To Train Up a Child: The Greater Problem

By Deborah Markus, from Secular Homeschooling, Issue #11.

On February 26, 2006, four-year-old Sean Paddock died in his bed. The North Carolina boy had gotten into the habit of wandering around the house at night. His mother decided to prevent this by wrapping him in blankets so tightly that he couldn't get free of them. It had worked for several previous nights. This night, the blankets were so tightly bound around him that as well as being unable to move, Sean was also unable to breathe. His body was found the next morning, and he was officially declared dead by emergency workers en route to the hospital.

The chief medical examiner confirmed that the cause of death had been suffocation. The bruises covering the back of Sean's body were medically unrelated to his demise.

Four years later, in California, Lydia Schatz' autopsy report was released on what would have been her eighth birthday. Her death was due to complications of rhabdomyolysis, a condition resulting from damage to skeletal muscle and frequently leading to kidney failure. Occasionally, rhabdomyolysis can be triggered by infection from sources such as the herpes virus or salmonella. More often, however, rhabdomyolysis is caused by direct physical impact injury, such as what might be sustained by the victim of a car crash or earthquake. In Lydia's case, the injury leading to her death was apparently the beatings she received on a regular basis from her parents.

After Lydia's death, her older sister Zariah was hospitalized. Zariah also suffered from kidney failure, from what is assumed to be the same cause. She recovered after a few weeks in the hospital.

Sean and Lydia never met and spent their short lives hundreds of miles apart. Their names and memories are permanently linked because their deaths were both caused by parents who acted in obedience to teaching the principles of obedience according to a particular philosophy. This philosophy allows of no doubt or question on the part of its followers — this is a pass or fail test.

There are many homeschoolers who have never heard of Michael and Debi Pearl, which is as it should be. If the world were a just place, these two would be utterly obscure, a couple of local curiosities eking out a meager living in their tiny Tennessee town.

But the world is a difficult place, and parenting is a difficult job. Some people would rather have someone tell them exactly what to do than have to think things through for themselves — especially since making one's own decisions means taking full responsibility when, inevitably, mistakes are made and everything doesn't go perfectly.

What these people don't learn until it's far too late is that letting someone else make the decisions for you is a decision, too. And if you follow someone else's directions for what they promise will be the perfect life, you're still responsible for every one of the actions on that to-do list you decided to let someone else write up for you.

Why write about the Pearls and their slim "parenting" handbook, To Train Up A Child? Why give it any words at all, and why in a homeschooling journal?

I grappled with this. Why read their horrible book, write about it, and possibly give them publicity — especially when the goal of all thinking, moral people is to convince parents to seek counsel elsewhere?

Sean Paddock and Lydia Schatz were homeschooled. Not coincidentally, homeschooling is one of the Pearls' commandments. "Never even consider sending your children to private Christian schools, much less the public, automaton factories," Michael Pearl thunders (and underlines — apparently italics wouldn't be strong enough) in TTUAC.

TTUAC is associated with American homeschooling — more or less, depending on the region. "We know some Pearl families," one member of a secular homeschooling loop replied to my queries. "Where we live, it's hard to homeschool and not know a few."

"Well, in my part of the country, they're certainly the majority," another answered. "Many families are having six-plus children and almost all are 'training them up.'"

"I was offered a copy of TTUAC at the second park meeting with the local group," a mother said wryly. "Needless to say, that was our last meeting."

Most disturbing is the idea some have that TTUAC is just another book on home education. "I received it from my sister-in-law in a 'Welcome to Homeschooling' package that's issued by her church, bundled with a book about learning styles and Cathy Duffy's books about curriculum," one parent told me.

If the ideas in TTUAC are what homeschooling is perceived as by members of the community and the mainstream population alike, anti-homeschooling sentiments are completely understandable.

If TTUAC becomes widely associated with homeschooling in the public eye, a backlash is inevitable.

The Pearls advocate exactly the sort of life that the mainstream culture is afraid all homeschoolers live and desire: isolated, abusive, shutting out any hope of information or help from those who think and live any differently.

Two children have died, one came very near dying, and others are living lives of hopeless misery because parents gave in to the temptation of letting someone else do their thinking for them.

It's time to denounce the Pearls and their teachings.

What do the Pearls teach?

Briefly, they make the sort of guarantee that ought to make anyone wary: follow our method and your children will be perfectly behaved. "Proper training always works with every child," they say in the first chapter of TTUAC.

And what is proper training?

"Proper training is not discipline," they explain a page later. "Discipline is a part of training but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior. Training is the conditioning of the child's mind before the crisis arises. It is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience."

That's what the Pearls want from their followers; that's what they teach their followers to want from their children.

Not surprisingly, the Pearls compare the children their methods can produce to animals. The book begins and ends with stories of trained dogs; horses and mules also make frequent appearances.

The Pearls' philosophy assumes that a child is at once hideously morally flawed and capable of perfection. There is no tedious waiting around for the child to misbehave (or goof up). He's going to; why not save time by a little good old-fashioned entrapment?

"Place an appealing object where they can reach it," the Pearls suggest. "When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, 'No, don't touch that.' Since they are already familiar with the word 'No,' they will pause, look at you in wonder and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, 'No.'"

"It may take several times," the Pearls admit, "but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence."

"It just takes a few minutes to train a child not to touch a given object," they say a few paragraphs later. "Most children can be brought into complete and joyous subjection in just three days. Thereafter, if you continue to be faithful, the children will remain happy and obedient. By obedient, I mean you will never need to tell them twice. If you expect to receive instant obedience, and you train them to that end, you will be successful."

Ignoring, for the moment, the creepy language about "joyous subjection," the pressure placed on parents and children to be perfect is appalling. The message is clear: our methods are flawless. If they don't work for you, it's because you're doing something wrong. "Those who are MOSTLY consistent must use the switch more often," the Pearls explain. "Those who are ALWAYS consistent will come to never need it."

See? If you were a good parent, you wouldn't need to do this. If your child is still not behaving perfectly, it's because you're not beating her often enough.

Or maybe you didn't start early enough. Chapter 6, "Applying the Rod," offers specifics on this point in a section titled "Instruments of Love." "For the under one year old [sic], a small, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped [sic] of any knots that might break the skin), about one-eighth of an inch in diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective."

It's easy to be so horrified by such passages that nothing else registers. Nevertheless, it's imperative that the book's larger messages be examined and understood.

This isn't about secular versus Christian homeschooling, as at least one blogger has suggested. Christian homeschoolers have quite literally risen up righteous and denounced the Pearls.

This isn't even about corporal punishment, though it's probably not a coincidence that people who persuade other parents to follow their advice by using insulting, coercive language also advocate using physical pain or the threat of it.

This is about thinking for oneself versus handing one's thinking apparatus over to someone else and begging them to tell you what to do.

Given how on-the-face-of-it abusive the Pearls' recommendations are, why is there any necessity to speak against them? Why would any parents find these methods appealing in the first place? Surely disturbed individuals inclined to beat children aren't the ones looking for parenting manuals — although they might appreciate the validation of seeing their actions praised in print.

But at least one of the parents involved in the known tragedies didn't fit any stereotype of an out-of-control abuser. Laurie M., blogger at "Beauty for Ashes" (http://lauriemo.blogspot.com), describes Lydia's mother Elizabeth as "one of the kindest women I've ever known." Elizabeth Schatz had six biological children and had adopted three from Liberia. "Her warmth was a soothing thing," Laurie says in a posting that rings with pain. This doesn't sound like someone whose temper is out of control, and certainly isn't someone who lashes out at her children because she doesn't know what else to do. She'd done a lot of parenting before she chose to bring more children into her family. The Schatzes were part of a community, as Laurie makes clear. They had friends. Support. Choices.

Why would they choose TTUAC? Why would anyone?

[A] mother walked into my house with her little ones and sat down to talk. She said to them, "Go out in the sunroom and play, and don't bother Mama unless you need something." For the next two hours we were not even aware the children were present — except when a little one came in holding herself saying, "Pee-pee, Mama." They played together well, resolved their own conflicts, and didn't expect attention when one of the girls turned the rocking horse over and got a knot on her head. They didn't run in and out — they were told not to.

This mother did not spank her children while at my house, and she did not need to rebuke them. She looked rested. When she called the children to go home, one asked, "Mama, can I stay and play with Shoshanna?" Mother answered, "No, not today. We have work to do at home." As he lifted his arms, his mother picked him up. Hugging his mother's neck, he said, "I love you, Mama."

This young mother said to me, "My children want to please me. They try so hard to do everything I say. We have such fun together." She is looking forward to having more children. They are the joy of her life.

[TTUAC, chapter 1]

Babies disrupt your life amazingly. It is difficult to believe that such a small human being can bring so much chaos, involve so much hard work, and produce such emotional turmoil for both parents. Babies shatter complacency. They reveal your identity as you never knew yourself before. They force you to see the world in a new way. They produce a fresh challenge every day.

[The Year After Childbirth: Surviving and Enjoying the First Year of Motherhood, by Sheila Kitzinger]

The world is full of things that are dangerous, breakable, too hot to touch, yucky to taste, and everything else that makes [a toddler's] parents frantic. It's only through his explorations that he will begin to learn about them. A toddler often seems like a rocket speeding toward catastrophe — but also toward opportunities to learn about his world — at every moment.

Parents of toddlers are often exhausted.

[Discipline The Brazelton Way, by T. Berry Brazelton and Joshua D. Sparrow]

The Pearls promise peace, joy, quiet conversation, a rested mother, and worshipful children.

And the other writers? Disruption. Chaos. Hard work. Emotional turmoil. Shattered complacency. Frantic parents. Rocketing children.

Of course, the Pearls chose their opening example advisedly — assuming this story is true, which there's reason to doubt. The Pearls point out in their preface that they refer to all misbehaving children as "Johnny" in their book, because "some name had to be used to keep all others anonymous." They reiterate this point in a stunning anecdote at the beginning of chapter 9, "Training Examples," in which Debi Pearl is reported as cheerfully and "forcefully" hitting someone else's two-year-old child with a toy wrench until he stops hitting her. ("Meeting a bigger bully cures most little bullies," the Pearls report at the end of this example, apparently enjoying the idea of being the biggest bullies on the block.) The child is referred to by a name not his own "to protect the guilty mother." However, the Pearls also offer anecdotes regarding parents they consider good ones — parents who have either always used methods similar to those of the Pearls', or who took the Pearls' advice and mended their ways. If anonymity protects the guilty, why not reward the innocent and good by naming them?

But for the sake of discussion, say that the opening anecdote is accurate. The Pearls are describing a woman who has come to visit people whom she admires and whose company she enjoys. This is a day out that the whole family has apparently been looking forward to. Their behavior and attitude are what the Pearls decide to use as their model for the picture of what every parent's life could look like.

Kitzinger and Brazelton acknowledge how difficult life can be for parents, especially new parents — not because these parents aren't taking the advice of the writers in question, but simply because parenting is a difficult endeavor. As it should be. What worthwhile, satisfying work is ever easy?

As parents, we're trying to rear children who'll grow up to fulfill all their emotional, intellectual, and physical potential. We hope they'll be worthwhile additions to a planet badly in need of the help. And we want them to be happy, of course. At the same time, we'd like to hang on to our own worthwhile additionness and happiness, and maybe a little sanity into the bargain.

These are all noble goals. Looked at all together — lived — they can seem overwhelming. And contradictory. How, for example, do I feed my own need for peace without violating my small child's eagerness to explore her environment in a manner that may be age-appropriate and necessary but which is often, well, vigorous and loud?

No such troubling complexity is allowed to muddy the water in the Pearl household. Let's say that you've had trouble from a baby who occasionally nips while he's nursing. This is painful, embarrassing, and a little frightening.

William Sears is a doctor; his wife, Martha Sears, is a registered nurse. They have eight children of their own and have helped care for thousands of others during thirty years of pediatric practice. Because they spend a lot of time listening to the parents they've been lucky enough to meet and work with, they have a lot of good advice to share. I checked the Sears' The Breastfeeding Book to see what they had to say. They had a full page devoted to the subject: why babies bite, what to do if yours does, how to prevent it from happening again. All very practical and thoughtful, and all treating both mother and child as individuals who are trying to do the best they can, in spite of some lack of experience.

The Pearls give one paragraph on the subject, most of which is contained in the following two sentences:

My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for bald-headed babies).

So much simpler than all that pesky treating your child like a human being. Quick and easy.

Tantrums are another troubling issue for many parents. A baby who bites while nursing may not be aware of what he's doing; and regardless of the how and why of it, he may be removed from the trouble spot while the mother takes a breath and regroups. Tantrums are loud and unpleasant for everyone involved; and though they may not be voluntary in every sense, no child has ever launched into a howling fit in the same absentminded fashion in which a teething baby may grind his aching gums at a bad time. A nipping baby may cause some physical discomfort, but doesn't throw a parent into fits of embarrassment, guilt, and self-doubt — or leave her feeling humiliated, should it happen in public.

Who are you going to turn to for advice on the subject? Drs. Brazelton and Sparrow, who sympathize with a child's overwhelming emotion at the idea that he has some control over the choices he makes, and who recommend helping a child learn to self-soothe?

Though the presence of parents during a tantrum is likely to intensify it, they can offer the toddler ways to calm himself. "Here's your soft blanket." "Here's a cool washcloth for your face." "You can listen to your favorite song."

Something the child can use on his own is best: "Here's your teddy bear. He wants to make you feel better. He's sorry to see you so upset. He needs a hug." A parent can soothe a child, but a teddy bear teaches a child to soothe himself.

Or do you turn to Dr. Spock, who suggests that frequent tantrums are a sign that a parent needs to work even harder as a parent to be sure that the child is getting what she needs?

Frequent tantrums are more often due to the fact that the parents haven't learned the knack of handling the child tactfully. There are several questions to ask: Does the child have plenty of chance to play freely outdoors in a place where her parents don't have to keep chasing her, and are there things for her to push and pull and climb on there? Indoors, has she enough toys and household objects to play with, and is the house arranged so that parents don't have to keep forbidding her to touch things? Are they, without realizing it, arousing balkiness by telling her to come and get her shirt on instead of slipping it on without comment, asking her if she wants to go to the bathroom instead of leading her there or bringing the potty to her? When they have to interrupt her play to get her indoors or to meals, do they frustrate her directly, or get her mind on something pleasant? When they see a storm brewing, do they meet it head-on, grimly, or do they distract her to something else?

Or do you seek counsel from the Pearls, who offer a parent-centric universe? No need to ponder how your child feels about the world and her own powers in it; no fretting over whether or not you've been "tactful" enough, or are meeting specific emotional needs. Your child should obey your every word. If he doesn't, make him. Simple.

Once he learns that the reward of a tantrum is a swift, forceful spanking, he will NEVER throw another fit. ...In our home a fit was totally unknown because the first time it was tried we made it counterproductive.

[TTUAC, chapter 13, "Attitude Training"]

Use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him, then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he has surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender — no compromise.

[TTUAC, chapter 6, "Applying the Rod"]

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey says for several hours the 7-year-old [Lydia Schatz] was held down by Elizabeth and beaten dozens of times by Kevin [her father] on the back of her body, which caused massive tissue damage.

[CBS News web site]

The necessity of a child unthinkingly, unquestioningly, unhesitatingly obeying a parent is taken as a given in TTUAC. "Just think of the relief that it would bring if by one command you could gain the absolute, concentrated attention of all your children," the Pearls say enticingly in the very first chapter. They compare this to military training, and point out that certain maneuver commands "have no value in war except that they condition the men to instant, unquestioning obedience." "Obedience Training" is the title of many chapter sections, and "obedience" is a constantly recurring word, and idea, in the text. Michael Pearl boasts of how unquestioningly obedient his children are in chapter 10, "Safety Training:"

"Stand up," I would say. "Now come here. Go touch the door." And, before they could get there, "Sit." Plop, down they would go. "Now, go to your rooms and clean them up." Just like little, proud soldiers, off they would go to the task.

...Even today, without looking at the children, I can snap my fingers, pointing to the floor, and they all (including the ones over six-feet [sic]) immediately sit. I can point to the door, and they all exit.

Pearl seems to think that he's painting a picture of paradise with these words. Apparently this is what our goal should be as parents: the smug knowledge that we can walk into any room of the house and everyone will hit the deck.

It takes a secure person to welcome the idea of working with one's children in an attempt to ensure that everyone's needs are being met, as the Sears' suggest:

The first stage of discipline is one of nurturing in which parents and infant have an interdependence — a mutual shaping of each other's behavior that helps them to know and trust one another. (Emphasis in original.)

One of the best mothers I know told me that her own mother (with whom she has a close relationship) summed up her ideas about parents, children, and child-rearing in one sentence: One of you is going to win this war, so make sure it's the parent, not the child. Both my friend and her mother are parents who've been willing to make tremendous sacrifices for their children so far as time, energy, sleep, comfort, and career-trajectories are concerned. Both mothers considered their own childhoods when they became parents, and made decisions based on the idea of the parent as mentor and loving guide rather than Supreme Dictator For Life. And yet the idea of parenting as a battle only one side can win lingers in their minds, as it probably does in most parents'. We think of parenting as something that we do. We open the door and welcome children into our lives. There they are, and we decide what we'll do to and for them.

A far more accurate analogy would be that parenting is the opening not of a door but of a bottle in which a genie has been imprisoned. With our actions, we've unleashed a force of nature. We have some control over it, true; but forces of nature are known for changing everything in their path. Good, bad, or just plain different, all lives in the vicinity will never be the same.

Are we willing to be thrown about like so many leaves, like so many lumps of clay, by this new force? Are we willing to admit that we are not simply building a neat pretty child-shaped space in our lives, but that our own silhouettes will be irrevocably changed by the experience of saying yes to parenthood?

Or are we queen bees who see the act of reproduction as simply adding more mindlessly obedient workers to the hive?

Anyone who doesn't find parenting scary at some point isn't doing it right. Of course there are the fears that come along with caring about anyone — several friends of mine are suffering the helpless pain of watching their own friends grapple with serious illness. As a parent, these anxieties about the well-being of loved ones are exacerbated by the fact that we're directly responsible for that well-being. And then there are the more abstract fears — will the children grow up to be happy? Will they find a happiness I find acceptable?

But the most coldly terrifying aspect of parenting is mentally looking in the mirror and not recognizing one's own reflection. Bad enough to catch a glimpse of a real looking glass and think, Wait a minute — didn't I used to be twenty pounds lighter? That would come with age anyway (though the unwelcome package might take a little longer to arrive at a childless woman's door). But there's a particular panic that goes along with other endings to that rhetorical question. Didn't I used to be a (scientist, writer, doctor, lawyer, business person, financially independent human being)?

Even when the descriptive in question still exists in a factual sense, it may be virtually unrecognizable in its new form. I remember getting a pitch for an article from a great writer with great ideas. When he mentioned in one of his emails that, oh, by the way, he and his wife had just had their first child, I felt like the biggest slacker in town. I remembered getting a call a few weeks after my first child's birth, from a credit card company upset about not receiving a check from me. (This was long before such things could be automated.) "I'm sorry," I said. "I just had a baby." "And what is the reason for the failure to pay?" the woman continued in a brisk voice. Silence. "I just had a baby," I repeated eventually. My husband had returned to work, my relations lived far away, and I had no friends who were parents themselves yet and therefore understood the nature of the emergency. It was dumb luck at that point if I could find both feet and socks to put them in on any given morning — and clean was an optional concept.

So my future self felt a great deal better when a few silent weeks passed before I got another email from the writer in question. He was very sorry, but it turned out that this whole writing-around-a-new-baby thing was just a bit trickier than he'd given it credit for being and he wasn't sure that the deadline we'd talked about was really a possibility after all. He'd been forced to take a peek in his new parent-mirror: Didn't I used to be someone who could just sit down and write an article?

So, parent or parent-to-be, which is more appealing: parenting books that acknowledge that our lives are shaped by our children even as we try to shape theirs; or a slim, quickly-read book that says child-proofing the home is an unnecessary exertion by parents who would be better off home-proofing their children?

The Pearls buy into the false dichotomy of parenting as war to be won (or lost). This isn't my own interpretation; TTUAC is full of military metaphors. In the first chapter, the Pearls mention an Amish father over on a visit, whose year-old son "suddenly developed a compulsion to slide to the floor." The father wanted him to stay in his lap, and began spanking, scolding, and restraining him.

"Now the battle was in full array," the Pearls recall. "Someone was going to submit his will to the other. Either the father would confirm that this one-year-old could rule his parents, or the parents would confirm their authority. Everyone's happiness was at stake."

Either/or. Either the parent wins the contest and is allowed to continue his life without the inconvenience of making room for someone else's desires and thoughts, or the child is the new baby Stalin.

There is no sense of any grayness in the Pearls' universe. Frequently, they will point out an idea or behavior that is clearly incorrect, or at least less than optimal — parents screaming at their children, bribing them, spanking them in a rage after several fruitless bouts of screaming. The Pearls' logic seems to be that if these parents are wrong, the Pearls must be right. The idea that the possible answers to this question might include "C: None of the above" (or — truly unthinkable — "D: Not enough information") never occurs to them.

What is perhaps more significant than everything else the Pearls claim to offer — the peace, simplicity, and endless obedience — is the fact that they don't offer at all. They assure. They guarantee. Again, this crisply absolute tone sets them apart from other parenting writers.

The most important thing I have to say is that you should not take too literally what is said in this book. Every child is different, every parent is different, every illness or behavior problem is somewhat different from every other. All I can do is describe the most common developments and problems in the most general terms. Remember that you know a lot about your child and I don't know anything.

—Dr. Spock

Though difficulties such as "colic" or excessive crying, middle of the night wakings, or temper tantrums, for example, are both common and predictable, they make great demands on parents. These kinds of problems are for the most part temporary and not serious. Yet without support and understanding, a family can be overwhelmed, and a child's development can veer seriously off course. It is our hope that the straightforward information provided in these books will help prevent those unnecessary derailments and provide reassurance for parents in times of uncertainty.

—Dr. Brazelton (emphases mine)

Any parent with an emotional maturity level higher than the average thirteen-year-old can, with a proper vision and knowledge of the technique, have happy obedient children.

TTUAC

Spock and Brazelton don't make guarantees. They offer the wisdom they've gleaned from years of experience, and hope it will help. But they can't parent for you.

The Pearls make guarantees. And they would love to parent for you, at least by proxy. Their book is short and to the point, extremely repetitious, and offers scripts that the parent can use in lieu of struggling to find words or ideas of her own. Feeling frustrated, uncertain, worried, or tired? Here's what to say and how to say it. Open your mouth, shut off your brain, and congratulations — you're doing the right thing. Guaranteed. Surely that's worth being spoken to as if you're, well, a bit of a fool.

Other writers offer help and hope. The Pearls offer a tempting illusion of certainty in an uncertain world.

Even that certainty might not be enough to entice parents and distract them from the bare fact of the constant physical abuse the Pearls' system describes. But the Pearls promise something else: a family that will not merely be close-knit in spite of parental tyranny, but because of it.

"There is a mystical bond between caring members of a loving family," the Pearls say at the beginning of chapter 4, "Tying Strings." "I can look at each of my children and feel that union. It is as if we were joined by many strings of mutual love, respect, honor, and all the good times that we have had together."

Not one of the five Pearl children has spoken publicly against their parents or their methods. They're all adults who no longer have to have anything to do with their parents if they don't wish to, but apparently they do. The Pearls and their supporters hold this up as evidence that their system works and isn't abusive.

Rebekah Pearl Anast, their oldest daughter, has written in praise of her parents. According to Debra's Random Thoughts (http://debrasrandomthoughts.blogspot.com), Rebekah wrote a form letter in defense of the methods described in TTUAC, which she has sent to many bloggers (including Debra) who have criticized the Pearls. "I would know (I am their daughter) whether their techniques are violent and unjust, or loving and temperate," she explains. Needless to say, in her opinion loving and temperate take the prize.

From "MedicineNet.com" (www.medicinenet.com):

Stockholm syndrome: An extraordinary phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor. Named for an episode that occurred in Stockholm in August, 1973 when an armed Swedish robber took some bank workers captive, held them for six days and stole their hearts.

From "Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser," by Joseph M. Carver, PhD (www.mentalhealthmatters.com):

It has been found that four situations or conditions are present that serve as a foundation for the development of Stockholm Syndrome. These four situations can be found in hostage, severe abuse, and abusive relationships:

The presence of a perceived threat to one's physical or psychological survival and the belief that the abuser would carry out the threat.

Switch him eight or ten times on his bare legs or bottom. Then, while waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If his crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will.

[TTUAC]

The presence of a perceived small kindness from the abuser to the victim.

Sit on the floor and play. Tumble and roll, laugh, and tickle. Take them [your children] on outings of adventure, excitement, and "danger." Take a ten-minute trip to the tree house to see their creations....When they like you, they will want to please you, and will be open to your discipline.

[TTUAC, chapter 4, "Tying Strings"]

Isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser.

You have no business having close friends that don't share your views on child training.

[Michael Pearl, "No Greater Joy" web site]

Don't allow the brainless, subversive, Sesame Street type propaganda to come into your house. Your children's thinking should be molded by the Word of God and Christian example, not by sex perverts and socialists. If you want to destroy your family then get yourself a good TV and VCR to keep the kids company.

[TTUAC, chapter 20, "Personal"]

[Your children] should always sit with you, never with their friends. If they go out to the bathroom, go with them. Never allow them to spend the night with friends or cousins. Slumber parties are sin parties. Never allow them to listen to music through headphones. Three-minute phone conversations, no chat rooms, no surfing the web for any reason. Parents should make it physically impossible for them to even access the web. We didn't allow our children to spend time in their bedrooms unless they were working on a project or reading. Bedroom doors were always kept open, except for two minutes while dressing.

—Michael Pearl, "No Greater Joy" web site

The perceived inability to escape the situation.

Children fight back because they think they have a chance of forestalling the spanking. First make sure the child never gains anything by fleeing. Second, cause the child to understand that he is further hurting himself by resisting. Slow down, stay calm. If you are in a frenzy, the child will respond in kind. If a child flees, don't chase him. Wait and allow time for the tension to go out of the air. Slowly pursue him, explaining that he cannot win. If it takes a long time, that's fine. Go to his hiding place and laugh at his frail attempts. Explain that if it takes fourteen days to bring him to justice, he will be brought to justice.

[Michael Pearl, "No Greater Joy" web site]

Michael Pearl might not say it in so many words, but he seems to be aware on some level that his writing is a how-to guide for inducing Stockholm Syndrome (also known as Survival Identification Syndrome). This was written in response to a mother asking how she ought to deal with her "angry" son:

A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again.

I could break his anger in two days. He would be too scared to get angry. On the third day he would draw into a quiet shell and obey. On the fourth day I would treat him with respect and he would respond in kind. On the fifth day the fear would go away and he would relax because he would have judged that as long as he responds correctly there is nothing to fear. On the sixth day he would like himself better and enjoy his new relationship to authority. On the seventh day I would fellowship with him in some activity that he enjoyed. On the eight day he would love me and would make a commitment to always please me because he valued my approval and fellowship. On the ninth day someone would comment that I had the most cheerful and obedient boy that they had ever seen. On the tenth day we would be the best of buddies.

[Michael Pearl, "No Greater Joy" web site]

If the Pearls' philosophy was nothing but straight physical abuse, their books wouldn't sell and their children would hate them. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at the age of 14 and held captive for nearly a year. According to her court testimony, she was sexually abused and given drugs and alcohol by her captor. The horror of her ordeal was unmixed, as it were. Throughout those nine months, Smart was apparently able to keep a complete and accurate sense of herself and her situation. During one interview, she mentioned being forced to keep a daily diary. Knowing that it would be read by her captors, she wrote words that would keep her safe: "I like it here. They are nice to me." But she wrote the truth in French, which her kidnappers apparently wouldn't be able to understand: "I hate it here. I hate them." By all accounts, Elizabeth Smart was able to reunite with her family happily after being rescued, and is now pursuing music studies and other interests.

It is perhaps unfair to compare her experiences to those of Jaycee Lee Dugard. Smart was held captive for nine hellish months; Dugard spent 18 years as a prisoner — longer, as one writer pointed out, than she'd lived with her own family before being kidnapped at the age of 11. Dugard also bore two daughters during her captivity.

Perhaps the most significant difference between their experiences, though, is the kind of relationship their kidnappers sought to have with them. Dugard also kept a diary during her captivity, one that doesn't seem to have been overseen in the same fashion Smart's was. Two years after she'd been forced into her captors' car, she wrote: "I got [a cat] for my birthday from Phil and Nancy...they did something for me that no one else would do for me, they paid 200 dollars just so I could have my own kitten."

Several years later, she records heartbreakingly conflicted feelings: "I don't want to hurt him...sometimes I think my very presence hurts him...so how can I ever tell him I want to be free. I will never cause him pain if it's in my power to prevent it. FREE."

If a girl torn away from her family and forced to bear two children to a man decades older than she is can feel concern about causing this man pain, the idea that a daughter might defend her own parents' abusive behavior to the point of refusing to see it as abusive doesn't seem terribly surprising.

I learned by the gentlest way possible that foolishness has consequences and wise choices make life comfortable. This training has literally saved my life and I am eternally grateful to both my parents for using a literal rod to train my flesh to make wise choices.

—Rebekah Pearl Anast

"Literally saved my life." To what is Rebekah referring in this passage? She doesn't go on to give specifics.

Her father gives some in TTUAC, though. The Pearls always kept a wood burning stove, and knew how dangerous this could be with small children in the house.

When the first fires of fall were lit, I would coax the toddlers over to see the fascinating flames. Of course, they always wanted to touch, so I held them off until the stove got hot enough to inflict pain without deep burning...When the heat was just right, I would open the door long enough for them to be attracted by the flames, and then I would move away. The child would inevitably run to the stove and touch it. Just as his hand touched the stove, I would say, "Hot!"

[TTUAC, chapter 10, "Safety Training"]

Water was another hazard on the Pearl territory — there was a pond in their yard. Michael Pearl had a ritual he performed with each of his children when they became toddlers:

On a warm spring day I followed the first set of wobbly legs to the inviting water. She played around the edge until she found a way to get down the bank to the water. I stood close by as she bent over, reaching into the mirror of shining color. Splash! In she went. I restrained my anxiety long enough for her to right herself in the cold water and show some recognition of her inability to breathe. When panic set in...I pulled her out and scolded her for getting close to the pond.

[TTUAC, chapter 10, "Safety Training"]

One of the children didn't fall in naturally, and Pearl rewarded her "marvelous coordination" by pushing her in, then repeating the procedure he'd followed with his other children.

Teach [your children] about heights and falling, about guns, the danger of knives and scissors, the caution of sharp sticks and coat-hanger wires, the terror of fire, and the danger of poisons and electricity. School them. Drill them. Show them examples. Expose them to death — the death of a pet or an accident victim.

[TTUAC, chapter 10, "Safety Training"]

This passage, and Rebekah's insistence on how her parents literally saved her life, reminded me of a snippet from an article about Stockholm Syndrome: "The perpetrator serves as a 'mother' figure protecting the 'child' from a threatening outside world, including law enforcement's deadly weapons."

There is another reason I find it difficult to take Rebekah's words at face value. Not that I think she's telling any deliberate falsehood. But quite aside from the tendency for long-term captives and victims of abusive relationships to identify with their abusers, there is also a human tendency to fight against cognitive dissonance — the discomfort arising from two contradictory ideas.

For instance:

"My parents hit me with tree branches."

"My parents love me."

Those ideas can be reconciled by the introduction of a third:

"I did something bad enough that I deserved to be hit."

Or:

"The hitting wasn't so bad."

Rebekah employs both of these. From her form letter, mentioned above:

I was never injured in body or spirit by the training I received. I was never "struck" in anger. I did receive non-injurous [sic] spankings on my fully clothed backside with a willow switch when I had clearly transgressed a known "law" of the house. These spankings did not leave bruises or abrasions, or emotional distress.

Rebekah doesn't have any choice about how she was treated by her parents. She does have some choice as to what she thinks of it. She can think that she suffered pointless pain; or she can believe that her "switchings" served a higher purpose: through them, her parents were able to teach other parents the importance of "the rod." If Jaycee Lee Dugard sincerely defended her captor even after the police had arrested him, is it any wonder that a child would refuse to even consider the possibility that her parents had done anything wrong?

Her willingness to speak up on their behalf doesn't get her parents off the hook. Nor does it answer the big question: should the Pearls be held responsible in any way for the deaths of the children whose parents were faithful followers of TTUAC?

Innocent readers of the Pearls' work can reasonably expect them to be reliable authorities on child-rearing, based on the claims the Pearls make as to their experience in the field. And their advice on the face of it is not blatantly anything one would expect could lead directly to the death of a child.

Lydia Schatz is ghastly evidence that a child can be "switched" to death, provided that one is faithful to the philosophy that one does not stop switching until the child is utterly submissive. The beatings were done with exactly the sort of instrument the Pearls' recommend, on the back of the legs as suggested. Pearl advocates insist that the Schatz family wasn't following TTUAC. Nonsense. They were, to the letter.

So was Sean Paddock's mother, for that matter. If the Pearls believe a proper spanking should leave a child without breath to cry, how can Sean's restraints be said to have been anti-Pearl?

In a way, this article is preaching to the choir. There can't be many fence-sitters when it comes to the Pearls; they have a few vehement supporters, but for the most part, those who know anything about them are rightly repulsed.

I would almost rather not know about monsters at all, if all I can do with that knowledge is sit on the sidelines wringing my hands. My first question is always: how do I fight this?

Speak up. Speak out.

If your local library carries TTUAC, ask to speak to the person in charge of such decisions and explain why this shouldn't be on their shelves. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech or lack thereof — libraries don't exist in order to be a venue for everyone who has anything to say, or they'd all have huge porn sections. Show the librarian the sections on how to beat your child. Explain that you don't think this kind of writing belongs in the same place as books on parenting, any more than Mein Kampf should be on the same shelf as How To Make Friends and Influence People.

Several people told me that when offered copies of TTUAC from homeschooling leaders and organizers, they quietly accepted "to keep one copy out of circulation, anyway." The Pearls are not going to run out of copies and go out of business. If they keep selling, they'll keep printing. And if homeschoolers who admire the Pearls keep giving away all their copies, they'll order more.

Don't refuse quietly and politely, either. When you say no, say why. Loudly. In a startled voice. "What? Isn't this that book about how you should start whipping your child before it's even a year old?" (Flipping rapidly through pages — it won't take any time at all to find a hideous paragraph.) "Yes, I've heard about this! Holy mackerel! Listen to this!" (Quote particularly egregious passage in tones of astonishment and horror; don't worry, no acting skills will be required for this.) "Why on earth would you think I'd want this?"

You're probably not going to change the mind of the person offering it to you. But you might give someone listening to the conversation something to think about. For that matter, the person giving copies away will have something to think about, too. She may not feel any differently about the Pearls, but she may start to realize on whatever level she's capable of it that offering someone TTUAC is, at the very least, not a neutral act. She may hesitate to offer copies to all and sundry. She may decide to sound people out a bit first. And some uncertain young parent desperate for an authority on the subject of child-rearing may be forced to learn that though there are some excellent sources of wisdom out there, there's only one authority on how any particular family ought to live. And the Pearls are not that authority.

Some say, in defense of TTUAC, that they don't agree with everything the Pearls say, but they do have some good ideas. In its way, this is worse than supporting the Pearls unconditionally. It's too many steps down the path of treating TTUAC as just another parenting book — or, worse, just one more book about homeschooling. There's no such thing as taking what you like and leaving the rest when "the rest" advocates routinely whipping babies for crying before nap time. Which is exactly the sort of thing one ought to say if a conversation happens to include the Pearls.

Questions should be asked. Just what are the "good ideas" the Pearls have to offer? So far as the importance of family bonding and discipline are concerned, how are the Pearls' ideas any different from those of Spock, Sears, and other writers who don't believe that children need to be physically threatened in order to learn to be properly behaved?

The most important question to ask those who seem embarrassed at the thought of taking a side in the Pearls debate is: do you believe in giving financial or other support to the man who, on hearing about the death of Lydia Schatz and the near-death of her sister, had the following to say?

It has come to my 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.

....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 [sic] 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.

....Even my chickens are laughing...well, actually it [sic] more like cackling, because they just laid another organic egg for my breakfast and they know that it was that same piece of 1/4 inch plastic supply line that trained the dogs not to eat chicken....

[No Great Joy web site, mid-sentence ellipses and final ellipses in original]

There's no grief, no sympathy, no sorrow here or elsewhere on his site for the hideous death of Lydia Schatz. Pearl's concern — his only concern, apparently — is to mock his detractors.

If you read a letter to the editor of any newspaper or magazine that begins, "I had to laugh at your article regarding so-and-so," you can rest assured that the letter-writer was doing anything but laughing. The alleged laughter is invariably the result of anger, hurt, or alarm that the writer wants to disguise as thoroughly as possible. In this case, the multiple references to laughter are so elaborate that it's clear someone is trying desperately to sound dismissive.

This doesn't make Michael Pearl's writing any less offensive, but it's good to know.

So is the fact that the Pearls are learning that, contrary to Hollywood's claims, there is such a thing as the wrong sort of free advertising. On the "announcements" page of their web site, they express the hope "that the publicity we received as a result of this tragedy will end soon."

Don't let it.

More about issue #11



Home

Secular Homeschooling magazine
Issue List | E-mail me
Homeschooler Resources

Secular Homeschooling Press
Bitter/Sweet | Don't worry!
Shop

The Editor's Blog
Diary of a Mad Editor


Contents © 2007–2012 Deborah Markus