So many people were shocked by the video of that Texas judge hitting his child, but I wasn’t. I’ve been reading for a long time about the abusive child-rearing practices of extreme Christian fundamentalists, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that girl’s father thought he was merely doing his duty and “raising a godly child.”
The books of Michael and Debi Pearl are frequently implicated in that kind of abuse. Here’s a heart-wrenching post from a reader over at the No Longer Quivering blog, started by a woman who left the fundamentalist Quiverfull movement:
When the Pearls’ methods failed, I got stuck on method a. Blame yourself. I re-read To Train Up a Child. When I knew I had it right, I hit harder. Prayed harder. Did the whole disciplinary routine smiling from ear to ear and cooing like a dove. My babies acted freaked out by my grin (it was a lot like Debi Pearl’s vacuous, huge grin in the Tuchman interview) and were enraged by my efforts to “lovingly reconcile” with them after spankings. They kept up the fight. At this point, I think I would have admitted to myself that something was wrong with this whole child-training method and stopped torturing the toddlers all day to no avail. If you have to be cruel to get the Pearl method to work on some kids, it’s wrong. I had a husband, however, who was firmly convinced that Pearl was right. He went right for the b. and c. options: hit harder and blame the kid.
Options b. and c. are hard to do without getting angry. They are hard to do without leaving bruises, especially since Pearl discipline is cumulative: faced with entrenched rebellion, you are supposed to hit repeatedly and in the same areas. My ex-husband got angry with the kids for thwarting the Pearl method, but he remained coldly self-controlled. He also left bruises. A lot of bruises.
Why didn’t I stop him? I finally did, but early in my marriage I was paralyzed by fear and brainwashed by bad teaching. We both feared raising ungodly kids. We were looking for confirmation that some part of this system worked, and my ex-husband began to get results. The children flinched when he even moved. Cowered when he reached for a spanking implement. Had semi-seizures on the carpet following “biblical correction.” We got compliance with our wishes. Eventually, there wasimmediate and unquestioning compliance. My ex-husband had quelled the rebellion in three kids. He had created unfocused, freaked-out little robots who obeyed. The joy and the peace that was supposed to suffuse our home according to Pearl, we thought we could dispense with. Maybe it would come later; the Pearls are a little vague on where the peace and love should come into the process, just as they are a little vague on how you can keep “chastising” repeatedly with progressively increased force in the same places without leaving bruises.
To Train Up a Child is a manual of progressive violence against children. Not only are there no stopgaps to prevent child abuse, the book is a mandate to use implements to inflict increasingly intense pain in the face of continued disobedience. The part about not causing injury is vague and open to interpretation, but the part about never backing down or shirking your parental duty to spank harder and harder is crystal clear. The Pearls’ teachings will lead, inescapably, to extremely strong-willed kids being abused and sometimes murdered by fundamentalist parents who are determined to “break” those children. The Pearls’ defenders will say, “Oh, they took it to an extreme and should have known better.” If anyone knows better than to keep inflicting more severe discipline on an intractable child, they can only apply that knowledge by scuttling the Pearls’ sadistic teaching and being more reasonable.
Whenever I read stories like this, I think of a lovely young woman I once interviewed, someone who grew up on the streets with her schizophrenic mother. By the time she was 16, she was pregnant. Fortunately, by the time she was 18, she’d been taken into a new program for young mothers that essentially re-parented them: Taught them to budget, balance a checkbook, plan meals, discipline children. She told me she was deeply haunted by guilt over having hit her toddler: “It wasn’t that I didn’t care about her – I did. I hit her to make her behave. I thought that’s what good parents did, and I wanted to be a good parent.”
That’s the sad part of all this violence. For whatever twisted reason, religious or psychological, many parents still believe they’re only doing what good parents do.