Once again I have to ask, what the hell is going on at HISD?
A Friday lesson intended to teach students at dozens of Houston ISD schools how to think objectively included a video that mocked the idea of human-caused climate change from PragerU, a Florida nonprofit criticized for pushing biased, conservative viewpoints.
Meant to help students discern fact from opinion, the seven-minute clip encouraged viewers to “do your own research,” citing examples that push back on the idea that humans have caused climate change.
PragerU, the video’s creator, describes itself as “the world’s leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.” It has published content on the supposed dangers of gender-affirming care and how slavery may have benefitted Black people. Despite the name, it is not a university.
The video was included in PowerPoint slides created by HISD for a course called the “Art of Thinking,” a feature of Superintendent Mike Miles’ new program for 85 schools. The lesson plans, obtained by the Houston Landing, means the video likely reached students at the 73 overhauled elementary and middle schools.
HISD will discontinue the use of PragerU content going forward, Chief Communication Officer Leila Walsh said Tuesday in response to questions from the Landing. The district had included the video with the intent of helping students assess the reliability of information and recognize hidden biases, using examples they may encounter in the real world, she said.
“The lesson was designed to help students think critically about the accuracy and subjectivity of information. After speaking with the curriculum team, they have decided to no longer use PragerU video content,” Walsh wrote in an email.
Parents from Pugh and Wainwright elementary schools confirmed their fifth-graders had been shown the PragerU video in class on Friday. Three teachers also supplied the district-created lesson plans to the Landing. The parents said they were disturbed by the content, but said it was the first time they were aware of a video from the conservative nonprofit appearing in a lesson.
“In a way, they’re already subliminally telling our kids to totally dismiss the whole global warming thing,” said Jessica Campos, whose daughter attends Pugh.
The video includes many short skits meant to help students understand objective thinking, several of which take aim at climate change. One example points out that temperature fluctuations occurred prior to industrialization, and another implies climate change believers think the world will end in 12 years.
“Some of it was legit and some of it seemed weird or out of place and it was all rather fixated on beating down the idea of climate change,” said Texas State Climatologist and Texas A&M Professor John Nielsen-Gammon, who reviewed the video at the request of the Landing. He said humans definitely are causing changes to the earth’s climate and the world definitely will not end in 12 years.
University of Texas at Austin College of Education Professor David DeMatthews added that, to him, it was a red flag that HISD would include any content from PragerU in a lesson.
“A lot of the material that (PragerU) provides is highly controversial, highly biased and is not really aligned with historical, or even, at times, scientific consensus around particular issues,” DeMatthews said.
Let me make two points very clear. One is that in a world where the HISD Superintendent had any accountability, the elected Trustees would be well within their rights to call the Super onto the carpet and demand answers about who thought shoving propaganda down students’ throats was a good idea and why haven’t they been fired already. They would be within their rights to make it clear that the Super’s job was on the line over this as well. We do not live in that world, which is how we end up with a wishy-washy non-answer from the communications officer instead. I am incandescent with rage about this.
And two, if “parents rights” means anything, then as an HISD parent I have the right to object to this kind of “content” being shown anywhere in an HISD classroom. Which, again, if we had a functional Board that was responsive to the will of the stakeholders and which had actual oversight of the Superintendent, would result in some accountability. Again, I am angry to the point of wanting to smash things.
I don’t know what else to say. Because we have no way to effect any change at HISD right now, because there is no forum for expressing our views in a way that will be heard and taken seriously, this is just another thing that happened that Mike Miles doesn’t even have to acknowledge. And I’m supposed to accept that this guy is the savior of our schools. Un-fucking-believable.