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Discipline That Kills

Did a Tennessee preacher’s book kill? It’s a topic for debate after three homeschooled children died from corporal punishment. In each case, the parents had been reading Michael and Debi Pearl’s To Train Up a Child.  The NYT reports:

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.”[…]

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.

The Bible teaches corporal punishment, but it also warns against murder.  Somehow the whole message doesn’t seem to be getting through.  Perhaps Mr. Pearl may want to make some revisions in the text to make sure his readers fully grasp the distinction between corporal punishment and child abuse.

There is a distinction.  Even the august editor of Via Meadia was once on the receiving end of corporal punishment — most dramatically, of a cane wielded by a demented British schoolmaster who for some reason was not convinced by a perfectly rational explanation about why a certain gym locker had not been properly cleaned on time.  Though the European Court of Human Rights in its wisdom has seen fit to ban such measures, I can report there were no lasting ill effects from the incident, and my gym lockers ever since have been pretty clean.

In discipline as in much else, moderation and common sense seem to be the things to keep in mind.

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  • WigWag

    Perhaps a better title for this post would have been “The War Against the Young: Christian Home-Schoolers Update.”

  • Eurydice

    @WigWag – you beat me to it.

  • Duncan Frissell

    I particularly loved this line from a Pediatrician:

    “My fear is that this book, while perhaps well intended, could easily be misinterpreted and could lead to what I consider significant abuse.”

    Something that could be said of many books, e.g. Das Kapital…

  • J R Yankovic

    Not to be redundant, but as I believe I wrote somewhere before:

    Just take a notion, an idea, even an IDEAL (that may be otherwise sound or even Scriptural), and press it to the most abstractly inhuman extreme you can think of, and see what you get. Of course many will be injured and some may even die, but think how the deserving remnant will be renewed, transformed, purified, perhaps even – who knows? – brought to the point where they can transcend their own natures, becoming something more than human. Or better yet, CREATING something that’s more than human, and so able to surpass even its makers, making them redundant – even as we bold dynamic humans are presently surpassing (and will one day make redundant?) our Creator. The point is to keep your whole focus on the things you make – NOT just technologies, of course, but tasks, projects, agendas, ideas – thereby making yourself the “god of the picture,” so to speak. Above all, keep the focus OFF yourself as a creature – that creaturehood’s immeasurable, immemorial needs, complexities, virtues, frailties – because that only puts YOUR Creator back in the center. And why would any forward-looking believer in Man want to do that?

    Again, to me, whether we’re talking Right or Left, Christianist or Islamist or secular inhumanist, it all comes back to the same twisted Spirit of this Age: Namely, Man in himself is nothing – or at best little better than plow-, cannon- and corporation-fodder (and particularly the young – as I believe WRM has been warning). But Man in terms of WHAT HE THINKS AND CREATES is – or can be – a god. As indeed he will soon become (assuming I’m reading this particular Spirit correctly), if he knows what’s good for him.

  • Corlyss

    I wouldn’t jump to conclusions, but I suspect there was something between the book and the dead kids. The blue model of education has been trying unsuccessfully to outlaw homeschooling for 3 decades now. Every line of attack has failed. Education, socialization, now mortal danger.

  • Toni

    Children are abused every day in the foster care system, notably and horrifically so in the past in Blue Bastion New York City.

    Religion, alas, is but one excuse the cruel or stressed and angry parent uses to inflict their will on a child.

    Prof. Mead has lately been up in arms (so to speak) over adult wrongdoing in the financial arena and the necessity of extreme punishment. In the cases of murdered children, perhaps he can tell us whether he sanctions the ultimate corporal punishment of the wrongdoers, i.e., the death penalty.

  • lhf

    Spanking is cathartic and useful for both parent and child. It works too, unlike the ubiquitous time out routine I have seen used while the child waits it out and repeats the offense right after. It’s when you move to using implements that corporal punishment strays into the area of abuse.

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