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How a conservative group’s videos gained a foothold in classrooms with help from Republican officials: report

In a clip, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters says he “couldn’t be more excited to bring this content into our classrooms,” adding that he used PragerU videos himself as a history teacher.

New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut enthusiastically explains that students in his state can use PragerU videos to satisfy high school graduation requirements, noting, “It’s premium content quality – it is very engaging for children. »

Elsie Arntzen, Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, says her state’s new relationship with PragerU will help educators recognize “how to teach things.”

PragerU was founded in 2009. Its recent videos feature messages opposing transgender health care and suggesting Americans say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Last year, the organization launched a line of cartoons and school materials aimed at schoolchildren, called PragerU Kids, which in the past six months has received endorsements from four state education agencies.

PragerU Kids’ video content ranges from lessons for teens on why universal health care systems in countries like Canada are worse than the United States’ system, to an explanation for young children about Israel’s Iron Dome .

In one animation, two time-traveling children ask Christopher Columbus if he enslaved indigenous people. Cartoon Columbus responds, “It is better to be taken as a slave than to be killed,” and insists that it is “estupido” to judge him by modern moral standards. In another, abolitionist Frederick Douglass defends the Founding Fathers for failing to ban slavery.

PragerU’s expansion into public schools has alarmed some parents and educators — especially heading into an election year in which culture war debates over education promise to be a major issue. Critics say the group’s videos inject right-wing bias into the classroom, and civil rights groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign have called PragerU’s content propaganda.

Some videos have also angered scientists. Several researchers told Reuters that PragerU misrepresented their findings in videos about climate change. An official at the National Center for Science Education said allowing PragerU content into classrooms sent an inappropriate message about how to teach about global warming.

Emails obtained by NBC News through records requests offer insight into how PragerU was able to grow in public schools, thanks to its relationships with Republican politicians who helped market the organization.

Edelblut and Walters each visited PragerU’s headquarters in Southern California; emails show that Edelblut agreed to speak to the nonprofit’s donors at a private event there, and a video on PragerU’s website shows Walters speaking to staff and donors at with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on campus in November.

“We literally have an education system that has indoctrinated children with radical left-wing wokism,” Walters said at the ceremony. “No organization, no individual has done more than PragerU to strike at the heart of this left-wing domination of education.”

NBC News spoke with education policy specialists, lawyers and ethics experts who say PragerU’s courting of elected officials raises red flags. All said it was abnormal, even alarming, that an organization would try to get its programs into classrooms by appealing directly to politicians and asking state leaders to film commercials.

The officials’ willingness to appear in PragerU promotional videos “is very unusual,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, a nonprofit that seeks stricter funding laws. electoral campaigns. “It crosses the line of ethics when you use your official position to promote the interests of a single entity.”

Streit said in an interview that PragerU is on the front lines of a “culture war” in which one side is trying to manipulate children into hating the country through schools.

“I don’t actually believe that America is going to be brought down by bullets and tanks,” she said. “I believe that if America is to be destroyed, it will be because of the erosion of the values ​​and ideas that made our country what it is today.”

Dennis Prager, longtime radio host and co-founder of PragerU, acknowledged that the organization is in a “mind-changing business” and sees no problem with allegations that it indoctrinates children.

“We pass doctrines on to children. That’s a very fair statement,” he said at a recent conference hosted by the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty. But he added: “What is the harm in our indoctrination? »

In an interview with NBC News, Prager said his group’s message is superior to the progressive ideology that he says causes teachers to focus too much on the sins of the United States.

Read the exclusive in the NBC News report.

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