To Train Up A Child, a self-published parenting book by pastor Michael Pearl and his wife Debi Pearl, advocates the physical abuse of children as effective discipline.
The book has appeared in the homes of several children who have been abused to death, including 13-year-old Hana Williams who was found dead in the backyard, 30 pounds underweight, from hypothermia. Further investigations revealed that Williams’ parents starved her, beat her regularly, put her in a locked closet, and made her sleep outside in the barn in the cold. She also wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom in the house. To Train Up A Child was found in their home, as well as that of many other abusive parents, and now thousands of parents are asking that Amazon remove the book as soon as possible through a Change.org petition.
The Times notes that the book has become a hit particularly with Christian home-schoolers since its 1994 publication, with advice like:
“… using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describ[ing] how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, “can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.”
Pearl and his wife maintain that their book is not abusive on the grounds that they advise against acting out of anger or leaving bruises. They point out that the families who have killed their children have taken their methods too far:
“If you find a 12-step book in an alcoholic’s house, you wouldn’t blame the book,” Mr. Pearl said in an interview.
That may very well be true, but anyone who denies their child food as a form of punishment, even if it is deemed a “little fasting,” is abusing said child. And proposing devices with which to beat kids, even if it is to inflict minimal damage, is also abusive, no matter how much the practice in couched in niceties. Michael Pearl even admits “the same principles” in his book used for childrearing “[the] Amish use to train their stubborn mules.” Dr. Frances Chalmers, a pediatrician who examined Hana’s body for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, told the Times:
“My fear is that this book, while perhaps well intended, could easily be misinterpreted and could lead to what I consider significant abuse.”
Mr. and Mrs. Pearl do have children of their own who defend their parents’ teachings, as their 28-year-old daughter says that she uses the same methods with her own kids. This is coming from a woman who describes her childhood as “wonderful,” despite being spanked about 50 times as a toddler, her father admitted.
Amazon has a very clear opportunity to convey to parents and the childless that they do not wish to carry books that advocate the abuse of children. Given the multitude of titles that they currently carry that do encourage such abusive practices, their shelves are clearly due for an overhaul.