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Conservative group PragerU wins approval to offer online course to NH students

Members of New Hampshire's Board of Education
Ethan Dewitt
/
New Hampshire Bulletin
Members of New Hampshire's State Board of Education discuss a proposed contract with PragerU to provide an online course in financial literacy to New Hampshire high school students, Sept. 14, 2023.

The conservative media organization PragerU has won state approval to offer online classes to high school students in New Hampshire. On Thursday, the state Board of Education approved the group’s application for its “Cash Course,” a series of 15 five-minute videos that cover subjects ranging from debt to insurance basics. Completion of the course will fulfill the state’s new financial literacy requirement for high school students.

PragerU, a non-profit co-founded by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager, calls itself “the world's leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.” It touts its offerings as a “free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.”

PragerU Kids produces what the organization calls “educational, entertaining, pro-American” materials for kids and young adults. In its biannual report it says its content is watched 5 million times every day and that one in three Americans has watched at least one of its videos. Among these are videos questioning the science of climate change, discussing the Founders’ rationale for maintaining slavery, and profiling major figures in American history. Over the last few months, education officials in Oklahoma and Florida have approved PragerU Kids material for use in schools in those states.

The Cash Course videos okayed for use in New Hampshire lack the explicit political bias often associated with PragerU, and the organization says it will create a stand-alone platform for the financial literacy course that segregates the videos approved by the New Hampshire Board of Education from other content on the PragerU site.

But in a public comment period before the state Board of Education on Thursday, dozens of educators, parents, and school board members warned against any partnership with the organization given its ideological leanings.

“I viewed videos that denied global warming, promoted white Christian nationalism, viewed slavery as a good to Black people, were virulently anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, and were actively othering of marginalized groups and anti-LGBTQ folks,” Giana Gelsey, of Madbury, said, of other videos on the organization’s website. “This type of material belongs absolutely nowhere in public schools.”

William Politt, of Weare, testified that the videos “are clearly the camel's nose under the tent, a welcome mat into our public schools for Prager's propaganda in other subject areas.”

Others raised concerns that PragerU was implying that it was an accredited school or university. But earlier this week, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office said that in spite of state laws restricting non-approved colleges and universities from using the term "university" in their name, PragerU could legally operate here.

In a letter to the state Board of Education, Marissa Streit, the CEO of Prager University Foundation, defended the organization: “Regarding the absurd claims that PragerU is a racist, homophobic, and anti-science organization, these claims are simply untrue. They are made by the true extremists: those who are more interested in turning our children into social justice warriors than in teaching them basic concepts of Judeo-Christian morality, personal responsibility, hard work, honesty, and respect for parents and teachers.”

Before voting to approve the application, Board of Education member Richard Sala, of Hopkinton, likened critics’ opposition to censorship of conservative ideas.

“PragerU’s material, like a lot of the progressive and liberal things we heard during public comment this morning, is mainstream political thought in this country,” Sala said.

Board member Ryan Terrell, of Nashua, agreed.

“What we saw today is groups of people being mobilized by political organizations with the express purpose to flex political muscle against who they see as a political enemy,” he said. “What I'm judging this on is a well thought-out, well-created, well put-together socially and age-appropriate program that teaches young people to make smart financial decisions.”

With the board’s approval, the course will be offered through the New Hampshire Department of Education’s Learn Everywhere program, which requires high schools to grant credit for activities and courses completed outside of school and approved by the state board. Students can also take an online course towards the financial requirement through Fit Money and the state’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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