After weeks of bashing Disney for “grooming” and highlighting mug shots of past Disney employees who have been charged with child sexual abuse unconnected to their employment at Disney, Rufo told the Times, “It’s wrong, factually and morally, to accuse someone of being a groomer with no basis and evidence.” About that:
But as Moynihan, a political scientist at Georgetown University, wrote at his Substack, it goes deeper. In Rufo’s usage, “this language is largely not about sexual abuse of children. Rufo is much more likely to describe ‘grooming’ in the context of kids being exposed to ideas he dislikes rather than actual sexual abuse. In other words, sharing certain political beliefs — usually centered around recognizing the status of historically marginalized groups — are treated as interchangeable with child abuse, its perpetrators akin to child abusers.”
“The reservoir of sentiment on the sexuality issue is deeper and more explosive than the sentiment on the race issues,” Rufo told the Times. In translation: He thinks he can ride anti-LGBTQ bigotry even further than racism.
Rufo’s overall message that institutions from Disney to the public schools are grooming children by exposing them to ideas he doesn’t like was a major factor in his participation in the banning of math textbooks in Florida because they supposedly contained CRT and other “prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies.” In Times coverage of that episode, Rufo explained his opposition to social-emotional learning, saying, “in practice, SEL serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.”
”The intention of SEL,” according to Rufo, “is to soften children at an emotional level, reinterpret their normative behavior as an expression of ‘repression,’ ‘whiteness,’ or ‘internalized racism,’ and then rewire their behavior according to the dictates of left-wing ideology.”
Don’t teach our kids to be kind. It might make them less racist.
Rufo is part of a broader Republican movement to end public education, something he’s strategically laying the groundwork for with each new campaign he wages. CRT, grooming, social-emotional learning—all of these are buzzwords intended to weaken support for public education. Disney came into it because of the company’s opposition to the Florida Don’t Say Gay law banning the teaching of anything that might imply to children that LGBTQ people are acceptable members of their communities.
Rufo laid out his approach in an April speech at Hillsdale College, titled “Laying Siege to the Institutions.” In it, he called for a “narrative and symbolic war against companies like Disney” in which “You have to be very aggressive. You have to fight on terms that you define.” On schools, he was explicit: “To get to universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.”
(When American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten slightly mistranscribed some of this, Rufo threatened legal action, so apparently he’s kind of sensitive here.)
Rufo is far from the only prominent conservative openly trying to dismantle public education. There’s Betsy DeVos, of course, the Trump education secretary whose only experience related to education was years of funding efforts to privatize it. Then there’s this:
Make no mistake: Republicans are coming for public education, in many cases looking for the government to provide vouchers that can go to unregulated religious and private schools. What they definitely don’t want is empowered teachers who can speak up for their students—all of them, not just the straight white Christian ones—and teaching that encompasses the racial history of the U.S., exposure to a wide range of experience, and basic social skills alongside of 2+2=4.