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Discipline Method Implicated in Deaths

hitting_kidsA discipline method popular among conservative Christian homeschoolers is coming under fire after the death of a 7-year-old girl from injuries sustained from beatings. Her parents stand charged with her murder, and are also facing torture and abuse charges for injuries incurred by two of their nine children.

Police said that Lydia Schatz’s beatings were so numerous and severe that her internal organs may have been no longer able to function.

Lydia’s parents were aherents to the teaching of conservative Christian writers Michael and Debi Pearl, who advocate a method of child training known as “No Greater Joy.” According to this well-researched, remarkably balanced article by Lynn Harris on Salon (as well as my own perusal of the Pearl’s website) they promise total and complete obedience by children trained with this method — even from infants. That obedience is obtained by, among other methods, spanking the child until he has “no breath left to complain.” They recommend a length of quarter-inch wide plumbing supply line — which has authorities believe, the murder weapon used on Lydia Schatz. They even recommend the parents wear their rod on a string around their neck, as a constant reminder to their children.

What’s interesting is that this time, the uproar is not coming only from the more secular communities, but from the Pearls’ own sector of conservative Christian homeschoolers. One blogger, Laurie Mathers, and her husband Paul have spoken out extensively over their disagreement with the Pearl’s methods and their heartbreak over Lydia’s death, and others have said the same thing. Some have been emboldened to ensure the Pearls’ books aren’t used in any church sponsored parenting classes or to let other parents know that they refuse to use their methods and why.

Another child, four-year-old Sean Paddock, died four years ago this month after his mother used another of the Pearls’ methods –wrapping him in blankets so tightly that he couldn’t breathe. Despite all this, the Pearls deny anything is wrong with their teachings. From a statement issued by Michael Pearl after Lydia’s death: “We teach parents how to train their children, which sometimes requires the limited and controlled application of a spanking instrument to hold the child’s attention on admonition. Over 1,000,000 parents have applied these Biblical principles with joyful results.”

Bafflingly, they draw a line between what they term “Biblical chastisement” and hitting children — and in their defense, they repeatedly say they do not advocate or believe in child abuse. Pearl posted a defense of their methods here. To me, it’s pretty chilling and and represents the basest misinterpretation of the words of the Bible — and I am glad to see those who are aligned with the Pearls in religious views stepping up to do the same.

Illustration by Mignon Khargie for Salon, via TruthDig

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