience was echoed by Roberts, who said parents are one of the main stakeholders who are invited to be engaged when districts adopt new curriculum, and they really can have a strong input on what is chosen.
She noted that parents who are concerned about their children’s new curriculum options with PragerU should reach out to their local school board members and let them know it isn’t the type of education they want to see in schools.
If a parent suspects anything taught sounds like indoctrination, they are encouraged to call Superintendent Horne’s “Empower Hotline” to report it.
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