Refuting Pearl’s Analysis of Spanking Studies

In a recent post, I shared discussion of an addition to To Train Up A Child by Michael Pearl.  There is an exerpt from the chapter on the No Greater Joy website.  In this article, Michael Pearl refutes studies which have shown spanking children to be harmful and shares the results of some other studies which he claims show the opposite.  Of course, there are flaws in his logic.  Here is an example.  He states:

Child psychologist Elizabeth Owens, scientist at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a study. She concluded, “If you look at the causally relevant evidence, it’s not scientifically defensible to say that spanking is always a horrible thing. I don’t think mild, occasional spankings in an otherwise supportive, loving family will do any long-term harm.”

Here is the study of which he speaks. MariJo7 from GCM has kindly given me permission to share her analysis of the study: [Read more…]

A person’s a person no matter how small.

Sarah has graciously allowed me to host this most excellent post.


Aha. Welcome to my long winded “Why I don’t believe in spanking” post.

You will soon find that spanking isn’t the whole issue with me. I don’t believe in punishment at all (GASP!).

‘Course permissiveness can be unhealthy as well, so I am setting out on this parenting journey to tread not somewhere in between those two evils, but outside the whole paradigm altogether. Onward, fellow travelers! To the land of gentle discipline! (I’m cheesy and I know it… beeeooouuup beeouup beoup beoup beoup beoup beoup. Girl, look at that baby. He drinks milk! Okay, yes. Too much coffee. I’m out of control.)

Now that you know what you’re getting yourself into (should you choose to read on), allow me to indulge in a disclaimer. [Read more…]

Debate with Pearl in The Christian Post

Back in March of 2012, Jan Heimlich debated Michael Pearl in a video which was featured in The Christian Post.  Although, I did mention the debate at the time as well as Samuel Martin’s Rebuttal to one of his statements, I never gave my own rebuttal.

I would like to respond to some of Mr. Pearl’s statements.  Rather than transcribe his comments myself, I will use the quotes given in the Christian Post article.

… In our book, To Train up a Child, we clearly point out that parents should not spank when it doesn’t work; they should not spank when they’re angry. We point out that they should spank five or ten licks, no more. And we point out that the spanking should be in accordance to the size of the child. We point out they should never leave marks.

I really don’t know where he says not to spank when it doesn’t work. I would appreciate some help with that.  All I can find is him saying that if you are consistent, it will work.  Here is an example from To Train Up A Child (TTUAC)

 Those who are MOSTLY consistent must use the switch too often. Those who are ALWAYS consistent come to almost never need the switch.

[Read more…]

Sarah’s Arguments Against Spanking

Sarah explains why she does not believe in spanking in a well researched and chatty post entitled, A person’s a person no matter how small.  She also answers some common arguments for spanking with counter arguments, which many will find helpful.

Why Blame The Pearls At All?


Many people question why anyone could possibly blame the Pearls at all for the death of Lydia Schatz. I totally understand the question. No matter what the Pearls teach, they did not actually hit the child. And they insist that the Schatz family did not follow their instructions properly.  So, did they? Well, we can’t really know for sure. I would like to explain here how I  believe that the Schatz parents could have been following the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl to the letter and still killed Lydia Schatz.

First of all, let’s look at who Lydia Schatz was. This post explains her background. She was adopted from Liberia at the age of 4. She did not learn to obey at an early age, she learned to be stoic in an orphanage where showing weakness could be fatal. She might even have had Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).  It is important to note that all the children who have died at the hands of parents who were following the Pearls’ teachings have been adopted.

Now, let’s look at the Pearls’ teachings.  Pearl teaches that the parent must be 100% consistent. Here is a rather long quote from the book, To Train Up A Child to show this teaching in context: [Read more…]

What Does Mr. Pearl Really Believe?

Michael Pearl has a very interesting article on his website where he responds to Pastor Raley‘s warning against his teachings in his church bulletin.  Now, in this article, Mr. Pearl says that he did not say what Pastor Raley says that he said.  I found that very interesting and so I decided to go through the articles and get to the bottom of this.

I clicked on the links where Pastor Raley cites his quotes and used CTRL F to search for them.  Here are the quotes Mr. Pearl claims that he did not write and my findings.

When a descendant of Adam reaches a level of moral understanding (sometime in his youth) he becomes fully, personally accountable to God and has sin imputed to him, resulting in the peril of eternal damnation.

When man reaches his state of moral accountability, and, by virtue of his personal transgression, becomes blameworthy, his only hope is a work of grace by God alone.”

These quotes are found in Mr. Pearl’s article, What We Believe.

If you put yourselves under my authority, you can learn the secret to getting rid of your sins.”

This was a generalization which I don’t believe that Pastor Raley meant to attribute to Mr. Pearl.

…age of accountability.”

I do not believe that this was meant to be a quote from Mr. Pearl either.  I think Pastor Raley meant these as “scare quotes.”

…a work of grace by God alone

This was found in Mr. Pearl’s article, What We Believe.

In the next 4 paragraphs are quibbling about whether or not he used certain words which he certainly did use in the article, In Defense of Biblical Chastisement.   Michael Pearl says,

The next paragraph attributed to me contains 118 words. The first 50 words are entirely false and certainly do not represent anything I have ever written or said. It contains words I have never employed and concepts I have never endorsed, like “To the child, a righteous parent is a surrogate god.”

It is especially interesting to me how he protests that he never used the words, “Eternal God,” when he certainly did. He says in the article,

I wrote “the higher powers” with “powers” in plural and in all lower case letters. If I had wanted to say “The Eternal God” I would have done so. I ask, why does my critic want me to say something different from what I said? Why did he find it necessary to change my words in order to find fault? His quote is a lie, his criticism slander. Why? To what end?

The quotes are there, exactly as Pastor Raley quoted them, in In Defense of Biblical Chastisement.  I think that Mr. Pearl owes Pastor Raley an apology for accusing him of lying and slander.

He also claims to have not used the word, “give,”  although he uses it 8 times in that same article.

Apparently there was some confusion as Mr. Pearl thought that his book were being referenced and in actually it was his website. It seems a bit odd to me that he forgot to check the website, especially as it will pop up in a Google search of the first quote, but maybe I’m missing something.

In the rest of the article, Pearl argues that what he said is not really what he meant and that he fails to see how anyone could possibly think that he could have meant what we accuse him of meaning.  He further insists that to even suggest that he means such things makes it obvious that we have evil intent.  Ok, he did not actually say those words, I am paraphrasing. Of course, I’m probably misunderstanding him, so I’d better stop putting words in his mouth and quit while I’m ahead. I have proven that did write the quotes which he claims to have not written. I’ll leave the rest of the article for someone else to answer.

Update:  On Dec 10, 2010 Michael added a retraction to the bottom of this article to explain that he did, indeed, write one of those quotes.  He still maintains that he did not write the rest, especially the one which was meant to be a paraphrase.

ThatMom Responds to Joy about Debi Pearl

I just came across an interesting post from ThatMom about Debi Pearl and her book, Created To Be His Helpmeet. She is responding to Joy, who defended Debi Pearl in a comment on a previous post back in March of 2010:

Responding to Joy about Debi Pearl

Counter Arguments 4

Karen made a comment on Train Up Your Child at Awful Library Books to which I would like to reply.

Perhaps the person who put this in the “awful books” category should have read the positive as well as negative reviews on Amazon…the list of things from the book were from the top negative review there. Here is one that might give you all a little clearer perspective on the other side of the spanking debate, if you’ll actually bother to read it. :^)

Ok, that is fair. And I would like to share my responses.

Read the Actual Book and Be Honest with Yourself, May 22, 2010
By BLB (Oregon, USA) – See all my reviews

This review is from: To Train Up A Child (Paperback)
The actual book does not promote child abuse. The problem is, it requires parents using it to have enough self-discipline and character to use corporal punishment consistently, calmly, in a measured way, and without reflection of their moods. It doesn’t allow for using corporal punishment exclusively, either.

It is true that Michael Pearl says in the book not to abuse your children. The problem is that he never explains how to follow his advice without abusing. Would not the very act of training an infant by “switching” him be abusive?  Nor does he explain where chastisement ends and abuse starts. He never says how many licks is ok and how many would be abuse. Nor does he define abuse by how long to keep spanking. He does say that if you are not 100% consistent that you will fail. He also says that you should keep on spanking until their yelling stops and turns into a submissive whimper. He does not explain what to do if you keep spanking for hours at a time and there is still no submissive whimper.

The authors are farm people who train their own horses. They’re used to a situation where they’re dealing with a creature that can’t be effectively trained with either verbal reasoning or fear, a creature that could endanger itself or others if it is not disciplined properly. They raised their children on a traditional farm, a place full of serious physical dangers, where learning the hard way isn’t an option that a loving parent can consider.

I don’t know of any horse trainers who hit their horses. On top of that, children are not animals they are people, made in the image of God. Why would we compare them to animals?

The truth is, the Perls sound like affectionate, non-blaming people as well as unusually patient and self-controlled people. They are people who have learned to look at things from the perspective of the one they are training. For instance, they stress that there is no way to discipline a child without having a positive relationship with her. A child raised by the Perls would be eager to please them, because the relationship would not be primarily based on getting a spanking when you mess up. I would predict that there would actually be very little spanking in their home, and no yelling, verbal abuse, or emotionally damaging drama. It would be miles better than a lot of “no-spanking” houses. I wonder how many of the people decrying this book provided their children with a home that was as predictable and free from emotional abuse as I expect that the Perl household is, or if their children had the self-control that the Perl children did. Unfortunately, there are many people who don’t know that raising a child fit for polite company without a lot of emotional drama is even possible.

There is very little spanking because they have already trained the child. I object to the very act of training children in this way. This is behavior conditioning. Pearl even brags about how his grown children would drop an iced tea if he were to say, “hot.” I consider what Pearl teaches to be the crown jewel of emotional abuse. The children are switched for any emotion except for happiness until they no longer even feel any other emotion. I feel sick even thinking about it.

If you’re going to spank your child, this is a good book to read, almost a must. As you read it, though, be very honest with yourself about whether you exercise the kind of self-control and humble attitude that the Perls assume you have. If you don’t have that kind of self-control, you can read it and try to substitute other feedback for the spankings, but you’ll still need to learn the respectful, kind, patient consistency that is actually the foundation of the Perls’ method. You have to take in the entirety of the message. Look at what kind of parents the Perls are suggesting you be. Don’t even consider using corporal punishment if you can’t be that.

This book has some “pearls” in it, but readers should not fool themselves. It is not primarily about spanking. If you make it into that, you will fail.

I don’t agree that this book is a good book to read. It is true that there is some truth in it and even some good advice. But I consider the bad advice so dangerous as to be like rat poison. Rat poison is mixed with sugar to make it easy to eat, but it is no less dangerous.

Also consider that there are strong-willed children for whom corporal punishment is never going to work, because they will refuse to be motivated by anything short of abuse, and will resent that even if they eventually capitulate. You may as well try to break a zebra to harness. A parent has to realize that, and absolutely never try corporal punishment with a child like that. That would lead to spectacular failure and ruination of the relationship with the child.

Ok, this I agree with. And an adopted child is likely to fall into that category and should never be spanked.

Counter Arguments 3

Pearl and his followers are insisting that the Schatzes were not following his teachings.  I have been thinking about writing a post which would analyze this, but I think it is best to wait until after the trial for such speculation.  Finding an impartial jury will be hard enough.  Anyway, I link to plenty of arguments which explain it very well already.

We do  need short responses to answer critics in our lives.  Here is an example of a counter argument which I just posted in response to Chuck, who left a comment at Awful Library Books saying:

Below is the link to both the District Attorney’s comments and the official statement from No Greater Joy Ministries, Inc regarding the Schatz case which was issued within a couple of days of learning of Lydia Schatz’s death. It is obvious to anyone who cares to examine the facts that it is the rejection of the parenting philosophy espoused by the Pearls and No Greater Joy Ministries, Inc that contributed to this tragedy. Subsequent statements by the District Attorney and media reports continue to point out the fact that what the Schatz’s did was in complete contradiction to what the Pearls and NGJ teach. Those that ignore this reality do so only to perpetuate the lies to sensationalize this tragedy.

Here is my response:

It is not obvious to me at all.

First of all, all the DA did was quote Pearl that one should not cross the line.  That line is not defined anywhere in Pearl’s writings.

Secondly, that is not all of the DA’s comments. Here is a longer quote:

Thirdly, how does Pearl know that they were not following his advice?  He was not there.

My question is, could the Schatzes have thought they were obeying the Pearls’ teachings?  Could they have been calmly chastising her without knowing that they were actually breaking down her tissue?

Michael pearl teaches that his methods work on all children as long as you are 100% consistent.  He also teaches that you must spank the child until her defiance turns into a submissive whimper.  What if the submissive whimper never comes?  Could this kill her?  That is the real question.

Update Aug 18, 2011

Since the trial is over, I will work on giving a more precise answer.  For now, consider this:

In the recent video on CNN Pearl insists that their training method does not promote anger or abuse, but rather a calm, methodical and effective method of spanking a child into submission. What the Pearls and their followers fail to understand is that Lydia refused to or was unable to submit and they calmly and methodically spanked her for 7 hours until her tissues broke down.  You know how hitting meat makes it tender, right?  Well, if living flesh is hit long enough, even calmly and methodically, it gets tenderized.  The tissues break down and tiny particles of muscle tissue block the kidneys causing rhabdomyolosis. Please check that link for a more detailed explanation from Under Much Grace.  Rhabdomyolosis was the official cause of her death, by the way.

Update Sept 5, 2011: Here is the the answer as promised.

Counter Arguments 2

I’ve been mulling over a follow up to my Counter Arguments post for almost a month now.  Recently Crystal was kind enough to leave me a comment, letting me know her disagreement with this site.  This was very helpful because it allows me to address her concerns.

I will quote her and respond to her concerns point by point.

This is utterly ridiculous. For those of you who are jumping on the bandwagon without reading the whole book you are really missing out on what God has intended for you and the joy you and your children can have.

First of all, I should explain that this website is not a bandwagon. This is a clearing house of information. I mainly link to arguments. As I said in my reply comment, I have read the whole book To Train Up A Child and as far as I know, so have most of those who whom I link. I am a bit mystified as to how you can know that we are missing out on what God has intended for us. We have read a book and found much of the content to be problematic (to put it mildly). We studied it and wrote well thought out arguments explaining our points of view. How is that missing out on what God intended for us? I assume you mean that by refusing to follow Pearl’s advice you feel that we are missing out. I maintain that I would never want the “joy” of training my children in that way. Nor do I believe that the Bible calls me to do that. I do not study the Bible in only English, I study the Hebrew and Greek words and try to get the real meaning.

The bible clearly states, “he that spares the rod, spoils the child” If you do not spank your children then what exacltly is working for you?

Now, when you say, “rod,” what exactly do you mean? Did you use the dictionary to get the English definition or did you study the Hebrew meaning of the word? Here is a word study on the rod so that you can really understand what the Bible says.

Edited to add: It has been pointed out in a comment below that “he that spares the rod, spoils the child” is not even in the Bible. Thank you, C.L. Dyck

Now, not everyone to whom I link is arguing against spanking. Here is a list of people who do believe in spanking but still have concerns about Pearl’s teachings.

Do you have sweet children? Do they obey you the first time?

Children are people. They are sometimes sweet and sometimes not, just as are adults. I can’t speak for everyone else, but my goal is not to have sweet children who obey me the first time. My goal is to raise healthy, thinking adults who love God. And I can’t make them that way, only God can. I can certainly do my best to guide (or train up, if you will) them onto the right road. I explain and lead by example. I allow them to question me and explain themselves. I do enforce obedience, I just don’t expect them to obey me without thinking first. And lest you think that my children will turn out badly, just know that they are already 19 and 17 years old and I get many complements on their behavior.

Or do you have to count to ten and call them 10 times before exploding and yelling at them, those are the kind of people who end up “spanking” but really its abuse because they got so mad and really end up despising their children because they hate to be around them.

You are not describing non-spankers, you are describing the permissive. I do not recommend permissive parenting. I recommend gentle discipline. You can learn more about that at Arms of Love Family Fellowship and in these posts.

People who spank there children in a calm manner and who are absolutely consistant 100 % of the time will have tremendous success.

If you define success as children who are always sweet and obey the first time, yes, they will usually have success. Unless their child is a special needs child. Some children will continue to defy and refuse to submit. Now most parents will figure this out and try something else. It is very tragic when parents continue to apply the rod to children who will not submit because it has been proven that if switching goes on too much and for too long the child will die.

However you will not have success with any approach unless you yourself have true joy. Children know if you are faking it. Joy is the byproduct of thankfulness and love. Your joy radiates to your children.

Okay. So, are you saying that any approach will work if the parents have true joy or just the Pearl’s method?

Michael Pearl also recomends spending so much time with your children, they are your first and foremost responsibility, they must know that you delight in there presence, get on there level, do what they enjoy, do somthing that makes them smile every 5 minutes. But does anyone say that on this website?

Many of the arguments I have linked to have mentioned that Pearl teaches many good things. But no matter how many good things he says, even one wrong or dangerous teaching means that one has to use extreme caution in following him. A little leaven leaventh the whole lump.

Also, his doctrine is full of heresy, as explained in the Parenting in the Name of God series. If you don’t want to read through the entire series, you can look at An Examination of the Pearl Method.

There are many more things I could go on and say but those who really want to know more know where they can get the information. I would love to compare a houseful of “Michael Pearl” children who love and reverence him and are a great addition to society to the “non spanked” let them do what they want group, who is probably still working at jack in the box with numerous tattoos and peircings, pregnant at 15 and has no relationship with their parents.

Okaaay. I believe that this is what is known as a “strawman argument.” It makes no sense.

Wait. Love and reverence who? I don’t want my children to revere anyone except for God.

What is wrong with a 15 yr old working at Jack in the Box? I think that would be a good thing, as long as s/he is also still in school. I know many teenagers who were not spanked and none of them were pregnant at 15. They don’t have piercings or tattoos either, although I fail to see what that has to do with anything.

It’s funny that you should mention not having anything to do with their parents because I know many who were raised by Pearl and Gothard methods who fall into that camp and none who were not spanked. I have noted that children who were raised by attachment parenting have great relationships with their parents. That is one reason I decided to use that method.

Edited to add: C.L. Dyck left an excellent response to Crystal’s comment here.

Counter Arguments

Most people, upon reading a few quotes from To Train Up A Child, will need no further convincing that there are serious problems with these teachings. However, some people will have arguments to which you will need responses. For this reason, I am posting some thoughts to prepare you to express your counter arguments.

When you are confronted by someone who has read TTUAC and defends it, you must proceed with caution. Remember that someone who has spent a long time in the dark needs a soft light which then grows slowly in intensity. A sudden, harsh light will only cause them to shut their eyes tighter and flee.

First of all, keep in mind that they will not accept any argument from a non-Christian or someone who they consider to be unbiblical, such as someone who condemns spanking. For this reason, I have compiled some links to arguments which will fill their criteria here.

Pearl followers will often insist that the quotes you show them are not in the book at all. They have, as they often express it, “eaten the meat and spit out the bones.” If you remind them that not everyone is so discerning as they and that some people choke on the bones, they may make a small step in the right direction and stop recommending the book.

Pearl and his followers are saying that we are misquoting them. Pearl says that he says, “switches” and we replace it with “tree branches.” A switch is a tree branch, but not all tree branches are switches. It is best to use Pearl’s own words so that they cannot cry, “foul.”  In the same way, use the term, “switching,” instead of “whipping” or “beating.”  When trying to communicate with someone, using the language with which they are familiar is usually helpful.

They are also accusing us of taking his quotes out of context. No matter how long of a quote you use, it will probably always be “out of context” because there is no context where his words are acceptable unless you have been almost hypnotized (for lack of a better term) by reading the whole book.   Nevertheless, I try to use large quotes in hopes of avoiding that charge as well.

Their main argument is that there is a lot of good in the Pearls’ teachings. Almost all dangerous teachings have an element of good in them. No one uses rat poison straight, they mix it with something tasty. But no matter how much good there is, once there is a tiny amount of poison mixed in you have a dangerous concoction. There is also the illustration of baking brownies with just a tiny bit of doggie doo in it.   But don’t be harsh, just gently explain that a little leaven leaveneths the whole lump.

I hope you have found this helpful.  I will be on the look out for more arguments to address and I invite your comments.