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Beyond Spanking

– Gloria Mak, Howl Staff

Would you train your children on “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules”? This is what Michael Pearl, a pastor and co-author of a controversial book written with his wife Debi To Train Up A Child advocates. His book recommends using objects like quarter-inch plumbing tubes and switches to discipline the child and provides methods of administration. The book also stresses that these methods should be used to train their children for success, and repeatedly warns them against abuse. The controversial book has led to the deaths of Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz and Hana Grace-Rose Williams, whose parents were adherents of Pearl’s book.

The cover of the Pearl's book

I am in awe that this self-published book has sold more than 670 000 copies and that anyone would possibly waste their time on its pages dipped in filth. There are a number of things that disgust me about the book. Firstly, the Pearls are promoting a disciplinary regime that is one-size fits all. Have we forgotten that each child is a seedling of an adult who will have his or her own different characteristics, traits and flaws? Has he considered that there are children who have cognitive disabilities that make them slow learners even when negative reinforcement is present? If parents of these children followed the book, then they would administer even more punishment because they would assume that the negative reinforcement is not working.

Secondly, neither one of the Pearls have degrees or credentials other than the fact that they have raised their own children. The Pearls are basically saying that because their methods worked for their children, it should work for yours too. This is extremely faulty reasoning which ties in to my first point:  they assume that the parents reading the book are clones of the Pearls and the children who receive the discipline are all the same. Parents, just like children, are all different. I feel the lack of credentials makes this book incomplete because no other perspective can be properly discussed. When the perspective against beating or spanking the child is referenced, it is done so in a demeaning manner. Michael Pearl states that: “if you are seeking to avoid the rod because you are an emotional coward or you are a product of contemporary philosophy, then not obeying God in this matter should not be considered an option.”

I am a proud adherent of contemporary child-raising philosophy because that philosophy has made scientific, psychological advances that do not advocate the beatings and spankings portrayed in Pearl’s books. Contemporary philosophy is just that: contemporary. Yes, time has passed and social norms have been remolded due to the contribution of empirical studies of child development; the statistical evidence shows that corporal punishment  is not beneficial to parent-child attachment. Pearl has clearly written a very subjective book that lacks objectivity.

Finally, the book is geared towards raising sub-humans. It teaches children that they must obey because the other person holds power over them, and they are fearful of this power. It does not teach them respect, nor how to deal with authority. People should not obey authorities because they are powerful, but because they respect them. In essence, the children may never realize that authorities are only powerful because we give them power. Children are not dogs or mules, they are humans that will eventually have the full capacity to reason and think; when we restrict them in their thinking, we are stunting their growth.

Spanking or beating a child is not necessarily terrible. I feel that occasional negative reinforcement is essential to be administered in certain cases where the risk of danger runs high, and the child is too young to understand why it is wrong. The occasional swat on the hand does not represent a problem for me. However, the Pearls take this much too far and take the word “rod” in the Bible much too literally. I feel that tells abusive parents that the harm they are inflicting on their child is okay as long as they are not in anger when they administer it.

If there is anything to be spared, it is the poisonous teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.


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