“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.” Pablo Cassals
TWW has found the Pearl’s advice so concerning, we are doing an extra post this week.
Clarification: TWW recognizes that good Christians are all over the place on the issue of spanking and we believe it is a worthy subject for discussion. Both of us have spanked our kids, albeit rarely. This series is looking at abusive punishment and treatment of children.
Michael and Debi Pearl have established quite a following in the seventeen years since To Train Up A Child was first published. Have you ever wondered what Michael Pearls’ qualifications are for doling out “child training” advice? Here are his qualifications according to the No Greater Joy website.
“No Greater Joy is the ministry of Michael and Debi Pearl under the auspices of No Greater Joy Ministries Inc. Michael has been a pastor, missionary, and evangelist for over 40 years. The Pearls’ five children were all homeschooled, and have grown up to become missionaries and church leaders. Though holding a BS from Crichton College, when Michael is asked for his credentials on child training he points to his five children.”
So there you have it straight from the horse’s mouth (to use an expression Michael Pearl might actually appreciate). Before getting into today’s topic, it might be beneficial for you to see Pearl in action answering one of many Bible questions posted on YouTube. Take a look:
Is the Method of Baptism Important?
Before digging deeper into the Pearl’s masterpiece, I believe it is worth calling attention to an interesting confession made by Michael Pearl. After the birth of their first daughter, Debi had trouble conceiving and when she finally did, she miscarried. A few years later the Pearls had their first son. Michael Pearl interjects a little humor by writing:
“Our first son! My wife was ever so possessive. By the age of one, he was so attached to her that I had to submit a request well in advance if I wanted to spend some time with her. We were in no danger of having any more children. He could not be left with a baby sitter unless she was blessed with deafness. I didn’t know much about children…” (p. 63)
Incredibly, he is now a self-professed expert!
To gain an understanding of how the Pearl children were “trained”, let’s look at some examples Pearl provides in Chapter 10 of To Train Up A Child, called “Safety Training”.
The first example involves gun safety. Pearl points out that since they are a hunting family, they “always had guns around the house.” (p. 66) They kept the guns out of reach when the children were little; however, in case they ever came in contact with a loaded gun, they trained them for safety. Here’s how:
“With our first toddler, I placed an old, unused and empty, single-shot shot-gun in the living room corner. After taking the toddler through the “No” saying, hand-switching sessions, they knew guns were always off limits.”
Pearl explains that after his children were trained (I assume one-by-one), they never touched the gun either at their home or someone else’s. “I didn’t gun-proof my house, I gun-proofed my children,” Pearl proclaims. (p. 66)
One feature in the Pearl home was a wood-burning stove that they used for cooking and heating. Knowing that toddlers can be severely burned from this kind of stove, the Pearls “trained” their children not to touch. Michael Pearl explains:
“When the heat was just right, I would open the door long enough for them to be attracted to the flames. I then move away. The child would inevitably run to the stove and touch it. Just as his hand touched the stove, I would say, “Hot!” It usually took twice, sometimes three times, but they all learned their lesson…we never even raised a blister, we never had a child get burned. It was so effective that, thereafter, if I wanted to see them do a back flip, all I had to do was say, “Hot!” They would turn loose of a glass of iced tea.” (p. 66)
During their children’s growing up years, the Pearls had a pond close to their home. They became concerned that the little ones might fall in and drown. Michael and Debi followed their eldest daughter to the pond, and she edged close to the shiny water. Here’s how the Pearl describes what happened:
“Splash! In she went. Girl, it was cold. I restrained my anxiety long enough for her to right herself in the water and show some recognition of her inability to breathe. When panic set it (mine as well as hers – not to mention her mother’s), I pulled her out and scolded her for getting close to the pond. She didn’t swallow any water, and there was no need for resuscitation – except on my wife who took several hours to begin breathing normally. We repeated the same process with all the children. It took only one time for each of them to learn respect for the water. And it got easier on us.” (p. 67)
Surprisingly to us, all the Pearl children were swimming by the time they were four years old. After sharing this “training” method, Pearl does warn the readers: “Do not try this unless you are sure that you can maintain full control of all the circumstances.” (p. 67)
SNAP TO IT!
In this section, Pearl writes: “I am the General. My wife is my aid and adviser – the first in command when I am absent. I rule benevolently. Love and respect are my primary tools of persuasion.” (p. 68) He then proceeds to explain that he trained his children to “obey first and ask questions later”. (p. 69)
Here are some of the commands he would give them: “Sit down. Don’t speak until I tell you to”, “Stand up”, “Now come here. Go touch the door.” “Now, go to your rooms and clean them up.” (p. 69) After stating these commands, Pearl explains that if one of his children had a bad attitude, he would be spanked. “Lazy rebellion was punished by the rod,” he affirms. (p. 69)
Chapter 11 of To Train Up A Child is called “Potty Untraining”. Pearl explains that while on missionary trip to Central America, he and his wife observed that the Maya Indians did not diaper their babies and that “the infants are all potty trained”. (p. 70) According to Pearl, babies instinctively do not like go in their “nests”. He describes how the Mayans “untrain” them by forcing their babies to go in their pants. Apparently, it works…
Debi Pearl decided to try this technique on her own children while they were infants. It seems she had great success because Michael Pearl writes:
“My mother-in-law was equally skeptical until the day my wife said to her, “Stop at the next station, the baby wants to go potty.” In a minute, when Deb came out with a thoroughly relieved three-month-old, my mother in law was convinced. For a while, our bathroom became the end of a pilgrimage for those seeking faith in infant potty training. Many a time our red faced infant girls looked up to see a great cloud of amazed witnesses expectantly hovering in our large bathroom.” (pp. 70-71)
One of the most appalling passages in the book (for me) was when Pearl reveals his “training” recommendation to the father of a three year old boy who had not yet been successful at potty training. He instructs the dad to tell his son he is now a man and that he will no longer be “washed” in the house. Pearl affirms: “He was too big and too stinky to be cleansed with baby-wipes. From now on, he would be washed outside with a garden hose.” (p. 71)
Michael Pearl goes on to explain that the next time this three year old boy pooped in his diaper, the father took his son outside on a chilly autumn day and “carelessly” washed him off with the garden hose. According to Pearl, the technique worked because a week later the father told him that the son was “taking himself to the pot”. (p. 71) Michael Pearl cheerfully concludes: “Since then, several others have been the recipients of my meddling, and it usually takes no more than three cheerful washings.” (p. 71)
Child Labor is the topic of Chapter 12. Pearl explains that the best time to establish lifelong habits is before the age of five. He states: “My Amish neighbors say that before seven the children are a drain on the family. Between seven and fourteen, the pay their way. After fourteen they become an asset bringing in profit. By the time a child reaches seven, he ought to be making your life easier. A house full of seven-year-olds ought to be self-sustaining.” (pp. 73-74)
As Pearl concludes this section of the book, he makes a remark about gender roles. This proponent of homeschooling shows his bias by stating:
“Gender role distinction is demeaned in modern education. Don’t let a coven of Sodomites and socialists, hiding behind the badge of professional psychologists, reprogram your natural feelings on male and female distinctiveness. A boy needs a man’s example if he is expected to grow up to be a man.” (p. 75)
Did I mention that my older daughter, who is a godly young lady, will be graduating from a public university this May with a degree in elementary education and that she plans to teach (at least initially) in the public school system? Although I believe some families benefit from homeschooling and Christian education (as both my daughters did), I find Michael Pearl’s over-generalization and condemning attitude offensive and highly unproductive.
The Pearls are extremely vocal about their belief in homeschooling, as they make extremely clear in Chapter 19 – Homeschool Makes No Fools. Remember, around the time that this book came out, I was a firm believer in homeschooling. For those who made it all the way to the end of To Train Up A Child, here’s the propaganda they read:
“Never even consider sending your children to private Christian schools, much less the public automaton factory… God didn’t make teenage boys and girls to sit together in a classroom every day using their brain while real life passes them by…Children need a mother who teaches them, not a teacher who doesn’t have the emotional energy to mother them. Young men need a father who teaches them to work, not a father too busy working to teach them.”
Toward the end of the book Michael Pearl reveals that he is forty-eight years old (in 1994). That means he is now around sixty-five. What was his great motivation for writing To Train Up A Child? I believe he explains it on page 97 with these words:
“If you want a child who will integrate into the New World Order and wait his turn in line for condoms, a government funded abortion, sexually transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation and a mark on the forehead, then follow the popular guidelines in education, entertainment and discipline, but if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God’s way.”
What a frightening outlook on life! The Pearls are so gripped by fear that I wonder whether they truly believe that God is in control.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what motivates Michael and Debi Pearl (as revealed in their book) and how their children were “trained”. Tomorrow we will get into the HOT BUTTON issue that has brought so much attention to the Pearls – the use of the rod.
Lydia’s Corner: Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19 Luke 10:13-37 Psalm 75:1-10 Proverbs 12:12-14