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.
Here is another example from TTUAC
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.
Sorry that I don’t have all the page numbers and that this is an older edition. Here is a quote with the Sub-heading included. That should help one find the quote (it was page 80 in the 1st edition.) It is also a longer quote so that I can’t be accused of taking quotes out of context.
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.
So, you see where people reading this book could get the idea that they need to continue spanking?
And yes, I see where he clearly says not to spank in anger. The problem is that we can’t prove that any of the parents who killed children did so in anger. Mr. Pearl cannot get that thought out of his mind, but he was not there when those children were killed. Why does he insist that the parents were angry? I can only assume that it is because he can’t imagine any other way that they could possibly have killed their children. It is hard to imagine that Mr. and Mrs Schatz continued to spank little Lydia for hours on and off (with breaks for prayer) waiting for this submission until she collapsed from rhabdomyolosis. And yet, we cannot prove that they were angry. We also can’t prove that Mr. and Mrs Williams were angry when they abused Hana Alemu to death.
He also says in the above quote from the Christian Post article that they “point out that they should spank five or ten licks, no more.” I find that very interesting. I do not find such a statement in that book at all. I do find mention of five or ten licks, but never does it give that as a top limit. Let’s have another look at the quote above. I’ll repeat part of it with emphasis added.
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.
Note that he says, “more of the same.” This means that the child has already received some licks. Now he says to give him 8-10 more. Then if he is still not submissive, he says to spank him again. So, where does he say to not give more than 10 licks?
Here is another quote (it’s under the sub-heading “To Do My Duty.”)
Use your own judgment as to what is effective. I found five to ten licks usually sufficient. Sometimes, with older children, usually when the licks are not forceful enough, the child may still be rebellious. If this occurs, take time to instruct and then continue the spanking. A general rule is to continue the disciplinary action until the child is surrendered. A spanking is made effective, not by its severity, but by its certainty. Spankings don’t have to be as hard where they are consistently applied. Your calm dignity will set the stage to make it more effective.
Again, 5 – 10 licks is just a suggestion and apparently, a starting point. It would seem that he means 5-10 licks at a time. He did not say, 5-10 licks per day, nor per hour, nor even per infraction. He says to give them 5-10 licks and if they are not surrendered to start over and keep on until they are. So, what if the child never surrenders? If you get angry, you must stop, he made that clear. But, if you pray and manage to keep your calm, is it possible that the cycle of 5-10 licks could continue until the child dies of rhabdomyolosis?
I will not dispute that he teaches that spanking should be in accordance to the size of the child. Why, he even gives guidelines for infants (under 1 year old.)
From page 47 of the original version of TTUAC:
Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective.
He doesn’t exactly say that the spanking should not leave marks. Here is what he actually says in the same paragraph as the above quote:
Furthermore, where the child is concerned, the hand is for loving, not martial arts. The hand on a diapered bottom is useless as a spanking, but effective in causing permanent damage to the spine. There is no surface pain to the child thus whipped. Any pain would be deep inside, similar to a fall or a car wreck. Any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain, but the most pain is on the surface of bare skin where the nerves are located. A surface sting will cause sufficient pain, with no injury or bruising. Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective.
Ah. so he says not to leave injury nor bruising. Any spanking will at least leave some redness for a short amount of time, so that is not what he meant. (By the way, Dara has an interesting post about that.) He meant bruising. Yet, any blow to the body will damage. Just because the damage does not manifest as a visible bruise, it does not mean that it does not cause any invisible internal damage, as we learned above with Lydia Schatz. (Here is another interesting look at that kind of damage.)
The next quote I would like to look at from the Christian Post article is,
The pastor seemed upset that out of all his teachings, the element of spanking took the front row in public debates, even though, as he told CP, the subject of spanking only constitutes “less than 1 percent” of the materials he wrote.
I would respond to that, but Teri did such a good job of that here on my blog that I will just repost that. She also responds to another quote so I’ll just quote her entire comment. Thank you, Teri.
He says that the book is hardly about spanking, only about 1% of it. If you go through the book, it instructs you to spank in almost every paragraph. He is, once again, trying to play with words. He says that it’s not “spanking”, it’s “training” — which involves using a switch to smack the bare skin of an infant, of course. This is not spanking, he says, it’s training. THIS is how he justifies saying that only 1% of his book is about spanking…. because the rest is training, which is actually spanking, but whatever. He also throws out statistics that he just pulls out of the air, apparently.
I’m going to quote this one:
He also denied that he recommends spanking “because the Bible says so,” as some journalists suggested before, and said he would not “hide behind the Bible” to excuse violent methods of child-rearing. In fact, he said, religion should not be used as an excuse for practicing certain child raising methods.
“When you start using God against your children and use religion, then you start driving them away from God,” he said. “And the parent begins to think that they have an authority that goes beyond that which is rational and sane.”
“I think that all about parenting methods ought to be open to the ring of public debate,” Pearl added. “I would never hide behind the Bible, behind a divine document, and say that we do these things because God told us to do them. If they’re not sound, if they’re not sound psychologically, they’re not sound emotionally, if the fruit of them does not prove to be positive then we should not do it. That’s why I have done extensive study and discovered dozens of studies that confirm that spanking has positive results when it’s done by loving parents. And on the other hand, when parents don’t spank their children, but use (alternative) methods, they get less effective results.”
But, his book is all about how God commands parents to use the rod, and how they are representing God when the discipline. His books are all about how this is what God wants, and to do any less is to go against him, and to raise children who may not enter heaven, but are sure to enter prison.
This is how he and his supporters constantly try to defend this way of discipline. Then, he throws the word “happy” in as much as possible. I can assure you, I may have smiled a lot, and if you asked if I was happy, I may have said I was, but I was NOT a happy child. I played the game because I had to in order to keep from being “disciplined”.
I hope people can open their eyes and see this for what it is: manipulation and distortion of truth.
I would like to close with one final observation. The Christian Post article linked to this article by Michael Pearl. This article was much quoted for saying, “If she has enough breath to scream “huggie” while you are spanking her, you are probably not spanking hard enough.” He has since reworded that to read, “If she can scream “huggie” while you are spanking her, you are probably not spanking hard enough.” I noticed this quote:
Do not threaten to spank her until she stops crying. For some children that would work, but you do not want to challenge her to a contest that you cannot win. She may be able to tolerate the pain longer than you can tolerate giving it.
This is what he is talking about when he says that he teaches people not to abuse. For him, parenting is a contest and the parent must win. If the parent cannot win a challenge, it must not be made. They must take great care not to put themselves in that situation. They would have to back down. They would have to know when to back down before it becomes abuse. He assumes that the parent would not be able to tolerate giving that much pain. No actual definition of when it would become abuse, but that is just understood (hopefully.) He goes on to say, “You don’t have to spank excessively.” Again, no definition is given of what would be excessive spanking. It is so obvious to him that he assumes that any thinking person will understand what he means. If only it were so.