PragerU Kids, a subsidiary of PragerU, is a collection of videos, books, and magazines aimed at school-aged children. The brand is presented as an alternative to the current school curriculum in the US, with the aim of ‘saving the children from being indoctrinated by the left’.
From PragerU to PragerU Kids
As the U in PragerU stands for university, the main aim of the whole platform is to work on providing alternative education to a younger audience. It is important to note that PragerU is not an actual accredited institution, but rather a content production organization. To appeal to the aforementioned audience they are striving away from traditional media to digital, as all of their content is accessible either through their own website, the PragerU app, or their social media accounts on mainstream platforms such as YouTube or Twitter for free.
Ideology-wise, PragerU is identifiable as right-wing. More specifically, they represent the beliefs of the New Right in the United States. They mostly support the views of the Republican party, are overall conservative-leaning, and act as an opposition to the ‘liberal’ Democratic party and the New Left. The views, by their nature, are nationalistic and centered around patriotism. They reject diversity and equality of genders, races, and sexualities, support capitalism and the free market economy, and heavily relate their views to Christianity. These values are often referred to as ‘American Values’ by PragerU. The organization itself has supported various radical movements within the New Right, as they have disputed climate change and promoted conspiracy theories.
They reject diversity and equality of genders, races and sexualities, support capitalism and the free market economy, and heavily relate their views to Christianity
While the organization itself is not educational, PragerU has been working to implement its own materials in schools and universities for a long while. Back in 2015, PragerU offered partnerships to thousands of institutions, providing a curriculum with over 70 courses, all of which were available on their website and YouTube channel to any visitor as well (Shea, 2015). The project has been discontinued, however, the efforts to educate the youth through the scope of right-wing values continued. This is where PragerU Kids and PREP came in. PREP stands for PragerU resources for Educators and Parents, and it is a separate tab on their own website which offers a variety of educational materials for secondary schools and homeschooling. PragerU Kids is part of PREP, as it is the self-produced content of PragerU used in the teaching guides, and they offer both digital and physical content. The content is divided by age target groups, from kindergarten to high school-aged children, and is of both educational and entertainment variety, as can be seen in Figure 1. They do include general knowledge of geography, history, and other typical school subjects, however, almost all of them are emphasizing specific themes - nationalism, patriotism, and the divide between the left and the right.
PragerU’s “Think Better. Live Better” and, consequently, PragerU Kids’ “Save Your Child’s Mind” are focused on promoting the ‘truthfulness’ and ‘correctness’ of the organization’s values and right-wing mindset. These statements imply the need for the normalization of PragerU’s ideology, namely their nationalism and other right-wing values. This means that they are partaking in metapolitical hegemonization strategy, in which the right aims to achieve the popularization of radical views in society. They are using digital technology to engage in said strategy and spread their New Right ideas to the masses in the hybrid media system, hence, they are participating in Metapolitics 2.0. This paper will be analysing how New Right values are presented in PragerU Kids and promoted to their audience, and what is used to promote their content in digital media. Looking at how they are using the hybrid media system, populist claims, Alternative Influence Network and their engagement in metapolitics will establish how the content appeals to both children and their parents at the same time as promoting their ideology.
Populism, Algorithms, and Ideology in PragerU Kids
To establish how PragerU Kids is framing right-wing ideology and values in their content, it is important to first look at how the project is advertised online, how the organization describes it, and how it is presented to the parents and teachers looking for educational materials.
The promotion video called “Save Your Child’s Mind with PragerU Kids” serves as an introduction not only to the project itself but also to the ideology behind it. The staging of the video is a white family sitting at the dinner table, reminiscent of the typical traditional nuclear family with American values from the 1950s propaganda. This set-up is intentional, as such an image in itself contains a nationalist homogenous message which is at the core of the New Right ideology. The staging in the video continues, as the dialogue brings up the key ideas - children are 'being indoctrinated' and 'fed lies' such as “America is racist” by liberals and the left, PragerU is the source of true information and values that are going to make the children “true American heroes”.
The claims made within the promotional video are of populist ideological nature. The concept of populism is built on the opposition of the people’s voices represented by the populist and the elites silencing those people (Maly, 2022a). In the case, of this PragerU advertisement the left wing, specifically the educators, are the elites who are indoctrinating the children; and PragerU Kids is presented as the savior of children’s minds, providing the truth about the world. The research further establishes how modern populism is embedded in digital media, as it becomes a digitally mediatized communicative and discursive relation (Maly, 2022a). Thus, Figure 2 showcases various comments under the promotional video on YouTube in which the users are reproducing and reinforcing the points made by PragerU, spreading the narrative of the left's 'indoctrination'. One of the pictured comments goes as far as endorsing the 'control over children' to achieve the spread of conservativism, which is one of the points this article will cover further.
To normalize an ideology in the digital age, user interaction and uptake are important (Maly, 2021). This is why PragerU is consistently posting about the issues in modern education, not only to their platform where they already amassed a niche audience but to Twitter as well, to reach even more people. Figure 3 shows the tweets about education PragerU has posted just in the last months, all of them have garnered thousands of views, likes, retweets, and comments. All of these interactions contribute to the content being more visible online (Maly, 2021). As a result, more users are seeing information about modern education being allegedly flawed and presented with PragerU Kids as a solution to the problem. It is evident that such advertising works, as the “Save Your Child’s Mind with PragerU Kids” video clip, is the most watched recent video on the PragerU YouTube channel.
Through posts on the PragerU account, the organization normalizes the idea of modern education being misleading and flawed, a tool of liberal indoctrination. With this, then, they are advertising their own content on PragerU Kids and positioning themselves as the opposition to the liberal elites in education, becoming the saviors of the new generation. This serves as a promotion of their content as well, since they present the idea of education being flawed to the parents, and then advertise an alternative to them. The digital literacy of people behind PragerU Kids is evident, as they apply the knowledge of the inner workings of the algorithm to appeal to wider audiences. However, as they are doing this to normalize their own ideology among younger generations, they are participating in the same act of indoctrination that they were speaking out against.
The use of hybrid media in PragerU Kids
The main platforms that PragerU uses to post its content are YouTube, as mentioned earlier, as well as their own website or app for mobile devices. PragerU Kids videos get uploaded to YouTube, however, other forms of content they offer, namely magazines and books, can only be accessed through their own platforms or be bought as a physical copy (Figure 4). This way PragerU Kids is applying the strategy of hybrid media to spread and popularize their content.
Chadwick describes a hybrid media system as one that combines the ‘old’ traditional media formats with the ‘new’ digital media practices (2017). Those two are not used transitionally, but rather as a mutually-beneficial symbiosis, where the use of one positively enables the other. In the case of PragerU Kids, the new format of digital media video content is combined with the older formats such as physical books and magazines. This way the project is not only able to gain revenue through sales of the physical content, but also further spread its influence on its audience. As their content, and thus their message, is expressed in a variety of media forms and, thus, can be consumed even more, they are gaining a lot more engagement with their ideology.
Moreover, the promotional video was not only published to all of the social media platforms of PragerU but it was also targeted to users through both online and offline advertising. Any social media user could get an advertisement for PragerU Kids while watching videos on YouTube, similarly to how any Fox News viewer might have seen the same advertisement while watching said TV channel. PragerU has reported themselves that they have launched a ‘new national ad campaign’ for their ‘pro-American content for families across the country’ (2022), utilizing both the old and new media formats for engagement yet again. This way they were able to target not only their followers but also social media users and the viewers of a large right-wing TV channel.
New Right and Radicalization in PragerU Kids
Now that we discussed the tactics that PragerU uses to promote and reach people with their children’s content physically, we should also discuss how they are attracting and radicalizing their viewers ideologically. After all, one’s education level plays a large part in the way their values and views form, which is why it is a topic widely discussed in politics. As evident from the statistics of recent years, homeschooling has been on the rise in the United States since the pandemic, with the number of such students increasing by almost 50% in the last 2 years (Associated Press & Thompson, 2022). PragerU Kids, as an educational source that is being popularised among a large audience, provides an extensive set of instructions and sources for on-home education, thus might be gaining a lot more influence in the future.
Homeschooling and the far-right have been closely connected from the very start, and the political influence of it is significant. The Homeschool Movement has been on the rise since the late 1970s, and at its core was the idea of raising a generation that would transform society based on Christian values and beliefs, putting radical religious ideology as the main priority over education (Coalition for Responsible Home Education, 2021). This idea is rather similar to Guillaume Faye’s and the European movement of Generation identity. As described by Maly, at the core of the two is the belief in a conservative future and the rejection of enlightenment modernity (2022b). Relating this case to the previously stated goal of PragerU Kids, which is ‘saving the young generation from being indoctrinated, one gains a clear picture of how all of these phenomena are interlocked. Moreover, how PragerU Kids are aiming to become a mainstream alternative for public education with similar intentions that other notable radical far-right movements had before.
PragerU in itself works as a central node in Alternative Influence Network. This term was created by Lewis (2018), and it can be defined as a network of online creators who make far-right political and entertainment content as a digitalized alternative to the legacy media (Lewis, 2018). Most of the PragerU content is created in collaboration with well-established far-right influencers. As a result, PragerU merges different audiences to spread its ideology, leading to radicalization. Similarly, PragerU Kids features Jill Simonian, an ex-television host and an owner of a popular lifestyle parenting blog - The FAB Mom, overall her PragerU description page establishes her as an expert in education (Figure 5). Such guest appearances facilitate radicalization by moving the audiences from one type of content to another (Lewis, 2018). In this example, people who have been following Simonian’s blog for tips on parenting are likely to trust her judgment and engage with her projects on PragerU Kids. Consequently, they are more likely to believe in anti-public education and the importance of ‘American values’ in raising their offspring.
Such ideological radicalization is also facilitated by the algorithm, as described by Maly (2021). To understand how an ideology is spread, one needs to look at how user interactions play a role in the creation and later merging of micro-populations due to the works of algorithms. PragerU Kids' content presents a variety of topics for this exact reason. As recommendations are built on the previous user activity, appealing to multiple niche interest groups at the same time is key to further enveloping them in an ideology.
PragerU Kids has a rather universal segment called 'How To' (Figure 6), which involves content that teaches children social cues and simple tips, like “How To Take a Test” or “How To Manage Time”. In each episode the viewer is presented with suggestions on how to become better at a certain skill, acting out scenarios in skits. This makes the show educational, as well as entertaining, appealing to a wide audience of teenagers looking for tips, seemingly without bringing up any far-right topics. However, looking at how the skits are set up, one can notice a reappearing character - the antagonist, portrayed as a pessimistic and lazy person who refuses to get better. Later on, as PragerU Kids starts integrating more and more of their right-wing ideology in the “How To” videos, and this character is used to promote said ideology. In the latest video in the series, “How To Be a Rational Patriot”, the antagonist is presented as anti-patriotic and irrational, most of his phrases being “groundless complaints” about the US. In opposition to this character, the video describes what they consider a rational patriot - a person who serves their country, appreciates their freedoms and is able to look at history as progress leading to a bright future. While the video first establishes a narrative of acknowledging the good and the bad about the country, it proceeds to claim that Americans have it much better than other countries in terms of rights and freedoms. Similarly to the antagonist, this video also introduces another negative character, one that pretends to be patriotic and is a caricature of an elite clad in a formal outfit with a top hat. Both of these characters are representative of PragerU’s populist approach - they establish opposition, consisting of elites and irrational people, to portray their view as enlightened, meanwhile promoting the nationalist notion of their land’s superiority. Thus, they integrate American values and nationalist patriotism from their right-wing ideology. Moreover, they use multiple tactics to sound convincing. Firstly, they present their content as educational, basing it on tips that would be helpful for kids, and later on proceed to integrate more of their own beliefs to sound convincing. Secondly, they establish unlikeable antagonists to act as opposition to their own ideology, making themselves more persuasive in their narrative.
Similarly, their other content uses the same tactics to promote other far-right views, as they teach general educational knowledge while simultaneously bringing up their own ideology. Some of the examples of this are: glorifying imperialism and capitalism and bringing up conspiracies such as climate change denial can be seen in their animated show ‘Around the World’, where most developing countries as compared to the US; denying equality and other social issues, as well as promoting beliefs of far-right politicians in ‘Leo and Layla’s History Lessons’; encouraging nationalistic patriotism, namely ‘celebration of American values and serving one’s country’, in the DIY/History show ‘Craftory’ (Figure 7). Thus, within their segments, PragerU Kids appeals to a variety of micro-communities on the Internet, merging them into one wider audience and proceeding to radicalize them with their New Right ideology.
Thus, within their segments, PragerU Kids appeals to a variety of micro-communities on the Internet, merging them into one wider audience and proceeding to radicalize them with their New Right ideology.
PragerU Kids: Battling indoctrination with indoctrination
Contrary to the slogan of the PragerU Kids project, the organization is seemingly far from actually saving children’s minds. Instead, the research has shown how they are manipulating the affordances of digital media to spread their own radical ideology. They have been spreading populist claims while hiding under the guise of protecting younger generations from “leftist propaganda” which is the modern public school curriculum in the US. This way they managed to apply algorithmic literacy to raise user engagement with their content, and attract an audience to their own educational alternative. They have proceeded to further raise their impact by using hybrid media, all with the goal of promoting the far-right ideology. As a result, they have created a platform which reinforces radicalization, merging niche communities to spread their nationalist views.
Contrary to the slogan of PragerU Kids, the organization is far from saving children’s minds. Instead, they are manipulating the affordances of digital media to spread their own radical ideology
This shows that currently far-right movements and organizations are using digital media to spread their beliefs, as they are able to attract wide audiences by utilizing algorithms. The case of PragerU further establishes the danger of this tendency. PragerU Kids targets children, whose minds and values are still developing, posing as an educational source to normalize the New Right ideology and radical right-wing thinking.
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