If you haven’t yet heard of Michael Pearl, let me bring you up to speed. Pearl is a pastor from the small town of Pleasantville, Tenn. Michael and his wife Debi are involved members of their small community and have been for a number of years.
These days, however, Pearl has been gaining notoriety in ways that extend far beyond the small town community in which he resides.
Pearl is the author of a self-published book that has already sold more than 670,000 copies. The text, titled “To Train Up a Child,” has captivated some audiences and repulsed others. As you might have guessed, I belong to that latter group.
Pearl’s book is centered on the concept of how to properly raise and discipline a child, and advocates strongly for the use of various physical punishments to set children straight.
Pearl was quoted as saying that the methods that he describes in his book were modeled after the “same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”
You might wonder why this is all becoming relevant; there are many people in the world who endorse the use of physical punishment in child rearing.
Pearl, however, has attracted quite a bit of attention recently. Over the last year, three children have died in cases of domestic abuse at the hands of parents who all possessed a copy of “To Train Up a Child.”
Most recently, Larry and Carri Williams, a couple out of Sedro-Woolley, Wash., have been charged with the homicide of one of their eight children. Hana Williams, one of the Williams’ two adopted children, was found face-down, naked, cut and bruised in the backyard of the Williams’ residence. Her cause of death was ruled to be exposure, hypothermia and malnutrition.
Allegedly, her parents would deprive her of food for days on end. They often forced her to sleep in a barn outside of their house and did not allow her to bathe, with the exception of being showered in cold water from the outside hose.
One of the Williams’ neighbors stated that Carri frequently praised the book and had given her a copy of it once as a gift. The Williams’ have pleaded guilty to homicide and are currently awaiting the start of their trial.
According to police reports, on the day of Hana’s death, she had been beaten with a 15-inch plastic tube — the same kind explicitly recommended by Pearl in his book.
In a press statement, Pearl defended the statements he made regarding use of this type of implement by stating: “It’s a good spanking instrument; it’s too light to cause damage to the muscle or bone.”
One is led to wonder what to make of all this. Pearl himself has not had any legal action brought against him, as of yet. To be honest, I believe that the larger problem here lies not with Pearl but, rather with his reader base.
Have we honestly hit a point of societal evolution in which the average person can be convinced of something as audacious as abusing children by anyone capable of getting published?
Pearl maintains that it is unfair to blame these extreme cases on his writing, stating that these cases involve the methods they describe being improperly used. It’s hard to imagine that Pearl will face any true consequence — short of becoming a pariah — and, unfortunately, will most likely be able to continue publishing and selling his book.
It seems to me, however, that the greater problem here is the malleability of some American readers. We cannot be expected to advance culturally if we simply accept everything presented to us as fact.
If there could be anything to be learned from these tragedies, it might be that we as a society need to look further than the self-help section of the bookstore to develop new habits and beliefs. Don’t believe everything you read.