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Seven-year-old Lydia Schatz, it is alleged, died for mispronouncing a word.

Lydia's parents called 911 when they realized that their child was not breathing. Initially, she regained pulse and respiration, but she was later pronounced dead. Her older sister, Zariah, has also been hospitalized for kidney failure caused by severe internal injuries.

According to her siblings and the police officers investigating the case, Lydia's parents had been "chastising" her "for hours" for making a mistake in a homeschool reading lesson taken from one of the Frog and Toad books. The parents also regularly "chastised" Zariah for being a bad influence on her younger siblings. And by "chastising", they mean repeatedly hitting with a 15" piece of flexible plumbing supply line, the kind that people have in, say, their toilet tanks. All of the siblings (there were 9 children in this family, six of them biological and three adopted from Liberia) have stated that they were disciplined in this manner at least "sometimes".

Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of To Train Up a Child and owners of the ministry known as No Greater Joy, recommend plumbing supply line as an ideal "rod of correction" to use on children because it is inexpensive, flexible, and easily left in strategic locations throughout the house or even simply draped around a parent's neck so the child can always see a "rod" and know the consequence of disobeying.

The Pearls have published statements in relation to the Schatz case, saying that they in no way advocate or condone child abuse. Of course, throughout their writings, they make it very clear that their belief is that NOT using "the rod" is a form of serious child abuse. They claim that parents who do not use corporal punishment are unfit parents who do not love their children.

They are also very specific about when, how, and to what extent parents must "switch" or "lick" their children - starting as early as possible (ideally before age one), as soon as possible following any "offense", and until the child responds with "a wounded, submissive whimper." This is a direct quote of their advice to the parent of an "angry child" who did not want to eat what he was served at meals:

If you think it is appropriate and you spank him make sure that it is not a token spanking. Light, swatting spankings, done in anger without courtroom dignity will make children mad because they sense that they have been bullied by an antagonists. A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again. If he is still mad.... He desperately needs an unswayable authority, a cold rock of justice.

I am horrified by what has come of their teachings. I am dismayed that they teach such a practice to begin with, with repeated reassurances that their methods will always work if the parents apply them consistently. To follow their advice, they claim, is to become the proud parent of well-behaved children that you like as well as love, to have a happy marriage and a peaceful home, and to ensure that your children will have eternal salvation. To depart from their methods is to depart from God and to be consigned along with your children to a tortured existence in both this life and the next.

And yet, both a part of and apart from the horror, I cannot help but empathize. Even kids who are "easy" or "good" have off days, and so do parents. I have categorically chosen not to spank (as I've said elsewhere, I believe it is a violation of my faith's commitment to non-violence), but I've been the Screaming Mama. I've muttered "how about a knuckle sandwich?" in response to repeated demands for "JEL-LY SAND-WICH! JEL-LY SAND-WICH! PEEEEEENBUTTER JELLLLLLYYYY!" I've curled up in my bed and cried in the middle of the night while my husband fixed a formula bottle because my entire body was tensing in pain and panic at the thought of another bad breastfeeding latch, and curled up in the bathroom with the door closed and my hands over my ears because two kids can make a ridiculous amount of noise and I just want the noise to STOP.

I've HAD those moments of wishing that something, anything, would work to Make That Kid Obey Me (or at least Make That Kid STFU) - and this is with all my knowledge of child development and all of my understanding of why the ideal of perfect obedience is both impossible and undesirable. I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind to do all sorts of things that I know I would regret, things that would definitely not be acceptable for someone who believes in non-violent solutions. I don't do them, of course, and I know I wouldn't do them, but I also know the long-term repercussions that would be possible from such a moment of anger, and I know that I have a husband who is the actual primary caregiver (and who has FAR more patience, especially with childish noise, than I do), and other people who will step in to watch the girls if both of us need a break. (I ALSO have two children - not nine. That makes considerable difference.) I also don't believe in eternal damnation, and I do believe that we all work out our own "salvation" and our own understanding of $DEITY.

If I were more convinced of the reality of Hell, less aware of the realities of child development, more isolated from meaningful social support, less firmly committed to non-violence, or if I had more children with less day-to-day support from their father...I can see where a simple rulebook approach such as the one taught by the Pearls would be incredibly compelling. The Pearls promise much from the "miracle" of their rod of correction.

Lydia Schatz is without breath to complain of this seductive lie, forever. But I, and other parents like me - mindful of the frustrating reality that the Pearls' ideal preys upon - can break through the isolation we imperfect parents with imperfect kids feel when perfection is demanded of us. We can communicate our own struggles and triumphs, tell our own stories of what worked, laugh at our own mistakes, safe in the knowledge that none of us get it right all the time. We can be in caring community with one another, not separate and smug in our sense of superiority.

And I can sleep at night, glad that my little girl has the breath to complain - and to demand her good-night hugs and kisses, and to say, "I love you, Mommy!"


( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 24th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC)
Yeah, this is why I am happy that hitting a child is forbidden here in Sweden since 1966. I have never understood why it should be allowed to do to a child what it is forbidden to do to an adult. Seriously. I mean the first lesson i remember learning as a child was: "Never hit anybody smaller than yourself" when playing rough on the playground. I do wonder of the people who support 'spanking' want to bring back the right for the husband to discipline the wife as well? Or the boss his employees?

I don't think our children are that worse behaved than in the US...

THANK YOU for making this post, this incident have been making the rounds in the paper here as well, and I think that it is important to remember that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Feb. 24th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
I do wonder of the people who support 'spanking' want to bring back the right for the husband to discipline the wife as well?

Debi Pearl is so adamant that "God hates divorce" that she believes women should not seek permanent separation even if their husbands engage in life-threatening domestic violence or sexually abuse their children. She says that the proper thing to do in those cases is to report the husband to the police, and then have "romantic" letters and three-minute phone calls and visits - prison is a good place for him to think over his misdeeds, and then she can welcome him home with open arms once he gets out.

I...don't even know where to begin with everything that is wrong with that.
(no subject) - rattsu - Feb. 24th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 24th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
Someone on my friends' list is actually related to this family and she's completely horrified by all of this. More reasons most Christians scare me.
Feb. 24th, 2010 01:00 pm (UTC)
I do think it's important to keep in mind that most Christians, and even most conservative/evangelical Christians, are every bit as horrified by what has happened here and by what the Pearls teach, if not more so. Most of the outcry about this case is happening among the conservative Christian homeschooling community.

I understand the instinct (my husband is a survivor of child abuse with a Christian fundamentalist motivation), but it is no more right (and no more OK) to say that "most Christians" practice what the Pearls preach than it is to say that "most homosexuals" are likely to molest children.
(no subject) - supremegoddess1 - Feb. 24th, 2010 01:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cheshire23 - Feb. 25th, 2010 06:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:26 am (UTC)
In my reading about this, I've seen some sources say that they're giving copies of To Train Up a Child free to military families.

I've also seen estimates that as much as 1/6 of the Christian homeschooling community follows the Pearls' advice. *shudders*
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - teaberryblue - Feb. 26th, 2010 05:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 24th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
I hope you'll forgive me for not making it through this one. :/
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
Is OK *hugs*
Feb. 24th, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC)
I just don't have words....

I mean my parents swatted me on the butt occasionally as a child, but this...

my goodness
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:25 am (UTC)
This was *hard* to write. Necessary, but extremely difficult.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
I know when I first saw the story, I was at work, and all I wanted to do was run off somewhere to cry and then go home and hug my kids.

I run across a lot of horrible stories of abuse in the course of doing my job, but this one is especially upsetting because the parents in this case were literally following the directions of a misguided "expert" and it had deadly results.
Feb. 24th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
That is just horrible. I also don't believe in spanking, as my parents never spanked any of us and had much more useful and less painful ways of making us behave.

Sadly, I have witnessed it first hand. My cousins were physically abused their entire life. I watched as their dad would use paddles and beat them into submission. Not just spanking, but actual beating. It is something I will never forget in my entire life and I wasn't even the one going through it.

I never understood the concept of hitting as punishment anyway. It seems like something you do out of anger, so is it right to teach a child that hitting out of anger is ok?

Those people make me sick.
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:19 am (UTC)
The one case for spanking that makes reasonable sense to me is that it's a consequence that doesn't drag on and on the way that grounding/loss of privileges can, and thus doesn't have the generalized feel of a withholding of love on a more ongoing basis. I don't agree with this personally, but I can at least see the sense in it.

We have a system of privileges tied to a rainbow - Green is the "default" color. Misbehavior will bring Alex down to yellow, orange, or red (depending on how bad it is or how persistent) and continued good behavior will bring her up to blue or purple. Sometimes all it takes is to ask if she really wants to lose her blue or purple over whatever it is...
Feb. 24th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
We do allow spanking in our home. However, it's only a last resort when talking, time out, grounding, and everything else has failed. We also explain to her why she's getting a spanking and exactly how many swats she will be getting. I don't agree with abuse but I do feel there is a time when spanking is good, within limits.

What happened to that little girl should never have happened.
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
And in the world outside my home and family, I can agree with that practice, within those limits as stated. It's something that I just don't do, mostly for faith-motivated reasons, but I'm OK with other people making different decisions - within ANY kind of reason.

"Switching" kids until they can't manage anything more than a broken whimper does not fall anywhere NEAR "within reason", though.
Feb. 25th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
It's horrifying that people can preach that beating a child is ok behavior. As parents, we all have moments when our children seem out of control, which is frustrating, but it certainly does not create a situation where the sensible thing would be to beat your child until they're breathless.

I had an especially difficult morning with my daughter yesterday, and I felt awful about it. I felt awful that she wouldn't behave. I felt helpless in getting her in order. I had one of those awful moments where I thought, "maybe this parenting thing is TOO hard for me right at this moment." A talk with my mom helped me get my head on straight though. She reminded me that children are born selfish. It's a survival tactic because babies can't take care of themselves. It's us, as parents, who teach them to be good people, and to look beyond the selfishness at the greater good of life.

Somehow I think anyone who could hurt a child may have never learned to get past that selfishness, because rather than protect children, they're more interested in protecting their authority or power.
Feb. 25th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
I don't think that it's always about selfishness or even protecting personal authority. The thing that is so horrible about the work of the Pearls (and other authors who take slightly different approaches but also advocate "training" children by using some variant on "the rod" beginning in infancy) is that they literally state that this style of parenting is the only way to save a child's eternal soul, or at the very least the only way to save the child from serious mental health problems. :/
Feb. 25th, 2010 02:16 am (UTC)
I've HAD those moments of wishing that something, anything, would work to Make That Kid Obey Me (or at least Make That Kid STFU) - and this is with all my knowledge of child development and all of my understanding of why the ideal of perfect obedience is both impossible and undesirable. I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind to do all sorts of things that I know I would regret, things that would definitely not be acceptable for someone who believes in non-violent solutions.

I entirely understand this. The story of Lydia Schatz is heartbreaking to me as a parent and as an educator (and a lover of Frog and Toad, which might seem like an odd thing to bring up, but it struck me as a curious detail), but I kept thinking back to my own childhood experiences as I read this. I was spanked once, and that one spanking was plenty enough to last a lifetime.
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
There's so much conflicting advice about what we're supposed to do to be Good Parents or to have Good Children, and it's rather frightening that some of that advice severely injures or kills the children of parents who follow that advice - AND usually explicitly instructs the parents in methods of avoiding mandated child abuse reporters. (That really ought to be a red flag in and of itself!)
Feb. 25th, 2010 03:33 am (UTC)
This is you writing at your strongest and exactly the sort of thing that I was hoping to see when you joined the competition. I love the way that you examine current events and then connect them to your personal experience--all while taking a strong political stand and encouraging others to do so as well in a most subtle way.
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:08 am (UTC)
Aww, thanks! <3

I originally was writing something completely different, but then a link to this story showed up in dark_christian and I felt the need to address it.
Feb. 25th, 2010 04:17 am (UTC)
This was horrifying to read...I hadn't heard this story and it just makes me so sad and upset to read these things. The plumbing supply line? Oh my gosh...that is just too horrible to even think about.

Feb. 25th, 2010 07:02 am (UTC)
Just one more example of how almost any tool *can* be a weapon. :(
Feb. 25th, 2010 04:19 am (UTC)
This story hurts me. So much. I'm glad to read what you've written about it here, it's almost like talking about it and it's been exploding my brain lately and I can't talk about it with my husband because I know it would make him just crazy with rage and he's got enough on his plate right now.

So I hope he hasn't seen the story anywhere.

And yeah, I yell far more often than I'd like. And there was a week or two when Jefferson was acting out in frustration with the reduced attention he was getting after Solomon was born, when I was over-tired and he was being blatantly defiant for seemingly no other reason than to make us crazy and I wanted so much to spank him right then and there. I don't even know what I would have done in those situations if my husband hadn't been there -- my husband who is strong enough to hold Jefferson as he kicks and flails until he calms down, while I am certainly not.

I can certainly understand the temptation to lash out in those moments. And usually, once the crazy has passed, I can be grateful for whatever grace or support I had in those moments that kept me on this side of that line. But I just can. not. wrap my brain around hitting a child for mispronouncing a word.

I have heard interesting things about many churches and organizations in the far-right, evangelical home-schooling communities finally being pushed over the edge by this story -- and delivering sermons, leading workshops on preventing, recognizing, and acting on child abuse.
Feb. 25th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
I have heard interesting things about many churches and organizations in the far-right, evangelical home-schooling communities finally being pushed over the edge by this story -- and delivering sermons, leading workshops on preventing, recognizing, and acting on child abuse.

And it's about damn time, too.

I was homeschooled from almost 8 to almost 12, and for a while LEAH/HSLDA was the only game in town for homeschooling support. So guess what? We got to see the scary anti-CPS skits, but at the time we had NO CLUE what it was that these people wanted to hide from CPS (took them at their word that it was all about alleged "educational neglect"). Given that there has been that limited of a willingness to recognize and report abuse within that spectrum, I'm glad that something woke some people up into at least trying to stop the more egregious harm that can be done with such materials.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 25th, 2010 05:54 am (UTC)
This didn't go on when I was growing up and I'm not sure why.

Some of it is because kids with levels of developmental or emotional problems who once would have been institutionalized or at least put into "special ed" in their home schools are now being raised in their homes and communities and being treated more like "normal" kids. (Alex has a classmate who I believe falls within that spectrum.)

Some of it, you wouldn't have noticed as a kid because it took place in places that are "inappropriate" for kids to be in, so by definition you wouldn't have been there yourself because it sounds like your parents had a clue.

Some of it is because certain parents are getting pickier and pickier about child care, such that they'll just bring their kids along everywhere because they don't trust *anyone* else to watch them. Or, alternatively, it's less expensive to bring the kids than to pay for the sitter. (There are ways that the latter can and should be dealt with instead.)

Some of it is purely a matter of the individual child's temperament. My two girls present very different challenges from each other. My older daughter usually seems to lack the brain-to-mouth filter, and is frequently noisy and bouncy and a bit of a drama queen, but on the other hand she *usually* doesn't just plain get into stuff she shouldn't. My younger daughter is quieter and more mellow, but is also inquisitive as all heck and is right at that INTO EVERYTHING age. I foresee many interesting mishaps in the name of SCIENCE! in her future.

I also think there is tension between people's ideas of where kids do and don't belong. There are places that, yes, should be adults-only with perhaps some VERY limited exceptions for adolescents - R-rated movies, bars, most dance clubs, certain restaurants, certain museums, saunas, etc. There are places that are specifically designed for children - McDonald's with a PlayLand, Chuck E Cheese, matinee showings of G-rated (and many PG-rated) movies, children's museums, zoos, etc. There are a lot of places that are fine for some children some of the time but not appropriate for all children all of the time - for us, the vast majority of restaurants somewhere between Friendly's and four-stars fall into that category, assuming they are indeed restaurants and not bars.

Then there are those public and semi-public spaces that are designed for people-in-general and that you might well need to take your kids to even if you don't want to (often because you need to be there whether you want to or not) - train stations, public transit in general, grocery stores, shopping malls, highway rest stops, and a wide variety of waiting rooms. This is where people who don't really want to be there will encounter parents who may or may not want to be there with kids who DEFINITELY don't want to be there. The kids will be something other than obedient angels, and the parents will feel guilty and judged and the non-parents will feel even more irritated by the kid's presence than they already were by the fact that they have to be there in the first place. (Unfortunately, this exact scenario is one of the reasons that advice like what is found in like To Train Up a Child can seem appealing.)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 25th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:57 am (UTC)
Ah, the Pearls. If there is a hell, I fervently hope they find themselves there.
Feb. 26th, 2010 05:47 am (UTC)
The SPECIAL Hell...
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