Here Comes the Groom(ing)
I recently read a book about calculus. In it, I learned that the foundation of this branch of math is to break down complicated, difficult problems into smaller and much-easier-to-solve tidbits. Once you have the answers to those small pieces of the puzzle, you can put the whole thing back together again to reveal something marvelous. What looks like a little dot floating in space when taken in isolation, ends up being part of this amazing curve that approximates the form or the function of some natural/mechanical phenomenon.
It’s beautiful. Galileo called calculus “The language in which God has written the universe” because so much of the world around us can be not only represented, but understood, by using its toolset.
In calculus, identifying and defining an individual dot helps you understand the curve upon which it lies, because the curve wouldn’t exist without the dots that comprise it. But one dot all on its own isn’t enough to create a curve. Curves take all sorts of forms, you see. Some of them rise very predictably, some stay perfectly flat. Other curves have sharp, sudden drops or rises that appear to come out of nowhere. Still more, like sine waves, wooble up and down and up and down in regular intervals. To try to plot a curve with only one dot is impossible, and even with a few dots, you have no true clarity about the nature of whatever it is you’re studying. Calculus is about the curve itself, about phenomena that change over time instead of one moment in isolation. Even shapes that are very familiar to us, like bell curves, spirals, and figure eights cannot be identified by looking at one single point.
You can’t solve your problem by looking at just one piece of the puzzle.
Calculus was very much on my mind as I read Em Carpenter’s recent essay, Words Have Meanings, Part Ten Thousand – Ordinary Times (ordinary-times.com). In this piece, Em takes a minuscule fraction of the debate about what is appropriate to teach to children in the schools and when – using the word “grooming” to describe teachers injecting their personal opinions regarding sexuality into the schools even in primary grades – and attempts to base a larger argument upon it. While it’s hard to argue with Em’s reasoning within the scope of the article, when I get out my mental graph paper and plot it alongside lots of other datapoints much harder to ignore than a slippery definition of a word which most people hadn’t even heard five years ago, it all falls apart.
She forgot to solve the second part of the problem.
I find that liberals, even good and fine people, people I like a lot, are real good at breaking down any problem into its teensiest, tiniest constituent parts, but not so good at putting them back together again. But if we don’t reassemble those individual datapoints back into a greater whole, well, I’m sorry to say, our answer is wrong.
One single point floating in space reveals nothing about the shape of the curve upon which it lies, no matter how elegant the equation was that created it. A dot is not a curve, even if it’s the purtiest gosh darn dot in the whole wide world. Focusing on one eensy weensy part of a greater argument while ignoring the bigger picture means we haven’t tapped into the true power of calculus – to help us better understand something that is happening in the world around.
Some are going so far as to use this “isolate facts from reality to conquer” strategy to mislead, to misrepresent, even to openly deceive others about the very nature of reality. If you only give people one lil’ unassuming dot to look at, and then tell them “see, this lonely little factoid actually tells you the truth about this curve we’re all trying to understand right now” it allows you define that curve any way you want, even if lots of other points that are equally valid, equally real, don’t actually fall anywhere near it.
The most flawlessly constructed argument falls apart if it starts from a place of intellectual dishonesty.
Taking a tiny part of a much larger argument, decontextualizing it, separating it from its constituent parts, and claiming that represents a greater reality is disingenuous to say the least. To use Em’s example, a person may not like the way the word “grooming” is being used in the larger debate about school curriculum, for reasons which are entirely valid when taken on their own merit. But when more points are plotted on the curve (WAY more points, because it’s not exactly like we have a shortage of teacher-activist blather to choose from out here in Parentsville) we can take a step back and look at the big picture. The curve looks different than a single point alone appears to indicate. And many of us don’t like what we see, including plenty of folks who are about the furthest thing from religious zealots or political extremists.
There is this overwhelming attitude put forth by the left, dare I say a narrative, even, that parents are out here plotting and scheming, just itching to stir up trouble and cause problems for teachers. According to this same narrative, teachers are, without any exceptions, just totally pure of mind and spirit and motive, have no personal agendas, are as wholesome as an episode of Leave It To Beaver, and eternally have every child’s best interests at heart, in every instance, all the time, inarguably. Of course, neither of these things is the case; as ever, reality is far more complicated than a simplistic Disney good and evil narrative would indicate.
The truth is, most parents want nothing more than to put their kiddo on the school bus every morning and be able to trust in the process. Most parents would very much prefer not to be dealing with any of this. We are busy. We are tired. We don’t claim to be experts and we resent having to become experts in something that we’d already marked off our to-do list when we paid our property taxes. We don’t want to go to school board meetings and we sure as heck don’t want to be on school boards ourselves. But we love our kids and we are deeply concerned about some massive and unignorable things that cannot be handwaved away by splitting hairs about the use of the word “grooming”.
And when it comes to the motivation of activist teachers, apologies in advance, but I find it willfully uninformed, if not outright dishonest, to fail to acknowledge some weird doings afoot in the schools. A whole lot of people, even those who aren’t extreme right-wing whackos, are starting to find these doings alarming. Against this backdrop, a bunch of alleged “educators” acting like it’s the worst thing in ever because they can no longer indoctrinate kindergarteners with their personal political views on human sexuality seems just a bit more sinister. Some people (who of course have their own agendas, ’tis true) have said what is happening in the schools goes far enough to be deemed “grooming”; while I happen to disagree, my disagreement with them on that point does absolutely nothing to alleviate my concern that something is terribly wrong in the public schools.
The curve looks different than the point. While the argument being made in Em’s piece, about words being redefined to suit an agenda, is spot on, this example is neither particularly egregious, nor is it the only case of redefinition in the first degree we could be discussing.
I mean hey, I don’t like it when words are redefined, either. I don’t like it when “white supremacist” is redefined, for example. Or “science”. Or “gender”. Or “tolerance”. Or “antifascism”. Or “Nazi”, a particularly odious term which has been bandied about with abandon, even by people here on this site. I REALLY don’t like how the word “woman” is being redefined. Not a fan of “mostly peaceful protests”. I don’t like how a man asking a woman for her phone number, as irritating and out of line as it can be, has been redefined as “sexual assault”. I don’t like, don’t like at all, how free speech has been weakened and diminished by this constant-definition shifting, so all of a sudden words a handful of people dislike are redefined as violence and distributing Molotov cocktails to an angry mob is the innocent actions of well-intentioned people trying to express their viewpoint that they like, lichrally had no other way to get across.
I don’t like any of those things, because they weaponize concepts that should be discussed freely in an open society (so none of us have to rely on Molotov cocktails to make our point), while simultaneously eroding some pretty important terms. We absolutely need words we all understand and agree upon, to be ABLE to discuss important, yet heated topics instead of lobbing flaming bottles at each other. I loathe this race to the bottom in which words mean whatever social media has decided they mean this week. Yet surely, in the name of fairness, one can’t expect that if one side starts in with this game, that the other won’t start taking part too. If the left demands outrage from me over the misuse of the word “grooming” then the left should have stood up and stood firm when all those other words were redefined. But they didn’t.
Either we all demand honesty, fairness, and sincerity from not only others, but ourselves, or we’re all gonna be playing this game of shifting meanings right until the bitter end. But this not an article about defining words in ways that I don’t like. It is an article about calculus, about dots and curves and how one of them is not the other.
The misuse of the word “grooming” has become a left-wing talking point, with news organizations from Ordinary Times to The Atlantic all posting roughly identical articles saying the exact same thing this week. As far as I can tell, the reason for this sudden glut of articles is because it presents the most palatable tidbit of a much more troubling whole, drawing a line in the sand at this particular spot because it’s an issue upon which they thought they could win. Yet not a single one of these articles, no matter how well-written, changes the shape of the curve – one data point, plotted over and over again in the same place, changes nothing.
Focusing on the definition of “grooming” rather than the debate writ large, is sleight of hand meant to distract people away from a much larger, much more complex argument. Parental concerns about political and cultural indoctrination in the public schools system have a hell of a lot more merit than this plethora of parallel pieces would have one believe, period (which of course, men can totally have).
None of the articles that I read the last week acknowledged any of this greater complexity, none even issuing a throwaway disclaimer in which parental concerns are given a minimum of lip-service. Instead, authors chose to flagrantly commit the same sin they were accuse others of, expressing sentiments like “Find another word that means ‘teaching my kids about people whom I don’t want them to know they exist.’” Which is, of course, not the issue, has never been the issue, and is simply the construction of a weak-bordering-on-straw man argument. Pretty much exactly like the type of people who misuse the word “grooming” are doing.
Are there a few parents out there who just want everything gay to go away? Sure. I don’t know any, but I’ll accept that a handful of them might exist. Is that all or even most of the parents who are having some concerns about political indoctrination in the schools? Not even remotely. In addition to quite a lot of normal, everyday people both right and left who are troubled by what they’re seeing, many gay people, including gay parents, are concerned about extremism happening both in the schools and in their movement because they see it as a way to prey upon the vulnerable and even ERASE gay children by telling them that their same-sex attraction is actually a sign they were “born into the wrong body”.
Likewise, we simply cannot deny that people in positions of authority over children (children of ALL gender and sexual preferences) have used and abused their charges in all manner of vile ways. While one can certainly define “grooming” in a lot of ways, some of which are extremely questionable, it isn’t an insane, unreasonable position that parents have some concerns about that happening to their children. When you look at the curve instead of a single point in isolation, it is apparent that some, indeed, MANY of these people at present calling themselves “teachers” absolutely have political and personal agendas that they are proudly promoting to schoolchildren. (I refuse to give these people traffic; suffice to say there are plenty of corroborating sources for this assertion if you’d care to look.) Based on the unfortunate reality of child sexual abuse, wherein time and again authority figures who left alone with children have done things that were completely reprehensible, it is within the realm of possible that some number of them may even have a sexual agenda.
Thus it is neither wrong nor an overreach by parents to take steps to protect their children. It’s in the job description of a parent. After all, that’s what we’re being told about the teacher-activists, right? That they’re going to the mat to protect vulnerable kids from harmful agendas that may cause them mental, spiritual, and even physical harm?? Well, believe me when I say, the feeling is entirely mutual. If some of those parents slightly mis-define a word in defense of their child, to prevent their children from incurring mental, spiritual, and even physical harm, so be it. It’s certainly nowhere near as egregious as defining a Molotov cocktail as free speech.
Is that a weak man argument, too? Oh, you betcha. But as I said, it’s mighty unfair for one side to continue to flout the rules if they don’t expect the same treatment in return. And at least that actually happened, as opposed to this supposed horde of imaginary eeevvuulll parents whose supposed motivation is “not wanting their kids to know about gay people”.
The biggest issue I have with the whole “grooming” argument is that I don’t think a lot of the writers who have produced these articles actually believe it. On a personal level, I feel I know Em fairly well and in most arenas, even on topics we happen to disagree, I find her an ally in the realm of good sense. She’s a mom herself, and I know she understands the desire of a parent to protect their child against people who may not have that child’s best interests at heart. I seriously doubt that on a personal level, she’s on board with the hijinks of Jessica Yaniv, or Fallon Fox calling the moment she fractured a woman’s skull “bliss”, or the absolutely predatory way that some have used the banners of “activism” and “education” to recruit vulnerable kids both online and in real life. (Predators abound, in all walks of life, and are highly skilled at infiltrating and exploiting a variety of situations to seek victims. I find it thoroughly irrational to expect anyone to assume predators are somehow not present in the activist wing of the woke movement, because they are present in every wing of every movement. I refuse to deny the potentiality of these “wolves in sheeps’ clothes” anywhere at any time.)
Parents “not wanting their children to know about gay people” is not what is actually going on, not by a longshot. Opponents may be calling this controversial Florida law the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but it is because those opponents are trying to mislead and obfuscate and LIE about what is really happening. Children are being indoctrinated by political activists not only to believe some pretty ugly things, but to pursue courses of action, without parental consent, that may have permanent consequences on a child’s physical health and emotional wellbeing. To claim that this is about saying the word “gay” or misusing the word “grooming” is an attempt to hijack a very necessary conversation that we all should be having.
If you want to talk about keeping the vulnerable safe, we haven’t even delved into the most important use of calculus. It is as a predictive technique, a way to extrapolate events into the future and see what is to come. Parents have plotted points on a graph mentally, a LOT of points, amassed over years, both things we’ve seen in the media and things we’ve seen firsthand. We don’t like where this curve is headed. We have seen activist teachers with profoundly questionable motives in the classroom, associated with a movement whose extreme end has some decidedly creepy and disturbing members. We have watched in confusion as people who are tasked with the job of protecting our kids – the media, teachers and their unions, politicians, religious leaders, even our own employers in many cases – en masse began to pretend that extremely reasonable parental concerns are imaginary, hypothetical, stupid, borne from religious fanaticism, and even domestic terrorism. They aren’t. We don’t like what we see here. Gay and straight, black and white, across all classes and from all cultural heritages, but parents all – we have concerns that are valid and should be listened to. Gaslighting us by claiming that this debate is about “people who don’t want kids to know that gay folks exist” when it so very obviously isn’t, does absolutely nothing to make us believe or trust you with those innocent little people we love beyond all else.
We refuse to wait around until our kids are actually victimized to take action. The real question is, why is anyone telling us to do otherwise?
That’s a curve I’d like to take a closer look at.