Originally written and posted on Quora, Dec. 19, 2017. See link.
Prager University is an up-and-coming and presumably popular website that targets Millennials and touts freedom of thought and speech. The site is confusing a lot of people who think it is a real school (it’s just a website), and folks are beginning to ask questions.
My first run-in with PragerU was a commercial that made my jaw drop, in which a poised young lady announced confidently that she had learned more from working at McDonald’s than the traditional brick-and-mortar university (a real school) she had attended. She further encouraged everyone to follow her path, in order to leave college debt and liberal indoctrination behind…
PragerU was founded by Dennis Prager, a sixty-nine-year-old, ultra-conservative, Jewish radio talk-show host and author/public speaker with an established agenda for converting people to American conservatism. Dennis Prager – Wikipedia
And that pretty much explains PragerU in a nutshell, too. It’s sole purpose is to convert young people to conservatism through short, easily sharable videos. The biggest issue with PragerU is that the videos present opinions (all of which are actually really old arguments that young people in particular-PragerU’s target audience-may not have heard yet) on provocative questions many people have, as if those opinions were facts.
Cite Your Sources
For example, Crowder’s video, “Democratic Socialism is Still Socialism,” (FreeToThink | PragerU) claims that adding the word “democratic” to “democratic socialism” does not change the meaning at all. The phrase is still equal to “socialism.” Which is an illogical and untrue argument. Adding “un” to “untrue” changes the meaning of “true” entirely, adding “baritone” to “saxophone” specifies an entirely different instrument from a “soprano saxophone,” and adding “jerk” to “chicken” connotes a Jamaican recipe, not a mean bird. jerk chicken – Google Search
Later in that same video, Crowder, talking a mile a minute, shoves together several examples of countries that are neither democratic nor socialist to “prove” his point that democratic socialism is bad, then skips quickly over to Denmark and Sweden, using quotes out of context to confuse the issue. This article from CNN does a fairer job of explaining the terms and ideas, I think. Bernie Sanders’ American Dream is in Denmark – CNNPolitics
If/when you watch PragerU’s “Free to Think” videos (I have not seen all the videos, and am aware that some are done by professors), notice that rarely are facts cited or sources given*, and there are never references at the end or clickable links to research more. Many videos are either confidently-presented misinformation (like the Crowder video above) or simply testimonials/anecdotes with relatable scenarios, like this one by Jay Stephens (FreeToThink | PragerU) about college debt, “College Made Me a Conservative”.
Free to Think Like Us
Another issue is the use of certain words like, “Trigger Warning”, “Snowflakes”, “The Left”, etc. in a subtly derogatory and not informational way. There is clear bias in the way these words and many others are used. Take for example the fascinating video, Gun Rights Are Women’s Rights, in which Katie Pavlich asserts that “men being stronger than women is controversial these days,” (is it?) and ends with a snarky, “it’s called, ‘biology.’”
There are other subtle problems too, like the video, The Biggest Issues in the World Today: Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists, which implies in pictures, text, and speech that only Muslims (especially those outside of the USA) can become religious extremists who kill people. And once again, even though the presenter is an adjunct professor at Georgetown U, he only uses his own stories to prove his points, instead of using verifiable evidence outside of his own experiences.
PragerU videos and PragerU sponsored speakers’ videos, reveal a general theme of victimization, conspiracy, and persecution against conservatives. This narrative allows PragerU fans to reasonably “fight back in self-defense” (just like Jesus didn’t say), and continue to express moral outrage over events that are not as they seem.
Take for example, the several banners on PragerU’s site that claim YouTube has discriminatorily targeted PragerU for Restricted Access on a host of PragerU’s videos, which they outline here: PragerU has gone so far as to launch a lawsuit, garner signatures for petitions, and (of course) ask for donations to “help free the videos.” But when I visited YouTube via a private browser of which I was not signed in, I was able to access several of the videos (I did not test all 40) PragerU claimed could not be accessed by children “for educational purposes.”
Furthermore, it looks as if PragerU took down several videos in their own list themselves; YouTube’s stated policy regarding Restricted Access includes political videos; and finally, yes, some of the videos are meant to be downright inflammatory (and if you have a problem with it, you’re clearly a liberal snowflake).
Education or Bust
If you investigate the folks who speak in the videos or write articles (for other conservative organizations with close ties to PragerU), you will find some interesting trends including a surprising lack of credentials among the “Free to Think” videos presenters, many adjunct professors or research analysts from private universities (most with a current strong religious leaning like Georgetown and Duke), and the same few websites featuring the same people again and again like TownHall.com and the Cato Institute.
Matt Walsh is one such person I’ve investigated before, who has run his own controversial opinion blog for years (Militant Christianity and Matt Walsh’s Misinterpretation of the Gospel of Peace). I have never been able to learn if he has a college degree or what he majored in, and citation of facts (or even Biblical concepts) is something consistently lacking in his writing. But he is bombastic and gets attention, so people follow along.
Caroline Kitchens is another writer/speaker who appears to have gone to college at Duke U, but never states that she graduated or in what area. Yet these people are deriding college and higher education when they’ve seemingly never been or completed a degree!
No one can “get educated” from a series of 5-minute videos. Take it from me, a highschool reading tutor: education takes a lot of work, reading, study, and guidance, no matter your field. There are no shortcuts.
To put it bluntly, PragerU is not about education but political and even religious indoctrination. The people behind PragerU want young, relatable-sounding and looking spokespeople who will say what PragerU wants them to say, to convince other young people to follow conservatism. Many other Christian churches and groups seek to “reclaim” the “lost Millennials” who have been leaving ultra-conservative churches in droves in the past few years as well. how to reclaim millennials for god
Ironically, many of the pertinent questions and important issues PragerU addresses were created or aggravated by…(wait for it)…conservatism. I’m a living, breathing example of the damage such ideas can cause:
Bringing Back Child Labor?
The Ideology of Underage Marriages in Conservative Christianity
Loura Lawrence’s answer to What is the most frightening moment you have ever experienced?
We absolutely need to talk about all the different issues and problems plaguing our country. We absolutely need to hear different viewpoints (hint: there are more than just 2 sides). But we also must absolutely have our opinions informed by facts, not just pretty/handsome faces, “nice” people, confident people, slick videos, or fast talkers.
*I tried to look up the quote and study by David Kopel of Denver U cited in the video, “Gun Rights are Women’s Rights,” but could not find the study. I also learned that he was an adjunct professor at Denver U, that he is a member of the NRA, and a long-time gun rights advocate. Gun Rights Are Women’s Rights
15 thoughts on “Prager University Review”
Your argument of democratic socialism is a false equivalency. Placing the prefix “un” in front of anything negates the entire meaning. Unwise, uninterested ect. Placing “democratic” in front of a word does not have the same linguistic qualities. Rather it adds to the description of the following word. Democratic Process. Democratic elections. Democratic Republic. Etc. Surely an English Major would not make such a blatantly dishonest argument.
Also your example of putting Baritone in front of Saxophone completely changes the meaning from a Soprano Saxophone. Those two are descriptors that add to the meaning but do not change it. All saxophones use the exact same fingering, i.e. if you can play one you can play them all. A saxophone describes a certain tambor, or sound frequency which all saxophones share. The differences between the instruments merely lie in the range of notes.
This is a more accurate comparison to democratic socialism. Just like baritone doesn’t change the meaning of the word “saxophone” it specifies what type of saxphone is utilized. Adding “democratic” in front of “socialism” merely specifies how the socialism is implemented. Much like saying “democratic elections” versus “unfair elections”. The word doesn’t change but merely has added specificity.
While I agree that PragerU has a biased slant, the proper response to bad arguments isn’t more bad arguments. Crowder, in this case, actually has a point and you weakened your position by sinking to the level of PragerU and making equally poor arguments.
I don’t suppose you’ve ever played a saxophone? I have, along with members of the clarinet and piano families. You have no idea what you are talking about when you refer to “tambor”, “sound frequency”, etc. Similar or exact fingerings do not mean you can change the instruments as if they were all the same. They are each individual instruments with different scales. It takes more or less breath and different embouchures for each instrument; different strengths and positions in the band. A baritone sax does not typically play the same piece of music as a soprano, etc. A “saxophone” is such not because of it’s tambor or sound frequency, but because of it’s shape, it’s mouthpiece, and it’s building material. A synthesizer keyboard can imitate the sound of a sax without being a sax. When it does, they both share the same “frequency” and “tambor”. Please, learn something more about music!
If you’d like a more relatable analogy: All people have the same basic body parts (categorizing them as “humans”), but they are each individuals with different talents, roles, and abilities. You cannot interchange people as if they were all the same.
Adding two separate words together, like “democratic” and “socialism”, only describes a type of “socialism” to your way of thinking, but that is not what the term actually means to those who practice or promote it. It would be like me describing (aka: my opinion) what I think/feel “conservatism” or “far-right” mean, vs asking conservatives what it means. “Democratic socialism” is one term describing a specific political viewpoint. If you aren’t sure what it means, since it is a new term, go ask others what it means, and be sure to gather up a wide range of views.
Sorry for the late response, it’s been a hectic holiday season with many life changes. “Negate” and “opposite” are different.”Un” or “in” denote opposites, not obliteration. An undemocratic election is the opposite of a democratic one, not an election that doesn’t exist or ceases to. That would be “non”. Dictionaries and Latin studies are quite helpful in determining the subtle, contextual differences, and are consequently tools of the trade for English majors.
I can relate to your comment on Prageru. I feel compelled to correct them because I can’t stand their false information. One thing I do is to post comments on their inaccuracies. I also site my sources so if people ever read my comments they can find where I got my information.
The thing that got me into fact checking every new video was the video “Who is Karl Marx. The reason for that was they listed Boliva as a Marxist state. Ever since then I fact checked every new video they made, in fact, I am going to post a comment on their latest inaccuracy which is the video “Why the US supports Israel”. You can read it if you want. My pen name is Connor Compton.
I accidentally miss titled the video I mentioned. I ment to say “Why Does America Spend So Much on Israel?”
Policy, and particularly the contest over policy, is driven by moral ideology rather than evidence-based outcomes. This is what leads to the echo chambers which are the fortified bastions of the culture war. No one needs to appeal to facts except to those external to their echo chamber; sourcing those facts, as seen in the case of Prager U, isn’t driven by a need for accuracy but a need for ideological immediacy. The converting power of these non-facts identifies America’s real issue as an epistemological problem – and how do we solve this epistemological problem even as radical groups rise in power by exploiting it? I’m up a freaking tree on this one, mate. I literally have no idea.
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This shit is scary!!! Evil at its finest. This school/non-profit needs to be shut down. The beliefs they teach will be the end of humanity.
It is hard to know what to do. If we value free speech, does that mean anyone can say anything, as is the current interpretation, which puts an unfair responsibility on readers to figure out the truth, if they can? Or do we hold people responsible for lying, somehow, which seems like an easy slippery slope to shut down true opinions we don’t like?
Exactly the kind of response that verifies the criticism of the left that PU posits. The same can be said of doctinair ideologists in any camp, and that is a basic problem in our political discussion.
And yet, it really is scary #@$%. I think we need to have a national discussion about what constitutes “free speech,” just as we’ve had one about what constitutes “the right to bear arms.” And it is ok to call something maddening, angering, sad, scary, uplifting, encouraging, etc. As to whether it should be shut down…I don’t like the idea, then again, how do you feel about the media being able to unaccountably say whatever it wants for money? Everyone says they want just the facts, but nobody wants the “unpleasant” facts that don’t align with their beliefs. Yet, beliefs are informed by such loud opinions that tap into emotions, regardless of facts. I don’t think any organization or person should be able to unaccountably make stuff up. What consequences are there for leading people horribly astray?
So, out of curiosity, from where did you receive your doctoral degree?
Hi Bill, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! I earned my Bachelor of English degree in 2009, from New York Institute of Technology. I suppose that makes me the “black sheep” in my family, since my father has 5 college degrees including 2 Masters degrees and a PhD, and my sister holds 2 Bachelor degrees, a Masters, and recently, a PhD. That’s of course not to mention all the other doctorates, lawyers, and professors in my family, but I digress. Quality research is a key part of good writing, and I stand by the facts cited in my article. Out of curiosity, where did you receive your PhD?
Sounds about right to me! And now I need to reread, “Brave, New World.” 😉
I wonder how Aldous Huxley would feel about this website. It strikes me as a “brave, new world” sort of approach to (pretending at) intellectual growth, but in truth, it may just be a reactionary and tired paradigm of those unwilling to face complex reality. Does that sound about right?
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