Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 11/19/21 Season’s Greetings. This weekend sort of unofficially kicks off the movie holiday season. From a faith and inspiration perspective, there’s actually a quite a bit to choose from. Here are some options. tick, tick…BOOM! (in theaters and on Netflix now) Pulitzer Prize and […]
Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 07/07/21
Captain America has fallen.
(Image: Marvel, United States of Captain America #1, screenshot)
In the same Independence Day-timed debut issue, Cap laments “I’m starting to think America actually has two dreams. And one lie. The first American dream is the one that isn’t real. It’s one some people expect to just be handed to them. And then they get angry when it disappears. When the truth is, it never really existed in the first place…We’re at our best when we keep no one out. A good dream is shared. Shared radically. Shared with everyone. When something isn’t shared it can become the American lie.”
IMHO: Far from being “poignant,” the issue provides an audacious example of how the anti-American radical left appropriates traditional symbols of America, turning them on their heads to create narratives that effectively shame and demoralize young people. The message being that the underpinnings of our nation’s hopes, dreams and values are false and, worse, tied inextricably to racism and xenophobia. Therefore, even the most moderate and rational steps to secure the border are deemed out of bounds because, after all, America has no actual right to boundaries.
It’s a false narrative, to be sure. America is a very generous country but, like any country (and any individual), it not only has a right but an obligation to maintain legitimate boundaries. That’s the simple life principle of balance – in which anything, including good intentions (especially when induced by unwarranted shame), can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. Unfortunately, as our country turns 145, the shame mongers are carrying the day in schools and universities – and in the globalist corporate media. It’s beyond time to push back.
All of which brings me to this…
Otto to the rescue! PragerU has debuted Otto’s Tales, a new series of beautifully illustrated children’s books designed to teach kids (ages 3 to 8) traditional American values through the rollicking adventures of young Dennis Prager (yes, that Dennis Prager) and his trusty sidekick, Otto the bulldog.
In Otto’s Tales: The National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, the first storybook in the 13-book series, Dennis and Otto travel back in time from 1814 to 1954 and meet Francis Scott Key and learn about the origins of the National Anthem and the significance of the Pledge of Allegiance (emphasizing the values of patriotism, tradition and faith in God).
Otto’s Tales is part of PragerU’s K-12th grade educational initiative. Other topics and values tackled in the series include Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (The goal of a colorblind nation where everyone is created equal in God’s image), Passover (How positive faith leads us away from slavery and toward freedom), Independence Day (The foundational values of bravery and liberty), Veterans Day (The importance of honoring, remembering, appreciating and honoring those who have sacrificed for our country), Thanksgiving (Gratitude, generosity, family) and Christmas (God, family and upholding faith).
Jill Simonian is Director of Outreach for PragerU Resources for Educators and Parents and founder of TheFABMom blog. She is also known for her straight-talking parenting TV segments on such national venues as HLN/CNN, The Doctors, Access LIVE, The TODAY Show, E! News and Hallmark Channel. Before the holiday break, she spoke with me about her mission at PragerU.
JWK: I want to get in PragerU and your role as Director of Outreach for its Educators and Parents Resources but, first of all, tell me about Otto Tales.
Jill Simonian: Otto’s Tales started a few months ago as a story time show for our new PragerU Kids content that we are putting onto our website – free videos for kids ages kindergarten through 12th grade. Otto’s Tales started as a show for our kindergarteners through second graders to teach them American values like hard work, responsibility and equality under God and all of those wonderful American values that we want to raise our kids with.
Soon, thereafter, we decided to start publishing our own books for children called Otto’s Tales. Our first book – Otto’s Tales: The National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance – just launched a few weeks ago. It’s a story about Otto- the famous bulldog at PragerU who happens to be Dennis Prager’s pet who sits next to him in his famous fireside chat videos. We all know and love Otto. Otto’s Tales is Otto the Dog telling his stories and adventures with a very young Dennis Prager.
In our books they go through adventures in time. They travel back to the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key started writing our National Anthem. Then they forward in time into a school in the 1950’s when President Eisenhower added the words “under God” into our Pledge of Allegiance. We have one book coming out every single month aligned with different American holidays or commemorative days in American history to teach kids our history in the United States and also celebrate our values and encourage them to really honor the ideals and freedom that America stands for. We have 12 books in total. The next one that’s coming is about Patriot Day/September 11th. Following that, it’s Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and so on and so on. So, it’s really exciting.
JWK: Is it fair to describe the books as a response the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools?
JS: Well, I like your thinking. I wouldn’t say it’s a “response” so much as an affirmation of what we should be teaching our children.
In our schools now – in public and private schools – and I’m a mom of two elementary school-age kids so I have experienced much of this firsthand – most of our schools now, at any given place in the country, are trying to create activists from our young children as early as kindergarten. They’re giving them these books about gender identity, political agendas and movements that are inspired by very leftist ideas and radical ideologies. Many of our schools are giving these things to kids as young as five, six (and) seven years old – far before any time when exposure these types of ideas and discussions would be appropriate.
Our philosophy – as parents and educators – through PragerU Kids is that we want to teach our kids to respect and honor America at the very youngest of ages. We want to teach them our history – a collective telling of our history that we can all unite around. We don’t want to divide children by having them point at each other. Critical Race Theory teaches children to identify others by the color of their skin first – to determine whether they are a victim or an oppressor. We don’t want to do that at all. We do not want our education for our kids to be political. We want it to be unifying. We don’t want to inject any kind of radical ideas that are often discussed at colleges for young adults. We don’t want to introduce those to our kids. So, our books and our videos for PragerU Kids are really an affirmation of what unites us and the collective history that we should all respect and celebrate.
JWK: Can you tell me about your journey to PragerU – and what do you see as your mission?
JS: You know, it’s interesting. I was hired by PragerU in January to help develop this brand-new program. This program just launched at the end of 2020 and I’ve been telling everyone, from the bottom of my heart, this job was dropped in my lap by God. No joke. I’ve been known to get a little weepy about it in a wonderful way because this job came to me from out of nowhere.
I have had a 15-year background in television and media. Before I was married and had children, I worked as an entertainment reporter based in Los Angeles for a variety of national news outlets and cable programs. I hosted different television shows on Travel Channel and CNN/HLN, as well as Los Angeles local stations. Then, when I had children, I started blogging as a way to pivot and reinvent my media career to focus on parenting, children, education, moms and family lifestyle.
I’ve always had the same values with regards to valuing America and feeling very proud of this country – but, just last year, I really opened my eyes to see how compromised and how divided our country has become. It’s been very disturbing to me and I started speaking out about it on social media more than I ever had before. I had really never been publicly vocal about my values and beliefs.
Last year I started becoming more vocal because we really are at a dangerous crossroads. My kids are young and it’s very concerning to me to see the direction that our country and our schools are taking right now.
As luck – or God Almighty – would have it, the CEO of PragerU, Marissa Streit, found me somehow on Facebook and reached out to me and said “I’ve been noticing how concerned you are. We are starting a program here at PragerU to focus on families and children’s education and I’m wondering if you would be interested in talking about working with us.” That happened last year and I was brought on in January.
If you had asked me one year ago “Next year will you be working for PragerU developing this children and parents program?” I would have looked at you cross-eyed and said “Are you joking?! How am I ever going to be working there?! I don’t know anyone there!” But I’m here and I’m thankful to be here. It was one of those things that was truly dropped in my lap.
JWK: Were you aware of PragerU before they approached you?
JS: I was aware of PragerU (but) not (for) too long ago though. I just discovered them, admittedly, last year at the beginning of 2020 when the government shutdowns were happening and there was just so much uncertainty with the pandemic and the overreach of certain governments. I live here in California. I started discovering their videos. Their videos are all free, as we know, and they really started igniting confidence in what I’ve always believed because as Christians or conservatives or anyone who maybe thinks outside the box as a freethinker, so to speak, sometimes we question ourselves and we feel alone – thinking “Wow, I am the only one in my community or my world who still holds American values very dear?” and we start doubting ourselves.
I started discovering, one by one, various PragerU videos and I realized that I am not alone in the way that I still feel about this country, my community and my beliefs and values. I really appreciated the message of freethinking that they communicated.
As funny as it sounds, my husband and I each discovered PragerU separately. I remember one time he came home from work and I was standing in the kitchen and we were talking about any given issue of the day – I think it may have been about our kids’ school at the time – and we each looked at each other and I said “You know, we’re not alone. I discovered this media company called PragerU” and he said “I started watching PragerU videos too!” We started to laugh because we discovered them at different times.
JWK: That’s funny. Is your husband in the media too?
JS: No. My husband’s in medicine.
JWK: As someone who lived through last year as well, I think I understand your trajectory. You’ve been a commentator on The Today Show and CNN. Have you talked to these people since making your views so public and signing on with PragerU?
JS: You know, I really haven’t. I do have friends and contacts that work there, wonderful people. I worked for a variety of stations over the last several years as a freelancer. So, I still have relationships there. Like I said, there are many wonderful people there.
However, that said, I’m very forthcoming in saying that most mainstream media – as we all can discern now – is compromised and there are directives that come from the top management that certain ideas, certain perspectives, are prohibited from being discussed on air. It really is unfortunate because journalism and media should not be like that if you’re seeking to inform the public. I mean we all know that there are opinion-driven shows that are considered entertainment shows but, when you’re talking about news organizations, it really is a tragic turn that many of these news organizations have taken.
JWK: It’s great and important that PragerU is challenging corporate woke news in a direct way – but with Otto’s Tales you’re taking the cultural fight not just to the area of the education of our kids but also to imaginative storytelling that also conveys foundational truths. How important do you see narrative storytelling in the struggle to regain the culture?
JS: I think storytelling is one of the most powerful tools that we can utilize. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I will say – and I realize this now more than ever – that the future of our country really is at stake – the future of our freedom, liberty, opportunities and our equality, for that matter – as people living here together. It is all at stake and it depends on our children and teenagers and how they learn – or don’t learn – how to appreciate living in this country and what it is and what it was founded upon.
As Americans, I think we’ve lost a shared dialogue of our history. Unity should not be controversial. Saying that we want to be unified in common beliefs and values should not be controversial. Yet now we see that it is – in schools, communities and every aspect of our lives as we raise our kids.
Storytelling – to be able to tell a story to a child that really represents how much we can be unified as Americans – through our differences, through our diversity – that’s gonna dictate whether or not we have a country for our children in the next 20 (or) 30 years. It really is important to just remind ourselves that we need to teach our kids to love this country. We love this country. It’s important to teach our kids to love what it is about America that makes it so special.
It’s important to teach them that America’s not perfect and it never has been perfect but, at the same time, America has always strived to be better, to get better, to make things right and course correct if we are in need of it. To do that with stories is effective and powerful for not only children but for adults too.
We offer a variety of shows at PragerU Kids. Otto’s Tales is on one of the shows, of course along with our books, that anyone can order on Amazon right now and through our website…Other shows that we offer for children a cartoon called Leo & Layla (about) a brother and sister who (travel through time to) meet different historical figures like Adam Smith and Ronald Reagan. Then we have another show that is a craft show called Craftory where families can do DIY crafts together to honor our American traditions like Memorial Day or Fourth of July. All of these videos tell a story just reinforces what makes this country the best place to live on Earth. Our kids need that because they’re not getting it in school right now.
JWK: You say it’s important to teach our kids that our country isn’t – and never has been – perfect but is also constantly striving to be better. I certainly agree with that – but there is a fundamental difference between acknowledging our failures and the idea that our country isn’t even worthy of survival.
JS: That’s so sad.
JWK: Am I overstating it? That seems to be the message that’s being put out there.
JS: Yeah, it is very sad. You saying that – identifying that as the message that’s being forced upon our kids – that is what the left is trying to teach our kids, that America isn’t worth it. That’s heartbreaking.
As parents we’ve always appreciated America here at my house – on a personal level – but I did not realize how desperately needed the resources that we’re creating for kids right now are. My kids go to a great local school. We moved to our neighborhood specifically to access this wonderful school that is semi-famous in Southern California but I’m realizing now that, despite the rankings of this school district that we moved to, my kids are not being taught that America is wonderful (and) that we need to be grateful to live here. They’re not being taught that. Instead, through many different ways and many different narratives and workshops…they’re being told that we should be ashamed of ourselves and that we should all feel guilty for things that happened in the past and that if you have a certain skin color you will never be regarded or respected by others. It’s really beyond terrible and it’s really disturbing.
JWK: It seems to me that the poor kids are getting it from both ends. They’re told to be either ashamed or filled with anger about the past and, because of climate change and what have you, terrified about the future which they are told is dire.
JS: That’s exactly what’s happening. Some regions undoubtedly are worse than others when it comes to this…indoctrination. I always hesitate to use that word “indoctrination” because it’s a very strong word. Some regions of the country are much more severe in their indoctrination…but, generally, you’re absolutely right. That shame and hopelessness, I’ll say, is being taught to our kids. A young child at the age of five, six (or) seven just wants to color and play with paint and they’re (just) starting to learn their letters and numbers. For a young child whose brain is not capable of absorbing, reconciling or analyzing information like that, it’s brainwashing. It is indoctrination. It teaches kids that they should be ashamed and that there is no hope. It’s a form of child abuse, if you ask me.
JWK: Is there anything else you’d like to get into this post?
JS: The main takeaway (is that) PragerU Kids offers free videos for kindergarten through 12th grades. We have different shows and series. We even have a series of digital magazines that…offers kids’ education about the ideals that America was founded on. Our videos provide parents and teachers – because there are a lot of good teachers out there – (with) tools to use to help us teach our kids the values of this country so that we do have a positive future and that we do have future leaders of America who want to preserve and protect the United States as they grow. ‘
I will say this. The videos on PragerU.com/kids are free but we also offer a membership for parents and teachers who would like to participate in different virtual events and become a part of a discussion forum that helps share and solve issues in different communities regarding what’s happening with schools. We offer a members for those parents and teachers who want to get involved in a little bit more of a deeper way. PragerU, of course, is a nonprofit. Everything we do is for our children and given back. I encourage people to join us. Right now, we have about 12,000 members in our PragerU Kids Prep Program.
JWK: What kind of feedback have you received from parents and teachers?
JS: We get the most wonderful emails that are beyond encouraging and light up our weeks with happiness! We have had an incredible response both to our shows and to our books. And, of course, as I mentioned (for members) there’s a discussion forum. We have robust conversations – positive conversations – that are helping parents and teachers solve problems in their own communities.
Right now, the discussion group is on Facebook. It’s a private group where people can share stories and every day there is encouragement in there and there are solutions that are shared in all directions. For instance, parents will share an assignment that their children were given (that may) walk the line of what is appropriate and what’s not to be included in school and they’ll ask “What do I do? How do I go about approaching the teacher or the district?” There are a lot of roadmaps that are provided.
JWK: How about teachers? What do they have to say?
JS: The teachers are probably the most encouraging because when we talk about education and what’s happening right now in our schools, a lot of times it’s easy for all of us to generalize – “Oh, our schools and teachers are all compromised and crooked!” However, we have thousands of teachers in our group who have joined for the purpose of saying “We don’t like the direction that our unions have gone. We don’t like the directions that our schools are headed. We don’t like what our school district or our private school is doing now. I’m trying to stand up on my own as a teacher and fight against the administration and I need help and we want your support.” It’s really encouraging to see how many teachers there still are that are pro-America (and) want to teach our kids all of these values. They want to include all of these things in the classroom and they’re trying to figure out a way to course correct the unfortunate direction that their own schools are headed in. So, I’m glad you asked, because that might be the single-most encouraging thing that we find on a daily basis through our members – that there are good teachers still out there who want to fight back against the leftist direction of our schools.
JWK: One thing I guess the CRT debate has taught us is the importance of school board elections. We used to never even pay attention to them. Now, we’re seeing how important they are.
JS: Yeah, we do realize how important. Some of the things that are frequently shared in our discussion group are the videos of parents from around the country who are going to their school board meetings and who are now paying attention, speaking up and mobilizing other like-minded parents around them to say “This is not OK! We are taxpaying citizens. The school board – YOU – has been elected to serve US.” It’s really affirmed the power and the rights that parents DO have and I think, frankly, a lot of us forgot about.
This includes myself, as well. Prior to this last year, I never went to a single school board meeting because, frankly, my eyes weren’t opened and I took it for granted that schools are exactly like the way they were when I was a child in the eighties. Now, I, myself, have started attending my school board meetings, searching what’s on the agenda, looking at the initiatives and the different programs that they want to implement in the district – diversity, equity and inclusion, DEI as it’s known, being one of them.
I’ve gone to my school board meetings and I’ve spoken up. The more that us parents harness our bravery and courage and just show up – and our speeches might not be perfect all the time – but, if we show up and get involved, it really does change things because others will join you and you can’t deny the power in numbers. The more we speak up, one other person will and then another person will. It is a domino effect. All we can do is speak up and try. That’s the only thing we can do because that’s our only hope.
JWK: I guess the bottom line is, though this has been going on a long time, you don’t think it’s too late. We can still, as you say, “course correct.”
JS: It’s not too late. Sometimes it feels like it’s too late but I don’t believe it. It’s not too late. Our children are still children. We’re still here. We are awake now. We’re experienced now. We are living in a time where, if we speak up, it will gain momentum as long as we continue to be brave.
IMHO: Throughout our national institutions, it’s the intentional demoralizing and dividing of America and Americans that has become systemic – and it’s never more cruel and vile than when it’s aimed directly at our kids. This country just celebrated its 245th birthday. Let’s make it a national goal to turn the tables on the America shamers by our 250th celebration. PragerU is making a good start.
End Note: PragerU will release more Otto’s Tales storybooks over the coming months. In the meantime, parents, guardians and educators can check out more free PragerU kids content here. You can also watch Jill Simonian reading an Otto’s Tales adventure below and connect with her via PragerU.com/PREP and Instagram/Twitter @jillsimonian.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11