In 2006, a 4-year-old boy was accidentally smothered to death when his mother followed advice from the pro-corporal punishment book To Train Up A Child. Last year, a 7-year-old girl was murdered by her parents, who were also followers of the "Biblical Chastisement" movement. At the time, Michael Pearl, the Tennessee pastor who wrote the manual along with his wife Debi, defended the book, saying the parents just took the recommended physical punishments too far. Now another child is dead, and the Pearls still insist there's nothing wrong with their methods.
The Pearls' self-published book has sold more than 670,000 copies and is popular among Christian home-schoolers, while other Christians lobby against it and say it goes against the teachings of the Bible. In general, corporal punishment is a controversial topic in America, but the book doesn't simply recommend a swat on the butt if a kid nearly runs out into traffic. The Pearls teach parents to hit children with objects (a willow switch, a belt, a wooden spoon, or a tube of quarter-inch flexible plumbing line are all acceptable) on their arms, legs, or back, starting as early as six months. The aim is to use "the rod" to raise an obedient child. Michael Pearl boasted to the New York Times that his method uses, "the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules."
On September 29 Larry and Carri Williams of Washington were charged with homicide by abuse after their 13-year-old daughter Hana was found naked and face down in their backyard, dead from hypothermia and malnutrition. The Williamses already had six children they were home-schooling when they adopted Hana and a 7-year-old boy from Ethiopia in 2008. They were fans of To Train Up A Child and on the day of Hana's death she was beaten with the plumbing tube, which Pearl says is good to use on a child because it's "too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone." Other abuse police describe seems to be an intensified version of the methods in the book. Pearl says "a little fasting is good training," and Hana was starved for days. Pearl advocates hosing off a child if they have an accident after potty-training. Hana was forced to shower outside with a hose and sleep in a frigid barn or closet.
Some conservative Christian parents groups are pressuring sites like Amazon to stop selling the book, and Pearl says his methods aren't for everyone. He tells parents they shouldn't hit children in anger or leave a bruise, and says if parents are ignoring that important bit of information it isn't his fault. "If you find a 12-step book in an alcoholic's house, you wouldn't blame the book," Pearl explains. Though, the equivalent to a 12-step book in Hana's situation would actually be a book on "time outs" that the parents chose to ignore. The discovery of To Train Up A Child in the Williamses home is more like finding pro-ana websites bookmarked on an anorexic girl's computer. The websites may not be the source of the problem, but both the sites and the Pearls' book provide a guide to unhealthy and dangerous behavior and have led to children's deaths.
Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate [NYT]
Earlier: Another Child "Chastised" To Death
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