Trained Monkeys and Seeing-Eye Dogs

If parents carefully and consistently train up their children, their performance will be superior to that of a well-trained seeing-eye dog.

This quote from Michael Pearl brought to mind a section in Robert Kunzman’s book, Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling. In this excerpt, Kunzman, a researcher, is visiting a large homeschooling family in Tennessee who follow the Pearls child training methods. Gary, the father, demonstrates his child training acumen by calling on his daughter to perform for their guest:

“A year old is about when we start serious training with them,” [Gary says.] “Like this: ‘Jessica, come.’”

Jessica, who has been playing with some toys in the corner, looks up. “Come over here,” Gary repeats in a stern voice. She gives a beautiful smile and serenely walks across the kitchen and stands next to him. “Sit,” Gary orders. There’s no open chair anywhere nearby, and the two-year-old remains standing next to him, smiling happily.

“Sit,” Gary repeats.

Lauren attempts to intercede: “She’s like, ‘Where do you want me to sit, Dad?’”

“Sit down,” Garry says. His tone is one of disappointment  “All right, see, she failed. Maybe it’s the strangeness of this area, but that’s the point I make with all of them. Because you’re not in a training environment  it’s even more important for you to obey my voice.” Gary looks over at me and says, “I’m going to take advantage of this situation right now.” He turns back to his daughter. “Jessica, remember? When I say sit, you sit right then. No matter if you have a chair or anything.”

“Sit on the floor if you have to,” Stephanie advises.

Gary’s voice grows stern. “Jessica, go down to the den.” Jessica obediently walks across the room toward the doorway. Before she gets there, Gary blurts out, “Stop!” Jessica stops. “Come!” Jessica turns around and heads back to her father. “Sit.” She immediately sits on the floor, next to his chair. “All right,” Gary says approvingly. “Stand up,” he continues. Jessica rises. “Go in there and touch the living room door.” She begins to walk in that direction  “Run!” Jessica increases her pace. “Come!” She turns and goes back to her father. “Stop!” She halts in front of him. “Sit!” She sits again on the floor. “Stand up!” she rises again.

Gary turns to me. “Some of these liberal-type thinking people, you know, think that you’re creating mind-numbed robots out of your children  But they don’t understand the concept of trying to train your children in the way that they should go, training them to obey your voice. When you’re at Wal-Mart, and the kids start screaming and grabbing everything and embarrassing you to your wits’ end, you know? Or when you’re trying to talk to somebody on the phone and kids are screaming and carrying on. Your kids will humiliate you if you don’t train them.”

This passage of Kunzman’s book struck me as oh, so familiar.

The thing is, children aren’t animals, they’re miniature people who are growing into adults. It makes a heck of a lot more sense to do what we can to equip them for the adult world than to train them into obedient little automatons. Yes, children sometimes fall apart in Wal-Mart. So? Don’t take them to Wal-Mart if they’re tired and make allowances for the fact that they may very legitimately want to visit the toy aisle. Yes, children sometimes scream and carry on when you’re trying to talk on the phone. So? Make important calls while the children are at school or watching a movie or playing quietly, and realize that when children scream and carry on it may be a sign that you’ve been on the phone too long and they need some attention. What you shouldn’t do is react to the inconvenience children often present by training any sense of spirit or free will out of them!

If these people want a seeing eye dog or a trained monkey, they should go out and buy a seeing eye dog or a trained monkey.

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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.