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.