“It's easier to fool people than it is to convince them that they have been fooled.” – Mark Twain.
We need to talk about the rabid onslaught of misinformation surging through social media and erupting at school board meetings across the country. It has a catchword: grooming.
The term “grooming” is being used to mean something it absolutely does not mean, with the purpose of attacking and stripping away any programs and/or materials that support LGBTQ + students and families. It’s not just that “grooming” isn’t happening in our schools in any coordinated way. It’s that the word is being used over and over again to mean something it does not.
To paraphrase that old viral meme: That’s not what that means. That’s not what any of this means.
The success of bad actors to use a word that has a frightening connotation - - that most people only know just a little bit about - - to fan the flames of outrage is alarming.
I spent my entire career working with children in educational settings. I have been through many mandated trainings about child sexual abuse. This is what grooming means:
Child grooming is a deliberate process by which offenders gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy.
Grooming allows offenders to slowly overcome natural boundaries long before sexual abuse occurs. On the surface, grooming a child can look like a close relationship between the offending adult, the targeted child and (potentially) the child’s caregivers.
- - From Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse website
Grooming is a very private thing which depends on secrecy. That’s the opposite of what is going on in public schools. Parents are invited to learn about curriculum materials and programs in a variety of ways every year. They are welcome to observe classes, come to school workshops, review materials, read curriculum on the school system website.
The door is always open for parental involvement.
In fact, addressing human sexuality in a developmentally appropriate way, such as helping young children understand their right to say no to unwanted touch, for example, is a vital defense in fighting child sexual abuse. Supporting student questions about LGBTQ+ families shows students that open discussion is safe and that they and their families are safe. Having books available in school libraries should any student wish to seek them out helps to meet individual student needs.
The abuse of children thrives in an atmosphere of ignorance and secrecy. The children who are most vulnerable to abuse are those who have been “protected” from things that adults around them don’t want them to know and don’t want to talk about.
What I see happening right now in the Howard County schools is a commitment to putting valuable information and support out in the open. There’s no secrecy here. The backlash is from people who don’t want sunlight to shine on things they are uncomfortable with or disapprove of. They want secrecy and control, plus the ability to censure others with school approval.
They are advocating for the very environment which puts children at the most risk for abuse. For being vulnerable to grooming.
Not only do their actions threaten and hurt our LGBTQ+ students, whose well-being is so precarious already, but they endanger all students.
All students need to be supported with accurate and affirming information about themselves, relationships, and families from their very early years. Much of this will be student-driven. Children are naturally curious. This kind of learning can occur organically through discussions about literature, in science lessons, or in social studies. It can be supported through well-researched curriculum and materials, as well.
This will never preclude family involvement. Parents have the most important role in supporting their child’s growth and development. And parents who partner with schools will find they have added resources to help them navigate this process.
But schools also have a responsibility to be the place where questions are answered and ignorance is dispelled. That’s what schools are all about. You might even say that Education takes us from darkness to light.
I will not speculate on the motivation of those who are fighting to keep children in the dark. But, after more than thirty years as a teacher, I can assure you that what they are demanding is dangerous and will bring children to harm.
Please do your research on candidates for the Board of Education. I’d recommend that you start here: