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:


1. Every small child will have one or two times in his young life when he will decide to take hold of the reins. The stubbornness is profound–amazing–a wonder that one so young could be so dedicated and persevering in rebellion. It is the kind of determination you would expect to find in a hardened revolutionary facing enemy indoctrination classes. Parents who are trained to expect it and are prepared to persevere still stand in awe at the strength of the small child’s will.

2. If you are consistent, this test of authority will come only one, two, or, at the most, three times in each child’s life. If you endure, conquering the child’s will, then in the long run the child wins. If you weaken and let it pass to the victory of the child’s will, then by winning it is a character loss for the child. You must persevere for the both of you. The household cat who, regardless of protest, door barring and foot swinging, is occasionally allowed to stay in the house will take the occasional success as impetus to always try to get in. If he is consistently kept out (100% of the time), he will not come in, even when the door is left open. The cat, allowed to occasionally get its way, is trained, despite your protests, to come into the house. If you kick it hard enough and often enough, it will become sufficiently wary to obey while you remain on guard but will still bolt through the door when it sees the opportunity. On the other hand, dogs, thirty-five times smarter than cats, can be trained either to come in or stay out upon command. The key again is consistency. If the dog learns through conditioning (consistent behavior on the part of the trainer) that he will never be allowed to violate his master’s command, he will always obey. If parents carefully and consistently train up a child, his or her performance will be as consistently satisfying as that rendered by a well trained seeing-eye dog.

Note that they are saying that the parents must win every battle or all is lost. Now lets look at how one must respond to rebellion and/or disobedience. Consider the advice in this article from the Pearl’s website, No Greater Joy. Read that and consider how the parents can obey that advice if the child were to continue being rebellious without ceasing.

Now, on to the speculations. I (and many others) speculate that Lydia knew how to pronounce the word in question. I suspect that she had said it many times correctly, as it was a fairly common word, “pulled.” I believe that in the case of this homeschool lesson, she showed with body language or tone of voice that she was playing around or being rebellious and refusing to comply. She did not obey so they switched her. The problem is that she refused to submit. She did not pronounce the word correctly. She also probably thrashed and fought. Now the parents were put in the uncomfortable position of not knowing when to stop.   I’m guessing that they had read the article, In Defense of Biblical Chastisement and were following it.  I am  having trouble choosing a quote, I think you should go read the entire thing.  Ok, it is very long, so I will quote the main important parts.  Since Michael Pearl has accused us of taking his words out of context, I am going to take that as permission to include very long quotes:

How many licks?

There is no number that can be given. It would be better to administer more licks that are less forceful than to administer few licks that hurt severely. It is much more effective to administer chastisement or punishment in a slow thoughtful fashion. Our goal is to cause the child to voluntarily surrender his will. We want to impress upon him the severity of his disobedience. It takes time and thoughtfulness for the child to come to repentance. I have told a child I was going to give him 10 licks. I count out loud as I go. After about three licks, leaving him in his position, I would stop and remind him what this is all about. I would continue slowly, still counting, stop again and tell him that I know it hurts and I wish I didn’t have to do it but that it is for his own good. Then I would continue slowly. Pretending to forget the count, I would again stop at about eight and ask him the number. Have him subtract eight from ten, (a little homeschooling) and continue with the final two licks. Then I would have him stand in front of me and ask him why he got the spanking. If his answer showed that he was rebellious and defiant, he would get several more licks. Again he would be questioned as to his offense. If he showed total submission, we put it all behind us, but if he were still rebellious, we would continue until he gave over his will. Only about three of our five children ever resisted after a spanking and refused to cooperate. Each of the three required only one experience of continued spankings until they surrendered. None of the three ever tried it a second time. In all cases, it was between the ages of two and four that they tried their moment of defiance.

If you ever have a child who stands his ground of defiance and you let him win, you have lost his heart forever—unless you are able to go back and win a confrontation and keep on winning. If you ever let his rebellion triumph just one time, it makes it much harder to conquer in the future. After he gains the upper hand, one victory on your part will not be sufficient. You will have to persevere in several contests of wills until he is convinced that he can never stand against your authority.

Where on the body?

The Bible says, “the rod is for the back.” That would include anything that is not the front—the back from the shoulders down to the feet. When training, and not chastening or punishing, any convenient place on the body is effective. When you have told a child not to touch, and he reaches out, you can thump or swat his hand. If he is trying to climb down from his chair after being told not to, you can swat his legs. But when you are engaging the child in serious chastisement, the small of the back down to the thighs is the most effective. You can spank half as hard on the back with a light, stingy switch and be more effective than spanking harder on the bottom or thighs.

What if they fight back?

Children fight back because they think they have a chance of forestalling the spanking. First make sure the child never gains anything by fleeing. Second, cause the child to understand that he is further hurting himself by resisting. Slow down, stay calm. If you are in a frenzy, the child will respond in kind. If a child flees, don’t chase him. Wait and allow time for the tension to go out of the air. Slowly pursue him, explaining that he cannot win. If it takes a long time, that’s fine. Go to his hiding place and laugh at his frail attempts. Explain that if it takes fourteen days to bring him to justice, he will be brought to justice. Patience. Calm. Dignity. Wait until he calms down in the back of the closet, or under the bed, and as you sit outside, or just beyond him, quietly tell him that you are coming to give him his ten licks, but that since he has fled, he is now going to get one extra lick. Wait several minutes for him to calm down and listen with reason, and ask him how much ten plus one is. “That’s right, eleven. Would you rather have 10 licks or 11?” He answers “10.” Then tell him that it is too late to get just 10, but if he doesn’t come out immediately you will raise it to 12. He must have calmed down for him to make a rational choice. If not, then wait a little longer. Keep this up until you raise the stakes to about twenty licks, explaining to him that when you get to 20 licks you are coming after him. If he is locked in his room, explain that you will unlock the door. There is no escape. Be calm, non-threatening in tone. Just quiet dignity. Think of yourself as a high-ranking government official in charge of negotiations. Know that in the end you will win. It is the quality of the win that counts. You want him to voluntarily surrender. There is no “violence” that way. It is a great victory if you can get him to finally give over and take the few steps toward you. One win like this and you are likely to never have this problem again.

The Schatz parents continued to spank for 7 hours, taking breaks for prayer. Mr. Pearl does not say to do this. In fact, he warns parents not to abuse in that same article.

How often?

Each child will be different. Some four-year-olds will need five spankings a day, whereas others will need only one a month. Some children hardly ever need a spanking after they are seven or eight; others still need one after they are married. Not that anyone is going to spank him.

You should not spank beyond your fellowship with the child. If you feel that your spanking is excessive, it is because it is not working. If it is not working to produce happy, creative kids, then you are missing one of the other elements we discussed. You have probably forgotten how to relax and enjoy your children. Or perhaps you have failed to train. The bottom line is that if other things are equal, and you give a child a spanking every time he needs it, the time will soon come when he will not need to be spanked so often, and eventually not at all.

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.

It’s too bad that his warning is very vague.  Apparently the Schatzes did not understand how to reconcile that warning with the insistence that they needed to continue giving licks until she submitted.   Maybe they were following this advice from the book, To Train Up A Child (page 80)


Some have asked, “But what if the child only screams louder, gets madder?” Know that if he is accustomed to getting his unrestricted way, you can expect just such a response. He will just continue to do what he has always done to get his way. It is his purpose to intimidate you and make you feel like a crud pile. Don’t be bullied. Give him more of the same. On the bare legs or bottom, switch him eight or ten licks; then, while waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again. If this is the first time he has come up against someone tougher than he, it may take a while. He must be convinced that you have truly altered your expectations.

There is no justification for this to be done in anger. If you are the least angry, wait until another time. Most parents are so guilt laden and paranoid that they are unable to carry this through to the end.

If you stop before he is voluntarily submissive, you have confirmed to him the value and effectiveness of a screaming protest.

The next time, it will take twice as long to convince him of your commitment to his obedience, because he has learned the ultimate triumph of endurance in this episode in which he has prevailed. Once he learns that the reward of a tantrum is a swift forceful spanking, he will NEVER throw another fit. If you enforce the rule three times and then fail on the fourth, he will keep looking for that loop-hole until you have convinced him it will not work again.

Now, I truly believe that the Schatz did not have any idea in the world that this calm, methodical spanking could kill her. Let’s look at the cause of death, Rhabdomyolosis. Please read the linked post for an in depth explanation. Here are the pertanent quotes:

Rhabdomyolosis describes the condition which follows massive skeletal muscle deterioration, liberating large amounts of muscle cell waste into the bloodstream… “Rhabdo” refers to skeletal muscles. “Myo” means muscle. “Lysis” means rupture, creating the word “rhhabdomyolysis.” Rhabdomyolosis is the condition that results from rhabdomyolysis (the process). When muscle tissue breaks down, if it is in small quantities as happens naturally, the cells themselves contain enzymes (a natural digestive substance) which digest the tissue into very tiny particles. When exceptionally large numbers of muscle cells break down or are broken open due to great stress or trauma from beating, the muscle cells enter the bloodstream because there are so many and muscles have lots of blood vessels in them. When the blood becomes overloaded with these broken muscle cells (called myoglobin), they travel through the body. When they get to the kidney, these big broken cell pieces get pushed into the kidney and clog it. Within each kidney, there are one million tiny, very fragile structures called nephrons, tiny little special tubes which not only remove fluid and protein waste products but also absorb nutrients, acids, and bicarbonate back into the body. Each of the yellow tube-like structures (we each were given two million of them) regulates what remains in the tube, eventually becoming urine.

The muscle cell breakdown products look something like the broken muscle fragments that appear in the figure displayed above. The kidney is designed to handle only tiny particles that are dissolved in fluid, not cells or tissue breakdown products. These cellular byproducts get squeezed into the tiny tubes and clog them. During treatment in the hospital, patients are administered huge amounts of IV fluids to keep the pressure high, pumping constant fluid through the tubes so that debris does not lodge in them.

What happens when the tubes get blocked so much that fluids cannot open them? Each one of those affected tiny tubes dies, a condition called acute tubular necrosis. Necrosis means that something is dead and rotting. Those tiny little marvelous and fragile structures die. They die, turn black and rot. They don’t grow back. These patients will be compromised for the rest of their lives. If too many of those tiny tubes die, the body cannot process nutrients and wastes, it cannot balance acids in the body, and the kidney failure causes anemia, because another part of what the kidney does involves telling the bone marrow to make red blood cells.

So, yes it was totally the parents’ fault. They took bad advice, and took it to an extreme which the author did not intend. Mr. Pearl did not consider adopted children who will resist to the point of death. He still does not understand this or he would clarify, modify or add a disclaimer to his teachings. As far as I know, all he has done is to say that the Schatz couple was out of control and did not follow his teachings correctly. I submit that they followed his teachings too correctly. Mindlessly following a man’s teaching is not what Christians are called to do and for that they will answer to God.

(In Part 2  I discuss the deaths of Sean Paddock and Hana Williams.)

For more discussion of this topic, I recommend this post from Roscommon Acres.

I also recommend this post from Created To Be His.


  1. […] would mean admitting that she was wrong.  On top of that, Michael Pearl teaches that you must be consistent, you can never back down or let the child win or you will undo everything.  Therefore, when they […]

  2. Dana on October 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    (There’s still stuff in that article that bothers me . . . like laughing at a kid who almost gets hit by a falling post, but overall the tone of it is one of positive encouragement and enjoying life with your children while you build a positive relationship with them. That was what I was referring to!)

  3. Dana on October 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I wish I had a link, but I know if you dig through their newsletters long enough and deep enough, there is a little something in there (I believe in a question asked about an adopted child) about not spanking adopted children because you do not have the relationship with the child. The relationship needs to be there first.

    I do think it is significant that these children that were killed were adopted. And maybe that little snippet needs to be brought the the forefront. And I wish this were emphasized more (though it seems pretty clear he’s spanking these orphans?).


    And a lot less of the “If they can cry out for huggies, you aren’t hitting hard enough” And “If you don’t win this battle, you will lose their heart forever.”

    • Hermana Linda on October 11, 2011 at 1:04 pm

      Great points.

      This is a very interesting link. It doesn’t exactly say that he was spanking them, but it does say that he was training them. I find that confusing. I can’t find that article either. I wonder if they took it down. I have no idea why they would though. They should be using that quote as part of their defense. I am still scratching my head at the quotes they used in their defense. I ended up defending them better and I didn’t even really want to.

  4. TulipGirl » Blog Archive » When Friends Defend The Pearls on October 11, 2011 at 9:17 am

    […] Good and related resources: Spanking in Anger Isn’t the Problem In Defense of the Pearls. . . Some Thoughts Why Blame the Pearls at All? […]

  5. Samuel Martin on September 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Lots to think about in this post from a theological point of view. Thanks Linda. Will follow up with you when I get something down on paper.

    Thanks so much

    Samuel Martin

    • Hermana Linda on September 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      Thank you, I’m looking forward to it.

  6. Jema on September 6, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I do have a friend who says they have separate teaching methods, and do disclaim for adopted children. She did not, however, provide me with any links.

    • Hermana Linda on September 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      He does have an article on Rodless Training for those who absolutely can’t get away with spanking, such as foster parents. He gives this method with plenty of caveats. Once one has adopted and the child is out of “the system” this method would not apply.

  7. Kathy on September 6, 2011 at 6:44 am

    I agree. Good teachers can be misunderstood–but good teachers whose humble and highest goal is to provide good instruction, not to shift blame, will see a misunderstanding as an opportunity to clarify, or reorganize, or add an emphatic warning. Tragedies like these should cause people to want to examine how to insure, as far as possible, that this situation is never repeated. Mr. Pearl has so far not taken the opportunity to do that.

  8. Counter Arguments 3 | Why Not Train A Child? on September 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    […] Sept 5, 2011: Here is the the answer as promised. For your sharing […]

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