Book: To Train Up a Child
Type of Book: Instruction manual for beating children
Availability: Not linking to it. You don’t want to buy it. If you do want to buy it, I will not abet such a bad decision.
Comments: This is one of the wickedest books I have ever read and, given who I am and what I read, that is saying a lot. This is a book so vile, written by a man so degenerate, that there is literally no way for a moral person to discuss it with anything approaching neutrality. It is a book written solely with the intent of breaking the wills of small children, beating them into submission, and it has become a text used by witless Christian parents to beat their “willful” children to death. And Michael Pearl is okay with that because he says those parents didn’t beat their children with love in their hearts or they wouldn’t have struck their children repeatedly with plumbing line until their muscles broke down and clogged their kidneys with biological debris, killing them.
This book is deeply problematic beyond just the content, which we will get to in a moment. This book upsets me so much because though I am an atheist, I know excellent and fine Christians. My grandfather was one. He would have rebuked a man like Michael Pearl and if Pearl beat a child or a dog with a piece of wood, a belt, or plumbing line in front of him, Pearl would have found out what it is like to be at the mercy of a larger, angry man. That is not because my grandfather was some sort of vengeance seeker. Far from it. He was not a man who looked for fights. He would have rebuked Pearl because genuine believers cannot stomach the harms done by True Believers. Many Christians today have the same reactions to the Westboro Baptist Church. This book is so deeply problematic because in fundamentalist, legalistic circles, people use this book in the place of their own judgement as Christians, parents and decent human beings.
This is not a condemnation of Christianity. It is a condemnation of Christians who use Michael and Debi Pearl’s disgusting book of abuse, a book so profoundly horrible that if it was used against prisoners it would be illegal and if it was used on POWs it would be considered war crimes. So if you want to defend Christianity, don’t do it here. Christianity is not what is being discussed here. What is being discussed here is child abuse in the name of Michael Pearl, not God or Jesus, and the way that unthinking faith leads people to do terrible things.
The purpose of To Train Up a Child is to use Amish horse training methods on children, and even then the Amish would likely turn their backs on Pearl if they knew how their methods of taming wild animals were used on children.
Don’t get lost in the details. Pearl in Chapter One lays out a bunch of explanations of how it is that he is not disciplining children, but rather continually training them so he does not have to discipline them. He uses Proverbs 22:6 as his rationale:
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Fair enough, but when “training” consists of pulling a nursing infant’s hair, hitting them continually, deliberately putting them in harm’s way to show them they must obey all commands, even those that make zero sense on any rational level, hitting them if they do not obey quickly enough for your satisfaction, what you are doing is brainwashing your child to follow your demented ideas, not any sort of Godly path. Mindless, shattered, fearful automatons will never depart from the path you put them on.
Michael Pearl (and I refer to him mostly because even though his wife is a co-author, the book is written by him in first person, his wife referred to in the third person) gives a lot of lip service about how one must be calm when beating one’s children. But as he says that a parent must be calm when training their children, he also goes on to say many times that a child must be trained until they are submissive or broken (he actually uses that word). He recommends a course of whippings wherein the whippings continue until the child submits. So as he gives lip service to the notion that a parent must have their head clear when engaging in his training methods, he also insists that training continue – sessions of whippings – until the adult feels the child is broken. The child’s physical welfare is never a part of the parent’s clear mind. In a way, a clear and “Godly” minded person doing this to a child reeks of sheer sadism.
Why should you “train” your children? To make them blindly obedient in all situations, of course.
Training is the conditioning of the child’s mind before the crisis arises. It is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience.
The last quality I would want in any human being is unquestioning obedience but Pearl insists this is to make a child happy because obedient children who have limits are happier. There is truth in this – children with boundaries live happier lives, but Pearl does not teach boundaries. In fact, as I will discuss, he doesn’t even permit them in his home. He insists his children are the best examples of his methods being sound, but when we are finished discussing this book, I will discuss Pearl’s children, one of whom is living a hardscrabble life, engaging in bizarre prophetic visions, barely able to feed her children because her shattered mind and blind obedience made her prey to a man like her father.
People may find this hard to believe, but Pearl advocates beating children when they are infants. Here’s what Pearl did when his babies were able to crawl:
Place an appealing object where they can reach it, maybe in a “No-No” corner or on the apple juice table (another name for the coffee table). 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 likely pause, look at you in wonder, and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, “No.”
Pearl says to switch lightly but when you have an implement in your hand to strike an infant, I posit you, the adult, may have little idea what it feels like to have your hand “switched.” On his site Pearl says to test the implement on yourself but given that he recommends repeated whipping sessions, the adult can easily lose track of how hard he or she is hitting.
Worse, Pearl is setting up his children. He deliberately entices them to behave in a manner he considers wrong and hits them. In fact, that Pearl is instituting these rules before the children can speak, before they have the capacity to reason, means they have no idea what is happening. They just lose all curiosity in life until they are willing to sit on a blanket and not move – called blanket training – lest they be hit.
He has all sorts of legalistic reasons for doing this but mostly it is because infants are manipulative and evil and one should never give into their demands for anything other than what they need to remain alive. He also has interpreted the basic activities of growing from an infant to a child as being evil and that one must prevent their child from ever engaging in evil – back talk, touching things you don’t want them to touch, failing to respond the very moment they hear your voice – by placing temptation in their way as God did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. His extremely legalistic approach to Christian life defies all we know about how children learn. But his goal is not for his children to learn – it is for them to obey.
(Look up legalism in Christianity if you are unfamiliar on the concept but in a great paraphrase, it is excessive use of the word of God in order to obtain salvation, and in practice is akin to taking specific passages of the Bible to justify whatever bizarre idea you have about what it is that will get you into Heaven.)
Pearl’s entire outlook on children is bizarre. He says, emphasis mine:
Have you ever been the victim of tiny inquisitive hands?
I can safely say that at no point in my entire life have I been victimized at the hands of a child.
You can stop him from assaulting his mother with a bottle held by the nipple.
Because of Michael and Debi Pearl’s lunatic interpretations of the concept of original sin, infants victimize and assault their parents before they can even speak, before they can form intent. You must begin to train them from infancy or you will have an incorrigible child by the time the kid is a toddler.
Lest it seem like I am putting all the blame on Michael Pearl for this horrible book, his wife has her own role in this horror show.
One particularly painful experience of nursing mothers is the biting baby. My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled its hair (an alternative has to be sought for bald-headed babies). Understand, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned.
Pulling the hair of nursing infants who use their teeth when nursing is sadism – it is not conditioning.
In fact, this entire book is nothing but sadism. This book is easy for the sane to dismiss. So very easy. All I have to do is quote from it. Genuine evil needs little commentary.
Here’s a laundry list of the things Pearl recommends one do to children and babies and the activities he thinks are delightful to see in children. (In the interest of full disclosure, I cannot discuss Chapters Two and Five, as they are a garble of legalism wherein Pearl justifies beating babies because of Bible verses. I can’t bring myself to discuss them because as an atheist who thinks the Bible has no moral authority over how people should live their lives, it would be disingenuous for me to try to counter Bible verses Pearl thinks advocate baby torture with common sense. Additionally, as a decent person who knows there is no justification for hitting a baby with a switch, I would get an ulcer if I tried to address anything in either chapter.) In all instances, bold is mine.
How to beat your child:
When you administer the rod, tell him to bend over on the bed or couch. While he is in this position, admonish him – you have his undivided attention. Slowly begin to spank. If you go too fast, you may not allow time enough for the inner transformation to occur.
Use your own judgment as to what is effective. I have found five to ten licks are usually sufficient. As the child gets older, the licks must become more forceful if the experience is going to be effective in purging his rebellion. A general rule is to continue the disciplinary action until the child has surrendered.
Later in the book, he says, and in the book this is so important the text is underlined:
If you stop before the child is voluntarily submissive, you have confirmed to him the value and effectiveness of a screaming protest.
Most children are going to scream when you hit their bare skin with a switch in increments of ten until they break. How on earth does a parent know if the child is voluntarily submissive when they are hurting the child? Not a rhetorical question because parents have beat their children to death following this advice.
What you should use to beat your child, because spanking with the hand is ineffective and the sign of a harried parent:
Any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain. It is most effective to strike a light rod against bare skin, where nerves are located at the surface. A surface sting will cause sufficient pain, with no injury or bruising. Select the instrument according to your child’s size. For the under one-year-old child, a small, ten – to twelve-inch-long willowy branch (stripped of any knots that might break the skin), about one-eighth in diameter is sufficient. A one-foot ruler or its equivalent in a paddle, is a suitable substitute. For the larger child, a belt or a three-foot cutting off a shrub is effective.
On the No Greater Joy website, Pearl also recommends plumbing line to hit children. And if you strike a child repeatedly with a switch, in increments of ten, he or she will bruise. No way around it.
It gets worse. Check out this analogy. Beating your kids is like preparing for war!
The military uses real bullets in training men to avoid enemy fire. Replacing the rod with hollow threats would be to your children like replacing live bullets with blanks. It would get the men killed later in real battle.
If you are raising your children in the manner the Army trains cadets, you are doing it wrong. Full stop. Here’s a summary of some of the more repellent things you will find in this slim book:
- A toddler who makes a puddle mess should be stuck slowly across his bare legs if he does not clean up the mess. If he still refuses, the mother should continue to strike him, telling him to clean his mess. Pearl says this could continue until the child “is totally broken” and agrees to clean up the puddle.
- A tired, irritable child should be put to bed but if the child continues to be irritable, he should be “switched back down.”
- A woman tried the above with her whining, irritable twelve-month-old daughter and spanked her when she continued to whine. The little girl managed to get out of bed and was playing happily and quietly but since she was not obeying the mother, she spanked her again.
- Pearl observed one of his three-year-old daughters switching her dolls. He found this delightful rather than deeply disturbing.
- Debi Pearl was very attached to her second child, born after a series of miscarriages and according to Michael she spoiled him. The church elders disliked this and took it upon themselves to intervene when the boy was two-years-old and break the tight bond he had with his mother.
- Debi Pearl, when sitting a 14-month-old boy who was crying and miserable, tried to make him play with a skate. When he refused she switched him until he played in the manner she felt appropriate. She switched his leg 10 times.
- To train his children in gun safety, Pearl placed unloaded guns in front of them when they were toddlers and trained them via switching their hands until they knew not to touch guns.
- He trained children not to touch a stove by placing them so close to the wood-burning stove it was causing them pain. He would shout “Hot!” and repeat the process until the kids would “turn loose of a glass of iced tea” if he shouted “Hot!” at them.
- He trained his kids to remain away from a pond by watching his kids until they got close to the water. If they fell into the cold water, he would watch them panic, then pull them out. Shalom never fell into the water as she was well-coordinated so Pearl pushed her into the water so she would learn his lesson. Since she was strong enough to swim out when he did this to her, it is hard to see what lesson she was to learn other than that her father is a sadist.
- Expose a three-year old to several examples of death – pets, accident victims, Lydia Schatz – so the child understands that the world is dangerous.
- Do not lock up poisons and dangerous objects – switch your babies until they know not to touch them.
- A three-year-old boy was not yet potty-trained so Pearl advised the father to strip him naked and hose him down in the autumn with cold well water each time he pooped his diaper.
- One similar toddler just endured the hosing-downs so they withheld food he liked until he pooped in the manner they thought appropriate. This one is not so bad but one wishes these dense parents had some better knowledge of their kid before they hosed him down naked in the yard several times a day until they realized he would not break.
- Enforce gender roles because to permit girls to use saws and boys to sew is akin to letting a “coven of Sodomites and socialists” “reprogram your natural understandings of male and female distinctiveness.”
- Even if your kids obey, punish them if you suspect their spirit isn’t broken or their attitude is lacking.
- Pearl tells about his daughters’ disgust at a mother who would not switch her seven-month-old son who, according to Pearl, threw tantrums.
- Let other adults discipline your kids. If your kids are bullied, be happy other kids are preventing them from being sissies. Asking that your kids be treated fairly is not preparing them for reality.
- If your child is hurt, don’t respond. It just makes them weak. This includes infants.
- Make sure your kids don’t get fat or smoke because that shows they are poorly socialized because they have no discipline.
- Under no circumstances should you send your children to public or private school because it allows unholy influences into their lives. According to Pearl, teaching outside the home trains children for “the New World Order, waiting his turn in line for condoms, a government-funded abortion, sexually-transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation and a mark on the forehead...”.
- Hilariously, this horror is followed up by Pearl addressing why there may be a lack of joy in people’s homes.
This is horrible. It is beyond disgusting. Yet Pearl thinks this is just fine because to him it is not excessive. Here is what he says about excessive discipline:
Disciplinary actions can easily become excessive and oppressive if you set aside the tool of training and depend on discipline alone to do the training.
What he means by this is that one must keep the goal of training in mind – obedience – and not just discipline from a place of anger. Fair enough. But then he goes on to describe the training of an Amish boy, a one-year-old baby who wanted to slide from his father’s lap onto the cold floor. The father hit the boy’s leg and when the little boy wanted to get away from his father, he turned the boy away from his mother so he could seek no solace and kept him on his lap. Every time the child tried to turn around, the father hit him.
During the following forty-five minutes, the child shifted his leg fifteen times, and received a spanking each time. The father was as calm as a lazy porch swing on a Sunday afternoon. There was no hastiness or anger in his response. He did not take the disobedience personally. He had trained many horses and mules and knew the value of patient perseverance. In the end, the twelve-month-old submitted his will to his father, sat as he was placed, and became content – even cheerful.
This child’s training session lasted 45 minutes. He was struck 15 times. He was positioned so that he could seek no solace or rescue from his mother, who indeed looked on this scene with approval. After 45 minutes with 15 separate strikings, the little boy had no choice – he had to become cheerful to make the abuse stop. No one was going to help him. Pearl sees a peaceful instance of training – I see cold, sadistic, repetitive abuse. And for the record, having read many accounts of the Amish, what Pearl is describing is not common.
And what if your children do not respond to your training? Pearl offers this wisdom:
First, almost every small child will have at least one time in his young life when he will rebel against authority and attempt to take hold of the reins – as did the Amish kid. This act of stubbornness is profound – amazing – a wonder that one so young could be so dedicated and persevering in rebellion.
Wanting off his father’s lap is an act of rebellion in the world of Michael Pearl.
Second, if you are consistent in training, this attempt at total dominance will come only once in a child’s life, usually around two years old. If you win the confrontation, the child wins at the game of character development.
Let me warn you of the need to be consistent. The cat that is prevented from coming into the house most of the time, but occasionally breaks through the barrier, will take the occasional success as impetus to always try to get in. However, if he is consistently kept out (100% of the time), he will lose the will to come in, even when the door is left open. You may scream at him, slam the door on his tail, and kick him sixty feet, but if you occasionally allow him to stay in long enough to eat scraps off the floor or sleep on the couch, he will forever run the gauntlet to get in.
So when we read this story of the calm, dispassionate man striking his child 15 times in 45 minutes, refusing to let the child off his lap, refusing to let the child seek help, followed by Pearls admonition that parents be consistent lest they lose the battle, is it any surprise that Christians have read this book and applied similar methods to their own children, using switches and plumbing line, killing them because to back down means their child will forever be creeping around like a cat seeking shelter (and Pearl’s examples show how little he regards any life but his own – kick a cat sixty feet and you kill it – he frequently discusses animals and the harm that befalls them because of his demented theories). Parents reading this will think they must continue the abuse until it works or they are failing to raise their child properly.
By all accounts, people who knew Elizabeth Schatz said she was a pleasant woman who loved God. And she read this primer on how to break the will of a child via continual beatings and brainwashing and killed her adopted daughter, Lydia. Lydia was adopted as a child from Liberia, along with two other children. Her parents, acolytes of Pearl, followed his rules and beat her with plumbing line when she was defiant. Why did she end up beaten to death? She mispronounced a word. This lovely child from another culture was adopted by people who had just enough judgment to beat her to death after reading Pearl encourage beatings, and they did it because this child, for whom English was a second language, was seen as rebellious because she could not pronounce a word correctly during homeschooling. She was seven-years-old.
Lydia’s death was horrible. Beating her repeatedly with plumbing line broke down her muscles, much like what happens when you use a spiked mallet to tenderize a steak and resulted in a condition called rhabdomyolysis. The muscle fibers broke down, entered her blood stream, clogged her kidneys and prevented her kidneys from being able to filter out waste matter. She died and her sister, Zaharia, also adopted from Liberia, was hospitalized in critical condition, and, though she survived, she will have reduced kidney capacity for the rest of her life.
How did normal people come to the idea that they needed to beat their adopted children to the point of permanent bodily damage and death because of mispronounced words? Because Michael Pearl, acting as an interpreter of Christian doctrine, related story after story of children being beaten for trivial reasons – reaching for glasses on their parents’ faces, reaching for items put in their way, not responding to their parents’ voices in a nanosecond – and the Schatz parents, like many weak thinkers before them, substituted someone else’s judgement for their own, while being told to use their own judgment as to how much abuse was right as they beat their daughter. They read all of Michael Pearl’s examples of vile child abuse, they read of “training” sessions lasting for 45 minutes and longer, and it seemed reasonable to them to tenderize their daughters like pieces of meat with plumbing line as they used their own judgment of what was needed to secure their daughters’ obedience.
It’s a nice little out, isn’t it, that he told parents in his tract of abuse to administer beatings without anger and to use their own judgment when the entire point of this dreadful book is to eliminate judgment in everyone whose parents read it. Second generation NGJ Ministries acolytes’ judgment IS Michael Pearl’s judgment, if they live that long. But even as he tells parents to use love and judgment, above we see how he also tells them to beat children until their rebellion is gone. Lydia had an accent and mispronounced American words. Rebellion cannot leave in such an instance because there is no rebellion – just inability and error. The Schatzes had two older daughters and they continued “disciplinary action until the child [had] surrendered.” The surrender was death for one and kidney damage for the other. They are both in prison now.
Prison almost seems too good a fate for people who beat a child for seven hours over a mispronounced vocabulary word. For parents who beat the soles of their childrens’ feet. And had they not read Michael Pearl’s dreadful book, there is a pretty good chance that Lydia would be alive today.
In this video Michael Pearl explains how it is that the Schatz family didn’t follow his words and that’s why their child died, not because he disingenuously wrote a book aggrandizing child abuse. And have a good look at Debi. Stunned, silent Debi, who at times seems like she is repressing flinches when Michael gesticulates.
The death of Lydia Schatz is not an isolated incident. Hana Williams was killed by parents using Pearl’s methods. Sean Paddock’s parents were acolytes of Pearl when they killed their four-year-old son – their seven-year-old escaped with a severe limp. I suspect in these families, where homeschooling is common and health insurance non-existent, there are many bruised children with abnormally functioning kidneys who will not find out until they become gravely ill as adults that they were tenderized into kidney failure. On any Christian cult recovery site, you will read stories of people whose childhoods were baffling miseries of inexplicable mind games and physical beatings, who grew into adults who can barely function because of the doctrine espoused by No Greater Joy Ministries.
But wait a minute! Pearl says his kids grew up fine! His methods therefore are sound! At best they have an 80% success rate, and we have only their words to go on. It’s not like any of their children dare speak out against them. Gabriel, Nathan, Shalom and Shoshanna seem to be doing as well as anyone raised by a Pearl can be, but Rebekah’s life is a misery.
She is actually how I found the Pearls. I was searching for examples of prophetic dreams and found her bizarre website wherein she rechristened herself as Reba and shared her apocalyptic dreams of fire and brimstone, angry gods, eternal punishment. She has taken the site down now, but it was disturbing. I later discovered that when she was pregnant, her husband, the fatuous Gabriel Anast, quit his job to read the Bible because God told him to do it. They had a website called 7XSunday wherein they offered advice on how to live a poverty level existence with lots of children and praise God in the process. The forum was so disturbing I can barely describe it – poverty-level fundamentalists and legalists certain that the world was ending, discussing how they kept their heads above water with little money and herbs for health care.
On the site, Gabe frequently begged for money to keep the site going and his children fed, after a fashion – they have six children. Last I heard they were in some quarrel with an Indian tribe over water rights and the family lacked electricity. They have little money and no health insurance, though Rebekah seems to have written a book. Rebekah, who suffers from pre-eclampsia during her pregnancies, uses cherry extract to reduce the symptoms and prays she and her babies don’t die as they give birth in whatever shelter Gabe has cobbled together for them. Though Pearl denies it, many think Gabe and Rebekah’s internet presences were curtailed by her father because his acolytes found their versions of faith, her prophecy and his poverty disturbing.
I am no psychiatrist so take my armchair analysis for what it is worth, but Michael Pearl always struck me as a sexual sadist (his description of his honeymoon with Debi needs two robots and disgruntled space janitor to do it justice, but then you realize this really happened to Debi and you stop wanting to mock it). To deliver beatings dispassionately speaks of something pathological. He beat and brainwashed his children when they were kids and the way he treated them as teens – especially the girls – is unnerving. He was involved in every moment of their lives. From the No Greater Joy Ministries site:
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.
The children also could not lock the bathrooms when they were showering or using the toilet. All of the children were subject to his intrusion at any time – his teenage daughters included – and there was no where for them to go to get away from his continual gaze.
People will ask why it is that the Pearl children do not condemn their father. If you’ve read this parental sadism manual, you’ll know the answer. It’s because they had all original thought and capacity to think for themselves beaten out of them when they were babies. Their father switched them if they reached for objects he put in their grasp. Their mother pulled their hair while they were nursing. They both switched the kids if they did not respond quickly enough. The children were permitted no outside influences from teachers, school or even church, as they had to stay with their parents at all times. They were so brainwashed and beaten they don’t know any way other than to praise the parents who did this to them. This is common on recovery sites as well – most of the voices we hear condemning this way of life are children or adults who were subjected to this treatment later in life. Those who endured this from birth, from my reading, don’t speak out much.
Michael and Debi Pearl have been vilified in the media for causing the deaths of children but among the bizarre, enclosed, fundamentalist and legalistic world they inhabit, they receive praise. Candace Cameron Bure, sister of Ray Comfort-phile Kirk Cameron, loves the Pearls. She has said on a radio program that she has a daughter who caused her trouble and that the Pearls were helpful in getting that child in line. That’s right – DJ from Full House endorsed the couple who beat their kids with plumbing line. Lisa Whelchel, Blair from Facts of Life, has written a book about dealing with her children that includes limiting when they can urinate and pulling their hair when they anger her. These ideas are not mainstream but they are still dangerous, especially when they are endorsed by people who have a certain amount of star power.
This is some dangerous stuff, here. I recently found out a friend of mine found a copy of this book on the shelves at Goodwill and bought it lest some harried, fundamentalist mother find it and potentially end up harming her children. I myself bought my copy via Goodwill on Amazon. I would rather burn the contents of my wallet than give Michael Pearl a penny of my money. If you find that you absolutely must read this book, please buy it used. Do not buy it new. Do not fund this sort of abuse. I beg of you.
While I have no major quarrel with Christians, I worry about the lack of perspicacity and overflow of blind faith that enables people to adopt ideas that are so clearly toxic, destructive and potentially fatal. There is such a thing as intelligent faith that does not descend into legalism and twist the words of Christ, one of the greatest humanitarians this world has known, into a primer of child abuse. Harry Houdini will have his revenge on the Pearls and those who endorse them, follow them and harm children.