Well this is disturbing, and I hope someone sues the hell out of these folks (alternately, I hope that they’re criminally prosecuted).
The pastoral mood in the hills of Tennessee offered a stark contrast to the storm raging around the country over the Pearls’ teachings on child discipline, which advocate systematic use of “the rod” to teach toddlers to submit to authority. The methods, seen as common sense by some grateful parents and as horrific by others, are modeled, Mr. Pearl is fond of saying, on “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”
Michael Pearl advocates beating your children. He thinks you should start hitting them when they’re about six months old.
More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls’ self-published book are in circulation, and it is especially popular among Christian home-schoolers, who praise it in their magazines and on their Web sites. The Pearls provide instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, “can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.”
The furor in part reflects societal disagreements over corporal punishment, which conservative Christians say is called for in the Bible and which many Americans consider reasonable up to a point, even as many parents and pediatricians reject it. The issue flared recently when a video was posted online of a Texas judge whipping his daughter.
Mr. Pearl, 66, and Mrs. Pearl, 60, say that blaming their book for extreme abuse by a few unstable parents is preposterous and that they explicitly counsel against acting in anger or causing a bruise. They say that their methods, properly used, yield peace and happy teenagers.
Don’t some religious extremists say the same thing about wife-beating — it’s ok as long as you don’t leave a mark?
Shockingly, some parents have followed the Pearls’ advice — and their kids have ended up dead.
In the latest case, Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley, Wash., were home-schooling their six children when they adopted a girl and a boy, ages 11 and 7, from Ethiopia in 2008. The two were seen by their new parents as rebellious, according to friends.
Late one night in May this year, the adopted girl, Hana, was found face down, naked and emaciated in the backyard; her death was caused by hypothermia and malnutrition, officials determined. According to the sheriff’s report, the parents had deprived her of food for days at a time and had made her sleep in a cold barn or a closet and shower outside with a hose. And they often whipped her, leaving marks on her legs. The mother had praised the Pearls’ book and given a copy to a friend, the sheriff’s report said. Hana had been beaten the day of her death, the report said, with the 15-inch plastic tube recommended by Mr. Pearl.
“It’s a good spanking instrument,” Mr. Pearl said in the interview. “It’s too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone.”
Some of the Williamses’ other tactics also seemed to involve Pearl advice taken to extremes; the Pearls say that “a little fasting is good training,” for example, and suggest hosing off a child who has potty-training lapses. The Williamses have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Several other Christian families have also killed their children by beating them (interestingly, many of the murdered children were adoptees, and many of the families homeschoolers). Amanda actually highlighted the culture of Christian child abuse last week, and her post is worth a read. Obviously not all (or even most) Christians beat their kids, but conservative Christian leaders have made the right to hit your kids an Important Religious Rights Issue. Pearl himself says, “To give up the use of the rod is to give up our views of human nature, God, eternity.”
Children are people too, though, and they deserve the basic right to be free from bodily harm.