Lydia Schatz, Michael Pearl, and CNN

This is part of a series in which I am re-posting a number of posts I’ve written in the past on issues involving parenting and Michael and Debi Pearl. I think these posts may be of interest to new readers, and if you’re a reader who has been around with me since the beginning, they may be worth a re-read. This post was originally published here.   

CNN has investigated the case of Lydia Schatz, spanked to death by her parents in February 2010. The Schatzes followed the discipline methods promoted by Michael and Debi Pearl in their book To Train Up A Child.

The Pearls defense is as follows (for full text see here):

It has come to may attention that a vocal few are decrying our sensible application of the Biblical rod in training up our children. I laugh at my caustic critics, for our properly spanked and trained children grow to maturity in great peace and love.

Numbered in the millions, these kids become the models of self-control and discipline, highly educated and creative—entrepreneurs that pay the taxes your children will receive in entitlements. When your children finally find an honest mechanic or a trustworthy homebuilder, it will be one of ours.

When your children apply for a job it will be at a company our children founded. When they go to a doctor, it will be one of our Christian children that heals them with cutting edge innovation. When your adult kids go for therapy it will be one of our kids-become-psychologist that directs them to the couch and challenges them to release their self-loathing and embrace hope for a better tomorrow. When your children grow old and realize their mortality and seek to make peace with their Creator, it will be one of our children that shares with them the message of God’s love and forgiveness.

My five grown children are laughing at your foolish, uninformed criticism of God’s method of child training, for their kids—my 17 grandkids—are laughing . . . because that is what they do most of the time. They laugh when Daddy is coming home. The laugh when it is time to do more homeschooling. They laugh when it is time to practice the violin and piano. They laugh when they see their Big Papa coming (that’s me) because Big Papa is laughing and they don’t care why just as long as he laughs with them.

My granddaughters laugh with joy after giving their baby dolls a spanking for “being naughty” because they know their dolls will grow up to be the best mamas and daddies in the world—just like them.

People all around the world, in places like Russia, China, Germany, New Zealand, Guatemala, Peru, Africa, and fifty other countries are laughing with joy because after applying the Biblical principles found in our books they finally have happy and obedient children.

Even my chickens are laughing . . . well, actually it more like cackling, because they just laid another organic egg for my breakfast and they know that it was that same piece of ¼ inch plastic supply line that trained the dogs not to eat chicken….

Michael Pearl argues that the Schatz parents lost control and did not properly follow his methods, and that properly spanked children, by his methods, are the happiest children out there. With all due respect – no, forget the respect – I strongly disagree. You see, I don’t think that the Schatz parents lost control. I really do think that they properly applied the Pearls’ methods. Here is why.

  1. The Pearls teach that you must break your child’s will.
  2. The Pearls teach that a proper spanking must cause the child actual pain. They advocate using 1/4″ plumbing supply line as a sort of whip.
  3. The Pearls teach that you must spank until the child is submissive. If you stop before the child submits, the child has won.
  4. The Pearls teach that raising children is a battle for control between parent and child, a battle the parent must win. If the parent does not win, the child will be miserable, rebellious, and even destined for hell.

From everything I have heard about the case, it appears that the Schatz parents were following the above rules. They didn’t stop spanking, they sought to force their daughter to submit, to break her will, and the result was that they broke her body. There is no evidence that the Schatz parents spanked in anger (in fact, they stopped the discipline every so often for prayer breaks), and there is ample evidence that they followed the Pearls’ To Train Up A Child like a Bible.

Lydia Schatz died because the Pearls taught her parents to see their relationship with their daughter as a struggle for control, a struggle they must decisively win, using physical force as tool.

Lydia Schatz died because the Pearls told her parents that if they didn’t spank their children, if they didn’t break their children’s wills and force them to submit, their children would turn out ruined, rebellious, and miserable.

Lydia Schatz died because her parents believed what the Pearls said.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.