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Oklahoma is promoting a history curriculum using videos by conservative group PragerU

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Oklahoma is joining Florida in promoting videos from the conservative organization PragerU for its history curriculum. State Impact Oklahoma's Beth Wallis reports the state's firebrand superintendent is pushing for what he calls a pro-American curriculum.

BETH WALLIS, BYLINE: Oklahoma's superintendent of public instruction, Ryan Walters, says his department is working with PragerU Kids to develop Oklahoma-specific education materials.

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RYAN WALTERS: We want Oklahoma students to know more about American history than any other state in the country. We want them to know about American exceptionalism, want them to know about those founding documents, want them to understand what made this country great.

WALLIS: PragerU and PragerU Kids bills itself as a, quote, "free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media and education."

Walters, who is often criticized for his use of inflammatory rhetoric, has waged a war on what he calls a woke agenda in Oklahoma classrooms.

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WALTERS: This is also going to be content that is factually based, with no left-wing indoctrination.

WALLIS: But PragerU Kids' videos, critics say, often create narratives with an agenda. For example, Christopher Columbus is portrayed here talking to two time-traveling children about how he enslaved Indigenous people.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Christopher Columbus) Slavery is as old as time and has taken place in every corner of the world, even amongst the people I just left. Being taken as a slave is better than being killed, no? I don't see the problem.

WALLIS: These videos have been available for free online for quite a while, and Gabe Woolley says he's been using them already. He teaches fifth grade English and social studies in Tulsa, and he says the critiques against videos like Christopher Columbus are taken out of context.

GABE WOOLLEY: I showed the Christopher Columbus video. I showed another video of one of the PragerU former personalities reading a book about the Pledge of Allegiance, and I think it's a very well-done video.

WALLIS: Now, PragerU Kids material will be offered officially by the state as a supplement. And even though it's not mandatory for teachers to use, Cole Roberts is worried. He teaches U.S. government and Oklahoma history to high school freshmen.

COLE ROBERTS: I do fear that, by legitimizing this and putting it on the state's website as resources to use, you will find teachers that are ignorant as to what PragerU is that are going to unknowingly use their materials in class and go, oh, it's approved by the state. I'm just going to use this.

WALLIS: PragerU videos are high-quality productions and presented in a kid-friendly manner. Adam Soltani has two kids in the school system and doesn't want them exposed to the material. He's also the executive director for Oklahoma's chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and says what the superintendent is doing is hypocritical.

ADAM SOLTANI: Ryan Walter says he doesn't - you know, he's trying to prevent indoctrination from the far left, from the woke crowd - whatever that's supposed to mean. But simultaneously, he's promoting something that is indoctrinating people with a very narrow understanding of world history.

WALLIS: Since the announcement, numerous school districts, including the state's two largest ones, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, say they have no plans to officially adopt PragerU Kids' curriculum, though that doesn't keep teachers from using the material.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Wallis in Tulsa, Okla.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Beth Wallis
[Copyright 2024 KOSU]
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