At a homeschool support group meeting I went to in the late 1990s, one of the mothers passed out copies of a book as suggested by the book’s writers. “If this book has been a blessing to you, why not make it a blessing to other parents? You can do what many are doing. Buy eight copies and give them to your friends.” My sister group-member had brought enough copies, and we all went home with copies of To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl. I took mine out of curiosity, as my eldest son had already been through Desert Storm as a soldier. His younger siblings were already teens and about as trained as they were going to get.
After I got home, I read the book. One of the suggestions, that of conditioning the child through physical punishment to behave in a specific way regardless of temptation, reminded me, in part, of the movie The Manchurian Candidate. Instead of assassination the Pearlian equivalent to the Queen of Diamonds was that consistent punishment would produce unquestioning obedience.
The book made me feel uncomfortable for even ‘being’ a homeschooler. How did I get allied with an educational choice where some ‘experts’ advocated methods of punishment that I’d abandoned years before? But blaming ‘homeschooling’ for the opinions of homeschooling parents who write is like blaming water for swimming fatalities caused by poorly written swimming instruction manuals. Water isn’t ‘bad’ because you can drown in it. We don’t outlaw swimming, or feel shame for ‘being a swimmer,’ because people have died in water, but we do point out bad advice and instruction.
In another example from the book (Chapter 9, “Training Examples”), “Johnny,” the child of a woman who the writer’s wife was counseling, struck the writer’s wife with a toy wrench. She, in turn, picked up another toy wrench and struck him back, apparently trading blows about ten times until the child stopped. In this wrenching event, it isn’t so odd that she didn’t put up with this child’s attacks. What is odd are descriptions of the event. “I was thinking, ‘She will lighten up this time and match [“Johnny’s] diminished intensity.’ Again my wife struck, seemingly with all the force she could muster without standing for a wind-up. … the two women continued to talk, my wife, as if all was normal …”
Which brings us to Sean Paddock. He was four. He died after being wrapped so tightly in blankets that he couldn’t breathe. His mother took at least some of her child-raising inspiration from the Pearls’ teachings.
Dead child’s mom sought discipline tips 16 March 2006, The News Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina
Paddock — a Johnston County mother accused of murdering Sean, her 4-year-old adopted son, and beating two other adopted children — surfed the Internet, said her attorney, Michael Reece. She found literature by an evangelical minister and his wife who recommended using plumbing supply lines to spank misbehaving children. Paddock ordered Michael and Debi Pearl’s books and started spanking her adopted children as suggested….
Paddock seems to have carefully followed the Pearls’ teachings. Investigators found 2-foot lengths of plumbing supply line in several rooms of her remote farmhouse.
I understand that raising children is an inexact ‘science.’ What works one time, doesn’t work another, sometimes even with the same child. I also understand that parents (as a group) have varying personalities that may, or may not, do ‘well’ with child raising. Add to that mix the radio and television broadcast cacophony of the oppositional ‘call and repeat’ opinions of dueling childrearing experts’ making known their philosophical standpoints, which are colored by social expectations of How Children Should Be Raised, and then mix in the vagaries of daily life. Who can keep it all straight? It’s enough to make you run screaming into the woods.
In light of no standardization between child-raising advice and results, in some way I can understand that devout religious people may take guidance from their chosen religious texts. You get your comfort where you find it.
But one thing that I don’t understand is the insistence of some Christian sects on using the older bits of the Bible — translated from a far more distant time and culture — as t.h.e. guidelines. Those people were neolithic nomads. At least Jesus was a person who lived an urban life. Why not focus on the newer parts with the message of love and acceptance, ‘suffering’ children to come unto me, doing good to the ‘least of my brothers?’ How much more ‘least’ can we get than small children. (But that leads to a different can of worms. Why beat children you’ve insisted have a right to be born?)
I’m also baffled at the lack of overt Jewish emphasis on the same passages. Why does one religious group focus on ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ and the other doesn’t, when they’re both referring to the same texts? But that’s a mystery for another day.
Many cultures have progressed from the social rules and expectations of their history that was concurrent with Old Testament times. Even Biblically focused people no longer follow every jot and tittle of Leviticus/Vayikra (shouldn’t the Hebrew name be more well known? It’s like having the Declaration of Independence being known as the ‘Jeffersonia.’).
How much fudging is there from word-for-(translated)-inerrant-word compliance? Anyone noticed any recent public floggings for eating a non-kosher animal?
In considering inerrancy and cleaving to all-that-is-inerrant, I’ve never seen a cookbook with recipes for rat fritters (unclean creeping crawling critter), thank goodness. But when we lived in Maryland at the tip-top of the Chesapeake Bay I did see lots of ads for crabcakes (unclean finless, scaleless critter). I assume that there are at least some Evangelical advocates of Old Testament child ‘discipline’ in Maryland who eat crabcakes. Are 21st century CE crabs cleaner than 6th century BCE crabs? Did God get something wrong, or should 21st century crabcake-eating Inerrantists be flogged?
But taking this back to one person beating another, if I got into a disagreement with a neighbor, and if I felt that the neighbor needed ‘chastising’ because rules had been broken, I don’t think that the local police would look kindly on me hopping in the car and tooling over to Lowes or Home Depot, picking up a length or two of plastic pipe, coming home and whacking at my neighbor with it, regardless of whether it left bruises. My neighbor probably wouldn’t accept my ‘chastisement’ either. In fact, my neighbor and the local police would probably cooperate in making sure that I was well-instructed by the local judicial system as to the inappropriateness of taking cracks at the neighbors with plumbing supplies.
Among most adults in the United States, the acts of spouses beating one another, or adult children beating their parents, are usually considered assault and battery. Why is it, then, that large people (parents) should justifiably beat small people (children)? It reminds me of the joke where the mother is spanking a child and saying, “I’ll teach you to hit your brother!”
And as for the portion of the population who want to stop mollycoddling crooks by bringing back public flogging to remedy modern evils (I’m assuming those evils wouldn’t include eating crabcakes), maybe they’d like televised beheadings as well.