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Animated Frederick Douglass calls slavery a ‘compromise’ in conservative group’s video

PragerU, a right-wing advocacy group, has made its way into the classroom with kids' videos deemed “misleading.”
Image: Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass in about 1880.MPI / Getty Images

Slavery was a compromise. The Black Lives Matter movement led to more crime. Masculinity helped win World War II.

Those are some of the lessons included in PragerU Kids videos, an educational entertainment program created by PragerU, a right-wing advocacy group long criticized for its content being “misleading” or factually inaccurate. Its videos have prompted even more backlash online since PragerU CEO Marissa Streit announced last month that the group is partnering with the state of Florida as an education vendor to provide supplemental lessons. 

Among the PragerU Kids videos making the rounds on social media is one called “Leo & Layla Meet Frederick Douglass,” in which a pair of children go back in time and meet an animated depiction of Frederick Douglass. In the video, Douglass, an abolitionist who devoted his life to anti-slavery efforts, describes slavery as a compromise between the Founding Fathers and the Southern colonies for the benefit of the U.S. The depiction also criticizes fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison

The animated video drew swift criticism from social media users who deemed it propaganda, and condemned an apparent reference to the police violence protests of 2020, in which a purported Douglass said “William refuses all compromise, demands immediate change, and if he doesn’t get what he wants, he likes to set things on fire,” referring to Garrison. 

“This is some of the most dangerous & false propaganda I’ve ever seen,” one person tweeted. “The description of Frederick Douglass in this animation is a flat out lie and the concept that children should be learning from this should scare everyone.”

Another added: “This video bastardizes the essence of Frederick Douglass. It’s insulting for me as a former history/govt teacher. I can’t imagine how devastating it must feel for Black people to see this dehumanizing curriculum implemented (or continued) in Florida public schools.”

Streit, though, said in a phone interview Thursday, that any educational offering could potentially include material that could be deemed offensive.

“I challenge those same people to look through every word that Scholastic has printed or, or every word that BrainPOP has published, and tell me that you’re not going to find something that you are not offended by," she said. "But you know, I completely stand by what’s in our videos. I actually think that our Frederick Douglass video is a great one.”

Streit contends that critics have only read one version of history — a progressive one, documented in works like "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. "The fact that people are so upset is actually a sign of the fact that there has been one way of doing things for a very long time," she added.

Her sentiments echo her announcement last month that the K-12 “supplemental educational resources” are a response to U.S. schools being “hijacked by the left.” The news comes as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president in 2024, has championed controversial changes to the state’s education curriculum. His administration has tried to block a high school Advanced Placement African American studies course and signed laws to restrict the instruction of reproductive health and gender identity in schools. Additionally, challenges to book access have reportedly increased as a result of DeSantis’ education bills. 

In a statement, the Florida Department of Education said in part: “The Florida Department of Education reviewed PragerU Kids and determined the material aligns to Florida’s revised civics and government standards. PragerU Kids is no different than many other resources, which can be used as supplemental materials in Florida schools at district discretion.” 

The New Hampshire Department of Education is also weighing whether to using PragerU material. State education commissioner Frank Edelblut is seeking approval from the state board of education to approve a PragerU application and allow high school students to receive academic credit for completing an online course from the group, according to the Boston Globe.

“I’m not surprised to hear that New Hampshire is considering welcoming PragerU materials and I’m sure there will be other estates to follow,” said Lorena Germán, an educator and founder of Multicultural Classroom, an organization that promotes inclusive and culturally relevant teaching. “This will probably set a precedent, and we’re going to have other states wanting to consider this and approve it in this quest for a ‘two-sides’ argument. This legitimizes an opposing view that is not factual.”

Other videos in the PragerU Kids program include “How to be a Victor & Not a Victim,” “Mateo Backs the Blue,” and “Leo & Layla Meet Christopher Columbus,” in which an animated Columbus describes native groups as “far from peaceful” and defends slavery.

With such “edu-tainment” gaining traction, Germán says it’s important for parents and children to learn how to uncover disinformation and misinformation. Germán outlines ways to do this in a blog post on her Multicultural Classroom platform. 

“If I’m in a classroom, I have to know how to help young people discern from the true and the false, against propaganda,” Germán said. “We’re seeing right now what a disgruntled group of white parents can achieve. I wonder what a loud, powerful, decided group of parents of color, and students of color.”