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 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.

Social Services recommends stricter monitoring of homeschools

The North Carolina Department of Social Services released its report on four year old Sean Paddock’s death last week. (If you are unfamiliar with the case, I’ve included a summary at the end.) Most of the report makes recommendations for needed reforms considering the failures of the Department of Social Services in this case, however, some reforms of homeschooling are also sought.

From the report (link will start a download):

Findings #5:

  • According to the Department of Non-Public Instruction’s web site, Lynn Paddock had a registered home school, Benjamin Street School.
  • The Department of Non-Public Instruction is unable to make site visits to monitor and support home schools’ compliance with state policy due to limited funding and oversight resources.
  • Home schooling may contribute to social isolation if children are not involved in outside activities and adoptive parents are not utilizing post adoptive services.
  • The Division of Social Services began to gather statistics related to specific school situations in child protective services in May 2006.

Recommendations #5:

  • The Department of Non-Public Instruction should conduct a study regarding a Needs Assessment and pursue funding to support increased monitoring and oversight to home schools.
  • The State Fatality Review Team supports the continued efforts of the Division of Social Services in regard to the gathering of statistics related to specific school situations in child protective services.
  • The State Fatality Review Team recommends that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner begin to track school status at the time of death and make available this information on a yearly basis to the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force and the state-level North Carolina Child Fatality Prevention Team.

It is perhaps interesting to note that the child who died in this case was not of compulsory attendance age, however he did have two older siblings who were being similarly abused. Hopefully, the abuse would have been spotted had the children been attending school. Perhaps not a given when Social Services itself seemed to have difficulty recognizing a potentially abusive situation when it was brought to their attention prior to the children’s placement with the family.

In January 2005, Sean returned from his first visit with the Paddocks with bruises on his backside. Social workers determined that the child must have fallen off a bunk bed, just as Paddock said.

Sean and his older siblings told social workers that Paddock had whipped Sean for playing with the family dog, according to a report released after his death by Wake County Child Protective Services.

“It’s like they were just rushing to get them off the books,” said Ford, who took in Sean and his older brother and sister after they were taken from their parents.” News Observer (article deleted)

I am also curious how the Department of Non-Public Instruction is supposed to “monitor and support home schools’ compliance with state policy.” I am not familiar with North Carolina homeschool law, but it seems that all that is involved with monitoring compliance is filing paperwork. The only inspection I see in the law is the occasional checking of standardized test scores. Even if the Department effectively monitored every homeschool, I fail to see how this would stop any abuse cases.

The bit about social isolation seems out of place in the findings, but I guess so long as we are bringing homeschooling into the child death case, we may as well bring up socialization as well. Then comes The Study. Nebraska has such a study as well, but ours isn’t packages so neatly as a “Needs Assessment.” “Needs Assessment” sounds like there is a chance for the researching body to come to the conclusion that additional oversight is not actually needed. Unlike here in Nebraska, where the sole purpose is to figure out how to increase oversight. Somehow, I doubt the end result will be much different if it proceeds, however.

And I don’t really mind “school situation” being noted in child death cases. It could yield some interesting information for the public discussion. But whoever is compiling the statistics needs to be perfectly honest about who is schooled, pushed out, truant and homeschooled.

Some case history:

Sean Paddock’s story is sad, as all child abuse cases are, and has resulted in quite a stir among homeschooling blogs. In fact, this is the case which spawned the boycott against Homeschoolblogger. He died at the hands of his adoptive mother who had tied him to the bed with several thick blankets. Sean suffocated and died in Febr He also had new and old bruises covering his back from being “disciplined” with a “small, flexible pipe.” His older brother and sister also suffered these whippings. Lynn Paddock, it seems, had gone searching for help with Christian discipline, stumbled upon the materials by Michael and Debi Pearl, and used (or misused) them to abuse the children. But then, if her testimony is accurate, she did not need to look far to find this sort of parenting philosophy. She appeared to have been raised at the other end of a PVC pipe herself. Bruising all and murdering one.

Also important to note is that Social Services had received other reports on this family which were perhaps made more complicated by coming from different counties, but the reports started even before the official placement as young Sean came back to the foster home with bruises and (along with his siblings) reported that the Paddock’s had spanked him for trying to play with the dog.  Corporal punishment is generally illegal for all foster situations, and leaving bruises is whether or not you are fostering.

The prosecution sought first degree murder charges, but not the death penalty. She was convicted.

And last week, another homeschooled boy died at the hands of his parents. Tied to a tree overnight. It is a sick world we live in.

Hat Tip: the blog formerly known as HE&OS