Kevin Schatz

In defense of the Pearls…some thoughts

“Missy” left a comment on my entry The Pearls, abuse and a false gospel, which was apparently copied from No Greater Joy’s Facebook page where it was copied from a squidoo lens.  I’m unclear whether permission to copy this was granted in either case, but have chosen to replace the comment with a link.  It is lengthy, but worth addressing.  Take some time to read the entire thing. All block quotes, unless otherwise marked, are from the squidoo lens authored by Regina Normanson.

There is an old joke about the student that excuses his lack of homework by saying the dog ate his completed assignment. The joke was that no one believed him, and he would still get a poor mark because the homework was his responsibility.

Of course it is his responsibility and I am not aware of a single blogger who is suggesting that Kevin and Lydia Schatz are not responsible for the abuse their children endured.  The analogy doesn’t work.  The ensuing paragraphs regarding our society’s lack of ability to take responsibility are irrelevant to the case and to the argument.  But let’s think about this for a moment.  Say the dog did eat your homework.  While it is still entirely your responsibility, will you not in future either restrain the dog or place your homework in a more secure location?

Let’s suppose that a family DID closely follow the teachings on the Pearls’ web site www.nogreaterjoy.org. If that’s the case, the parents would have read this excerpt from an article written by Michael Pearl – IN DEFENSE OF BIBLICAL CHASTISEMENT?

When is it abuse?
You are abusing the child when it starts doing harm to the child. Listen to your friends-especially to those friends that share your philosophy. Ask the opinion of people you respect. If they think you are abusive, get counsel in a hurry. Ask the opinion of your older children. If your child is broken in spirit, cowed and subdued, you have a problem. Children should be happy and cheerful, full of enthusiasm and creativity. If your children are fearful or anxious, you should get some counsel.

Yes, let’s go to that very article, where the Pearls give a warning about abuse.

There is an excellent paragraph near the top under the heading “Enjoy your children.”  It gives excellent advice I would like every parent to internalize and to practice.  You see that kind of thing in their work here and there, but it really doesn’t seem to be the focus.  One paragraph in a 44 paragraph essay?  At least it is near the top, though not referred to again.

The paragraph Normanson quotes is near the end, paragraph 41.  Up until this we have learned:

  • That Christians who use the rod moderately are “meek.”  (Apparently a bad quality).
  • That if you reject the Pearl’s teaching and question their concepts, you are not fit to be a parent.  He pities your children, even.
  • That the proper tools for whipping your child come cheaper by the dozen, and their conspicuous location about the house and around your neck will keep them in line.
  • That church friends have noses longer than the pews they sit upon (and can’t be trusted to witness how you discipline your children.)
  • That you cannot put an upper limit on the number of “licks” a child receives.
  • That you continue the whipping until the child exhibits “total submission.”  If you ever stop before this point, you have lost his heart forever.
  • That if he hides, you should pursue him slowly, laughing at his “frail attempts.”

Ironically, according to those who knew the Schatz family personally, the children were “happy and cheerful, full of enthusiasm and creativity.” They did not cower, nor were they subdued, nor did they exhibit any of the outward signs we connect with abuse.

Now to the book.

This book is not about discipline, nor problem children. The emphasis is on the training of a child before the need to discipline arises…

This was one of the first issues I had with the book. Their definition of “training.” It is such a positive word, one that should be embraced as part of normal parenthood. Everything we do is training. Everything we do is discipline. But they equate discipline with a severe spanking and training with manufacturing an opportunity to “switch” your child so that he can learn the force of your word.  Never forget that when you read “training” in their materials, it refers to a switch (however light) with the rod.

With proper training, discipline can be reduced to 5% of what many now practice…

Really? This is just me, but I’m not a fan of statistics pulled out of the air. It always makes me suspicious of other claims in a text.

If parents are frustrated to the point of anger, page 25 says:
When children see you motivated by anger and frustration, they assume that your “discipline” is just a personal matter, a competition of interest….

Page 25.  Of a 150 page book.  We’re 17% through the book, but really, this section isn’t any help.  Unless you assume that the only way to harm a child is in anger. What if poor Lydia’s discipline session went down exactly like the Pearls prescribe?  Ten licks, talk to the child, if the answer doesn’t demonstrate complete submission, repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And you can calmly spank a child to death.  But the Pearls stress that if you “let” the child “win,” you have lost their heart forever.

If a child is angered by the impatience and pride of parents, page 33 says:
Father, if you care for your child’s soul more than your pride, then humble yourself and ask his forgiveness (even if he is just two years old)…

Wonderful!  And if pride had nothing to do with it?  The book isn’t a torture manual.  There are good things here and there, but they aren’t the emphasis.  More like passing thoughts.  And so much emphasis is put on the rod and how you will lose your child if you do not win with it and how you are weak if you do not apply it quickly and unmercifully.

Normanson has a few more quotes demonstrating where in the book the Pearls warn against disciplining in anger, ongoing brutality, intimidating children with threats about God as well as an encouragement to be a good role model.  All excellent points.

But that still does not discount the passages which are more concerning.  The general tendency to isolate you from other Christians who may question these methods.  The focus on “winning” and “total obedience” and “complete submission.”  The refusal to put a maximum number on the amount of “licks” handed out. The stalking of children. The “switching” of infants.

To go back to the opening of Normanson’s piece on responsibility:  No, the Pearls were not physically present as Lydia was beaten to death.  I don’t think they are legally responsible for this death, but the fact that the Schatz’ are fully responsible for their own actions does not negate one very simple fact.

The Pearls would be Christian teachers.  This puts a greater responsibility on them than on most.  Scripture tells us,

Let not many of you become teachers my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. –James 3:1

Some good advice and a few warnings peppered through a text that has such an emphasis on dominating a child does not put this ministry above question.

Homeschool family charged with murder, torture, child abuse

Update: It looks like the DA has made the connection between the Schatz family’s method of discipline and a certain Christian ministry.

He said investigators are researching a possible connection to an Internet Web site set up by “fundamentalist Christian people” that recommends use of the same whip-like implement “as an appropriate tool for biblical chastisement … to train a child from infancy to make them a happier child and more obedient to God because they are obedient to the will of their parents,” said Ramsey.  DA links fundamentalist religious ‘training’ to Paradise girl’s death

I can only guess he’s talking about No Greater Joy by Michael and Debi Pearl, which I alluded to below.  At this time, I will only say I very much appreciate the DAs sensitivity in the matter.

He said it’s not clear at this point whether the Schatzes ever visited the Internet Web site in question, which Ramsey stressed “does not endorse hurting or beating a child,” nor is connected to any specific church.  From the research he has done, the district attorney pointed out that “even within the fundamentalist Christian community” parental use of corporal punishment “is subject to a great deal of debate.”  Ibid.

And back to the original entry.

An alleged abuse case leaves one adoptive child dead, another abused and seven other children in foster care.

The younger victim was not breathing at the time of discovery but was later revived with life support at Feather River Hospital. However, she died en route after being transferred to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento.

The 11-year-old is hospitalized at Sutter.  ChicoER.com

It isn’t the family’s first time in the news, either.  While adopting three of their children from Liberia, they were interviewed by a local television station and put up a time line of their adoption.

From the reports, they were a quiet family.  A Christian, secluded, invite-half-the -neighborhood-to-dinner, and “overall odd” sort of family.  Who homeschooled.

Paradise police Sgt. Steve Rowe confirmed Lydia was allegedly beaten for mispronouncing a word.  Paradise Post

Beaten until she went into cardiac arrest?  The instrument used for this “discipline” bears an eerie resemblance to another case, one of the first really controversial topics I ever blogged about.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the girls were allegedly beaten with a 15-inch-long piece of flexible plastic tubing commonly found in toilet tanks.

. . .

Ramsey said the remaining children have indicated that they sustained similar discipline with similar instruments. Ibid.

These stories always make me sick to my stomach.  Everyone has an interest in the interpretation of the story.  Homeschoolers want the abuse separated from education.  Christians want the religion separated from the parenting.  Those concerned about the whole child protective “industry” focus on the adopted children.  Those who have always thought homeschoolers a little odd take the chance to present homeschooling as a hiding place for abuse.  Pound Pup Legacy even goes through the effort of summarizing information on children who have died in custody or adoptive homes, noting whether the family was homeschooling and of a fundamentalist faith.  Because those are, of course, major risk factors for abuse.  They of course make no mention of education or religion where the families neither homeschool nor belong to a “fundamentalist faith.”  But in the middle of it all, a child is dead, and another appears to be in critical condition at an area hospital.

And likely, there isn’t much anyone could have done to prevent it.  I think maybe that is why we are so quick to judge, to think “how could this have happened?” to think “something should have been done.”  And from there, it isn’t far to “something must be done to prevent this in future.”  And we focus on all the superfluous, irrelevant, subjective details.

But “odd” doesn’t warrant strip searching children for evidence of bruising; “overly modest” isn’t something you call CPS about; “protective from the outside world” hardly constitutes probable cause in any sort of an investigation.  And the family was friendly and involved in the community enough to be inviting neighbors for dinner, pick fruit from their neighbors’ trees and clean their yards.  They were not completely locked away.

Just weird.

And well-behaved.

Not anything that would raise flags for even a mandated reporter.  After all, teachers somehow missed the fact a student was locked in a closet for over a year, and allowed out only to go to school.

I suppose that is why the public service announcements out here encourage you to call even if you only suspect something is amiss, with the reassurance that you can remain completely anonymous.  We don’t stop too much to think what that means for us as a society, turning neighbors into anonymous tipsters.  We just hope that CPS can sort it out, and that some child somewhere might be saved.

But the one thing that stood out to me in this story was that there was no prior history of child abuse, no list of previous CPS contacts.  Believe it or not, that seems to be the norm in child death cases, proving that even those most trained to work with abuse can still miss the signs.  Or perhaps even proving that there aren’t always signs to notice.