This past week Homeschoolers Anonymous has been running a series on Michael Pearl’s child training methods. Over a dozen readers and bloggers submitted their own personal stories toward this series, and they range from analytic to heartbreaking. Many include graphic descriptions of child abuse, so please bear that in mind before clicking. I’ll provide a brief excerpt for each post, just to give you a taste, and for readers who may not have time to click through. I’ve made sure these excerpts are not excessively graphic, though a few do describe the implements with which they were spanked.
I dropped an egg on the floor.
Here we were, my mom and me baking together, and in my imperfection (would it be the sin of carelessness today?) I had made a mess and ruined the idyllic moment.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
I was shaking and nearly in tears. My mom, today, didn’t think it was a big deal, but I was too frightened to notice.
“Stop it,” she said, irritated at my fearful apology.
“I’m sorry,” I said — Oh no, I was irritating her now when she wasn’t irritated before.
“Stop, you are not an abused child!” Her voice was harsher now.
“Sorry!” I sobbed.
“Stop crying, you are not an abused child!”
I couldn’t. I tried.
“Stop or I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT.”
…Because I didn’t obey and stop crying immediately, I got a spanking. I needed to learn to control myself better. To stop crying when Mom said so, to only apologize fearfully when she was already irritated, lest I irritate her. I must learn to be obedient, to be holy, to be self-controlled. Until I did, Mom would never be happy with me. Jesus would never be happy with me.
It all started about two years after I had begun to home school my kids. A fellow mom gave me a copy of To Train a Child. She insisted it was the best help she ever had with raising her children. Since she had about eight at the time, I figured she must have known what she was talking about.
Took the poison home and swallowed it.
The whole premise of the book is if your children are not obedient to you, their earthly parents, then how they will ever learn to be obedient to their heavenly Father. So their very eternity depends on whether or not you can get them to be obedient. What I didn’t understand was that it was an outward obedience.
I was an abusive mother.
My kids are my whole life. I adore them and would do anything for them. I can’t tell you how hard it is to admit, in writing, that I hurt them. I hurt the people I would do anything to protect and I have to live with that.
With many large families, as the oldest girl, I helped parent my younger siblings. So in my young teens, when these books entered our home, I was reading and discussing them with my mom to help “parent”. I was accustomed to lots of spankings with small branches or belts in my early years and so the book was not surprising to me. Instead of the occasional punishments, though, it laid out a horrific system of beating your children under the guise of breaking wills and spiritual reasoning.
“A child is like a dog” is the first thing I took away from the Pearls book, To Train Up a Child.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point early on my mom handed me the rod. She told me I was to spank my younger siblings if they misbehaved or broke any rules and she was not in the room. The rule was that I could spank any sibling at least five years younger than me. This meant that at ten I could spank my five-year-old sibling, and all those younger than him.
This breaks my heart because now, years and years later, my younger siblings tell me they saw me as a bully, that they resented me, that I “lorded it over them.”
I may have been all that, and I definitely was far from perfect. Perhaps having this sort of power over them brought out the worst in me. But I was ten, twelve, or fourteen, and at the core I did what I did because my parents handed me the rod and told me to do so.
Recently my Mom told me something that shook me to my core. She said, “Your father said if you disciplined a child according to the bible, they would not die.” Then she told me she recognized the Pearls’ book “To Train Up A Child.”
It all got brought up because my 10 year old brother likes to give lots of hugs of his own accord, and my Mom and I were talking about how nice that is, how sweet of a boy he is, and she said she wished her older sons, now 25 and 22, were as loving and kind to her as her youngest. This started one heck of a conversation.
I reminded my Mom that her youngest had never been told to pull down his pants and bend over the bed, knowing he’d end up with welts on the behind. He had never known what it was like to get hit with a belt or a wooden stick by his own mother. Also, today she instructs him that if our father says or does anything mean during visitation, he is to tell her right away because that is not allowed.
But she used to tell us kids the opposite.
The autopsy report of Lydia Schatz indicated that she died from a condition called rhabdomyolosis, the rapid release of excessive amounts of broken muscle fragments into the bloodstream. Because the body cannot process such large amounts of these fragments, they end up lodging in the kidney, blocking the fine network of microscopic tubules that filter dissolved waste products from the blood and turn it into urine. When medical treatments fail to open up these blockages within the kidney created by the muscle fibers fragments, the tiny tubules die and do not regenerate.
Due to the severity of the spankings with [Michael Pearl’s recommended] plumbing line, both Zariah and Lydia Schatz suffered renal failure because of rhabdomyolysis.
I don’t remember my first spanking. I actually don’t remember all that many specifics about spanking.
I remember dad breaking the plastic spoon on me…and then a switch….and then another switch….and then pulling off his belt and using it on me. I remember the sick feeling that I would get when mum would pull dad aside to tell him about how school went that day. That I didn’t get everything done again.
That I spent the day listlessly looking out the window in tears, trying to process moving again and dealing with depression as a 10 year old.
My parents swore by To Train Up a Child. Any new parents that they met and invited over to the house were shown the book, read passages and encouraged to purchase a copy of their own.
First-time-obedience and spankings were commonplace in our home.
My dad would spank us with his hand, but my mom’s hands were more fragile and after breaking one too many blood-vessels in her hands on our bottoms, she graduated to a paint-stirrer. When those continued to brake, she had a paint-stirrer custom made out of a 2-by-4 and varnished.
It was solid wood and it hurt intensely.
I wish I hadn’t done a lot of things, and wish I could change other things, but basically, I have one regret in my life. One thing that I wish I had done differently. One thing that still angers me to think about, because of the cruelty.
Thanks to a friend of mine who posted the link on facebook, I read an article titled “First time obedience, really?” First-time obedience is something that is extremely important in my family. It pretty much goes along with formula parenting. The example my dad would always use as to the merits of first-time obedience is if one of his very small children ran out into the street (which wouldn’t happen anyway), and a car came, he would say “Stop!” or “Come back!” and they would do it immediately, unlike (again, his example) “your cousins”. (Sorry, uncles and aunts. Don’t feel bad, though…at least your kids still have brains that aren’t being controlled!)
So while seeing the downside to it (which I will elaborate on in a minute), I was also warring inside myself. It would save someone from death, right? So it’s good? But on the other hand, I saw what happened, and it was most certainly not good.
Two years old. Rebellious. Self-willed. Wicked. Too young to like or dislike anything. Too young to have opinions.
Uhh yeah, that’s my parents for you. They don’t believe in the “terrible twos”…they believe in “terrible hearts”.
The death toll from parents following Michael and Debi Pearl’s teachings continues to mount. Another child is has been “biblically chastened” to death via corporal punishment, and Michael Pearl is defending his teachings in the mainstream media while promoting his new book. Gary Tuchman and Anderson Cooper both reported on the death of 13-year-old Hana Williams, whose adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams subjected her to beatings and neglect while following the teachings of the Pearls.
Michael Pearl defends himself and his teachings during his CNN interviews using two arguments:
First, the presence of his book, To Train Up a Child, and the presence of his other teaching materials on “biblical chastisement,” in the homes of homicidal parents, is purely circumstantial. It makes no more sense, Pearl argues, to blame To Train Up a Child for discipline-turned-abusive-turned-murderous than to blame Alcoholics Anonymous brochures in the home for deaths due to drunk driving, or weight-loss materials in the home for obesity.
As Anderson Cooper pointed out, this defense is illogical.
this isn’t just a story about mike and debi pearl and their book ‘to train up a child’, it’s a story about my own growing up.
this book has become a popular book to bring about near-perfect obedience, in which the child has no voice. i grew up with its predecessors and then when the book came out, they applied it to us too. with fervent hearts, and willing fists, they applied discipline and attitude adjustments to us until our skin broke, and our hearts were numb.
unlike many brought up with these teachings, i was not home-schooled, rather i was private small church schooled.
i see little difference beyond the size of the class in the methods of isolation and quality of education. we were being raised in what i now understand to be quiverfull movement.
by the time the pearls came on to the fundamentalist scene with their discipline books, mine were already well-versed in the methods. not only were they experts in this style of discipline, they’d taught it year after year in the churches we attended. i grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist cult of secrecy and shame.
I have half-moons on the sides of my nose. They are actually the third set of bags under my eyes. I didn’t cry all night, or stay up late with a baby. In my mid-thirties, I cannot sleep at night. Once my distractions and duties rest for the day, ghosts play in my dreams and the memories of fears warn me to stay awake. The dark is when bad happens and my parents trained me to fear it.
A lack of light is evil.
Even now, I want to write anything but this. Writing is my life’s work, but this shouldn’t be my story to write. I shake my head, furious that I know this tale, my stomach forcing me hunched over.
I won’t write it – fuck them. Then I remember the other “them,” and write. I sigh. The quiet “them”no one talks about. My being a “them” that no one talks about, that my parents still try to silence.
This picture could be anybody’s little sister blindfolded and hitting a piñata at her Dad’s house for another sibling’s birthday.
My little sister lives in a different world than I did.
But it isn’t. It’s my little sister.
She lives in a different world than I did. One with her own bedroom and court-ordered visitation and Christmas presents from a kind stepmother. She has never been homeschooled. She does not remember a time when our family didn’t celebrate birthdays, or was too poor to buy a piñata, or was too “modest” for her favorite summer clothes to be allowed.
She could be using any stick to hit this piñata but she isn’t. She’s using the “red stick,” the most infamous spanking implement our family had.
As far as I know, none of the younger siblings attending this party were ever touched by the red stick and I imagine just a few had been threatened, but the grim knowledge of what it was used for had been passed down.
Six years ago I sent a letter to the husband-and-wife authors of a well-known Christian parenting guide. Criticized for its emphasis on corporal punishment and for being circumstantially linked to at least two child-abuse deaths, their book has nevertheless attracted a faithful following. As a result of their book’s polarizing effect, the guide’s authors have for many years featured in public spanking debates.
When I wrote to these authors, I was newly reconverted to the faith of my childhood. It was to be my second go-around with Christianity. The first ended at the age of seven, when I realized that my prayers were doing nothing to keep my abuser from terrorizing my brother and me with the belt. As a second-grader, I struggled to understand how a living God could be so utterly disinterested. I resolved the dilemma by blaming myself. By puberty, I was privately thinking of myself as an atheist.
Still, when I contacted the married authors through a form on their ministry’s website, I was Christian. How that came to be was complicated. Fittingly enough, the story began with an act of God.
Again, feel free to click through and read the rest for any of these that interest you.