Want to teach your young children about how secularism is seeping into public schools, the failures of a state-run economy, and the truly positive meaning of MAGA? Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has a deal for you.
Under the guise of “education,” Huckabee and Florida investor Bradley Saft have been aggressively pushing conservative propaganda to kids for a decade. But in recent years, their company has become even more contemptuous, continuing to surprise customers with automatic $20.90 monthly charges despite parents’ complaints, launching $5 million of targeted Facebook ads in the past three years, and ratcheting up incendiary messaging that parrots the latest culture war rage-bait.
And its dubious college “points” program has vanished into thin air.
The Learn Our History and The Kids Guide brands—both part of EverBright Media—circulate DVDs and brightly colored booklets that purport to tell the unfolding story of the United States of America.
Except these aren’t traditional educational materials. Instead of the normal chapters in a U.S. history book, the pamphlets offer lessons in “Fighting Socialism,” “Cancel Culture and Free Speech,” and “Media Bias and Fake News.”
And while the company’s ads attempt to entice and rile up parents by promising to teach what “they’re not learning” in public schools, Learn Our History has crossed that boundary too.
Last year, the company struck a $260,000 deal with Huckabee’s home state of Arkansas, according to vendor data available on Ark.org. The department of education there used federal coronavirus relief funds to ship copies of The Kids Guide to the Coronavirus to every student in the state, according to an announcement by Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key.
Marketing materials quote former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, hailing it as “the gold standard for parents nationwide,” and the guide follows the conservative political stance on masks. “Face masks aren’t recommended as a way of preventing Coronavirus for healthy people,” the guide says.
For four years, the company has ridden the Trump train. One poorly animated video features a monotonous speech by former President Donald Trump in which he discusses God and rails on “our media culture.” Online images advertise brochures with a boy in a “Make America Great Again” hat. The Kids Guide to President Trump is available in a “*FREE* Patriotic Kids Gift Bundle” that promises to “help your kids and grandkids learn the truth about President Trump and his accomplishments in office!”
That bundle walks kids through Trump campaign pledges to “stop radical Islamic terorrism which was hurting America and many other countries throughout the world,” and teaches children how Trump wanted to prevent “dangerous people” from coming via “illegal immigration” by “build[ing] a giant wall to help stop them from entering illegally.”
EverBright seems to keep up with right-wing talking points as they manifest. The recent Kids Guide to Cancel Culture and Freedom of Speech promises to help families fight “narrowminded educators and school boards” and walks children through the evils of “cancel culture”—something that “happens when the media bans people who don’t agree with their views.”
Then there’s The Kids Guide to Media Bias & Fake News, which warns children that the media is biased against “faith in God,” “lower taxes,” “smaller government” and “the right to bear arms.”
Meanwhile, The Kids Guide to Fighting Socialism teaches them that “rich people already share their wealth by spending money to buy goods and services.”
Laura Klinger, who picked up a Christopher Columbus DVD at a homeschooling convention in 2013, told The Daily Beast that she is “in shock that they’re still in business.”
“The first thing that struck me was how crappy the graphics were… they were just trying too hard to relate to kids,” said the mother of five in Cato, New York.
Although Klinger identifies herself as “Christian, conservative,” she still found the material disconcerting.
“I did not agree with even the history they were trying to teach,” she said. “The way it was skewed, I remember wondering: Is that even true?”
The Daily Beast sought an interview with Huckabee but instead received a company statement from Chad Gallagher, who advised him during his gubernatorial days and later helped run his political action committee, HuckPAC.
“Our company has enjoyed tremendous growth and our products are popular for parents and children because they represent an unbiased view of America. Sadly, this is no longer taught in many schools whose curriculum has sought to divide the nation rather than bring us together. There is rampant agenda-driven bias in public schools and in the media, which is why so many families have turned to us to help their children learn,” the statement said.
For years, this propaganda machine has tried to entice parents by hitting a soft spot: affordable college.
In 2017, EverBright started offering dedicated subscribers “tuition points” that could be redeemed at a certain private colleges across the country—a quarter of which are faith-based institutions. One video that’s still up on Vimeo features Huckabee himself promising 1,000 “tuition points” for signing up, “then as an active Learn Our History customer, we’ll give you another 250 points worth $250 in college tuition savings each month.”
Except these points aren’t actual dollars and the program disappeared when its business partner cut ties years ago over concerns that CollegeSave wasn’t a real business. Parents who want to check on the status of their points can’t, because CollegeSave.org has since been taken down—and earlier this year redirected to a profile page for a webcam porn star known as “Kriss0leoo.”
CollegeSave promised Huckabee’s company it would provide “a personal college savings roadmap” and “a panel of experts on college and financing saving,” according to a person who read The Daily Beast a copy of the contract, which was signed by CollegeSave founder Gary Serota and EverBright Chief Marketing Officer Craig Mirabella on March 21, 2017. That deal no longer exists.
The Daily Beast was able to piece together the backstory. Before CollegeSave vanished it had latched onto a “tuition points” system run by Sage Scholars, a decades-old small business that maintains a database of 400,000 grammar school students—a valuable harvest that’s tantalizing for small colleges in need of undergrads. These universities are willing to offer a discount in tuition as long as students who accumulate “points” are directed their way.
Michael Hall, the CEO of Sage Scholars, told The Daily Beast that he would theoretically honor any “points” that EverBright parents had accumulated while his company still had a deal with CollegeSave. But, he added, “I can guarantee we've never redeemed any tuition points for Learn Our History.”
“I had never even heard of that website,” Hall said, noting that he looked up Huckabee’s company just minutes earlier and had noticed the highly political brochures aimed at kids. “They didn’t make any deals to teach this curriculum to a school district, did they?”
This propaganda operation is run with a small group of companies. Huckabee co-founded the company Learn Our History LLC in 2011 out of Boca Raton, Florida with Saft, an Ivy League-educated history major who went to Harvard Business School and later ran the Princeton Schools Committee.
Saft makes no secret of his interest in politics as they relate to children. In a video uploaded to the Learn Our History page on Facebook in March 2016, Saft pointed out: “If you can believe it, we can actually see Donald Trump’s headquarters from our office. Isn’t that fascinating? Well, let me tell you about something else fascinating. Election season is the single best time to teach your kids about all the things that makes America great. And to help turn them into active and engaged future citizens.”
Huckabee featured Saft on his weekend show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network in 2017 and recommended the video service. A YouTube clip of the exchange doesn’t show Huckabee acknowledging that he’d long had a business deal with the company behind it.
“What our kids are learning is American history from a blame-America-first attitude. Kids are growing up not proud of their American heritage,” Saft said during the interview.
For years, parents who have signed up to receive material from Learn Our History and The Kids Guide have complained about surprising, recurring monthly bills. BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and the Arkansas Times have taken them to task for scamming parents. And even as far back as 2013, one article criticized them for distributing “Christian nationalist revisionism and right-wing political propaganda.”
Mandy Jones of Albany, Wisconsin, ordered a free, patriotic-looking American history pamphlet last year for her 8-year-old daughter because “they looked like they were kid-friendly and would be helpful to teach. A great learning opportunity.” Although most ads prominently feature the former Arkansas governor, Jones said she didn’t even know Huckabee was involved. When she spotted the unexpected $20 charge on her credit card, she immediately canceled what turned out to be a subscription.
Jones was surprised yet again on Tuesday afternoon—this time by how biased the material could be—when she flipped through a copy of The Kids Guide: Birth of the Revolution for the very first time.
“Now I wish I would have read it before I would have ever given it to her, because I didn’t know that it was so political,” said Jones, who describes herself as “very Republican” but still found the approach distasteful.
In its statement, the company defended its subscription service: “We have offered our products as a no-obligation subscription service because parents love them that way. Special introductory offers allow families an opportunity to review our products. Customers can clearly see our terms and conditions on our websites, which include the opportunity to cancel a subscription at any time.”
While so much of the material produced by this company centers around the idea that American kids should not trust public school textbooks and news reports, its own website fabricates the pictures that go along with testimonials.
“I ordered this for my daughter who’s in the fifth grade. She studied the Trump presidency in school, but her lessons were biased like the media,” says a testimonial that claims to be from a “Sandi D.” of Orlando, Florida, but whose picture is actually just a commercially available image from iStock. It’s one of several on the website.