Prager University, an online institution founded in 2011 by conservative radio host Dennis Prager to create right-wing educational resources, is directing its religious politics directly at students and teachers, while receiving financial support from two fracking industry titans, a new investigation by RH Reality Check found this week.
The curriculum at PragerU spans over 160 courses, including economics, policy, culture, and a topic called "male/female," RH Reality Check investigative reporting fellow Brie Shea found. More than 70 of those courses are currently available for viewing on video, with other materials planned for future publication. PragerU is not an accredited educational institution, but rather provides online lectures and lesson plans. It has received more than $6.5 million in donations from fracking industry billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks.
Other titles currently available include Who Are the Racists: Conservatives or Liberals?; The World’s Most Persecuted Minority: Christians; Feminism vs. Truth; and War on Boys.
So far, more than 3,000 educators have signed up for PragerU's Educator Program, which gives them "free study guides and lesson plans to go along with the course videos," while another 200 are enrolled in the Academic Partnership Program, Shea reports.
"The religious right seems to believe that the education system is the perfect battlefield to win this 'culture war' taking place in America."
—Brie Shea, RH Reality Check
Such unions risk violating the U.S. Constitution, according to David B. Cruz, professor of law at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law.
"If a schools assigns (or gives credit for watching) multiple videos with explicit Christian content, even if there’s secular content too, that could lead a court to conclude it has violated the Establishment Clause," Cruz told RH Reality Check. "Even assigning or giving credit for watching a single video conveying a message that a student watching it should accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, whatever secular content it may also have, would almost certainly be held unconstitutional by a court if the school were sued.”
PragerU's course offerings also cover the environment—which is where the influence of the Wilks brothers can be clearly seen, Shea writes, particularly through a "fundraising campaign to support a five-part video series 'investigating the truth behind climate change hysteria' in an attempt to 'end the debate between science and sensationalism.'"
The Wilks brothers manage Interstate Explorations, an oil and gas field services company based out of Texas, and recently sold shares in the fracking and oil services enterprise Frac Tech, making them worth $1.4 billion each. In total, the Wilks family has donated $6,550,000 to PragerU.
"The religious right seems to believe that the education system is the perfect battlefield to win this 'culture war' taking place in America," writes Shea. "While conservatives continue to push for privatization, efforts on public schools center on curriculum. Whether by pushing creationism, lowering comprehensive sexual education standards, or refusing Common Core, with resources like Prager University and financial supporters like the Wilks, their efforts have been enormously strengthened."