Tragedy in a homeschooling family

A daughter killed by her own parents. Can anyone imagine a more heart-wrenching story? A California couple have been charged in the death of their 7 year old daughter.

Children are precious blessings from God. To beat them until their will breaks is a monstrous offense against God. I understand that for some children, a swat on the backside might be an appropriate punishment from time to time. Perhaps several swats.

In my judgment it is a mistake to ever use anything other than an open hand on the backside. And it is a mistake to ever initiate an open-ended, physical punishment with the idea that you will not stop until the child submits or repents. A spanking is a specific, limited punishment. 3, or 5, or perhaps 10 swats for something really serious. And then it is over. Regardless of the child’s reaction. Children will react in unique and different ways. At least one of our children would burst into tears at a frown or a sharp rebuke. At least one of them once responded to a spanking with a defiant, “that didn’t hurt!” Youthful bravado. I suspect the spanking had exactly its intended purpose, regardless of their comment.

But to hold a child down for an hour? And beat the child with a flexible plastic pipe? Because she mispronounced a word? Monstrous.

The parents must answer for what they have done. And those who taught them that this was an acceptable manner of discipline must answer for what they have taught.

I will not condemn those who never spank. I have known parents who were quite successful without ever using a spanking. I also will not condemn those who, on infrequent occasions, administer a swat to the behind with a hand. I know many warm, loving, compassionate parents who believe that at times, it is necessary. And they have lovely, loving, affectionate children.

But I do call on those who use physical punishment as their first, or most frequent discipline tool to stop. And I condemn any parent who would use a plastic pipe to beat a child. Ever. I condemn anyone who would instruct others to do so.

Read Ephesians. Read it again. Husbands and fathers – focus on what Paul calls husbands and fathers to do. Love your wives. Love your children. Deny yourselves and lay down your life for your wife. Be patient and kind. Do not exasperate your children.

Every child is a precious gift from God and dear to His heart. Even when they stomp their feet and disobey – it is a misguided sense of pride to think that this in any way impugns our position, dignity, or competence as parents.

Focus on love – not on creating an image of obedience and perfection.

Put away wrath. Put away the idol of perfection. Put away the damn plastic pipe!

Please, as a father and a teacher – as an encourager of fathers, I appeal to you. Make your spankings rare and short. And your beatings never.

Other bloggers have written posts on this tragedy which are worth reading:

Virginia Knowles, Katie Kind, and Timberdoodle are good places to start.

There is a remarkably even-handed article in Salon by Lynn Harris, which was published today. It literally drove me to my knees in anguish. A word of caution! The comments are almost uniformly hostile to Christianity in general and spanking in particular. This would NOT be the place or the time to defend corporal punishment. Read the comments if you dare, but set aside your anger. The death of Lydia is a tragedy, for the loss of her precious life. It is also a scandal to the whole body of Christ. We must acknowledge this.

A thoughtful critique from Tulipgirl, written in 2006 but still quite relevant, and with links to useful resources. Her reaction to the latest tragedy is here.

Update: SpunkyHomeSchool blog (Karen Braun) has a thoughtful post up that is also worth reading.

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  1. Karen Brummett’s avatar

    Great commentary, Rob.
    There are bad apples in every sphere of community and the rest of us should not be judged by them! In order to help prevent misconception (as well as the greater goal of protecting children!), let the homeschooling community and the church be the first, and the loudest, to stand up and condemn such abuse and cry out for legal justice.

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  2. Virginia Knowles’s avatar

    Rob, great tears of (bittersweet) joy to see that you have raised your voice on this issue — and even that you linked to my little blog, which usually gets 1 or 2 hits a day but has had about 1,000 in the past week. I was just sitting down to write to you and a few others about this. Thank you, brother, from the bottom of my heart!

    For the children, for the families,
    For justice & mercy in the name of Jesus,
    Virginia Knowles
    Home schooling mother of 10

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  3. thatmom’s avatar

    Thank you so very much for adding your voice in speaking out against this tragedy within the homeschooling community. As a long time homeschooling mom and now a grandmother to 10 homeschooled grandchildren, I love homeschooling and am enjoying the wonderful fruits of this type of education. I also grieve when I see how relationships in homeschooling families are assumed to be adversarial rather than the place where grace abounds and lifelong relationships are birthed and nurtured. We need more sound voices who are willing to step forward and speak out against teachings that I believe will ultimately bring unnecessary consternation on homeschooling since most homeschooling moms and dads do not abuse their precious children.

    Karen Campbell

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  4. Virginia Knowles’s avatar

    Rob, much gratitude that you posted this! Thank you for adding your voice to the cause!

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  5. shadowspring’s avatar

    Rob,

    Thank you so much for posting this. Men need to make their voices heard about this horrific tragedy.

    I appreciate your taking the time to write, and your intelligent compassionate and godly words are just what I have come to expect from the publisher of Greenleaf Press history guides.

    I am hoping more home schooling fathers will add their own voices to the call for an end to the teachings of the Pearls and others like them who demand complete compliance and perfect first time “obedience” from their children.

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  6. Mary M.’s avatar

    Excellent, excellent article, thank you. All I can say is ditto.

    By the way, I found your blog through the facebook group inspired by, and in tribute to Lydia, the girl who died.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=325443419900

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  7. michele Raymond’s avatar

    Thanks, Rob. I’m posting here and on another site that you shared in your blog. It’s a long post, but I hope all of us as parents can learn at least something from this tragedy and love on our children all the more.

    First of all, I pray that young girl is enjoying much gentleness in Jesus’ everlasting arms right now! And I pray for justice for the parents who committed this atrocity and a safe, loving environment for the other poor children in that house. What fear they must have lived in!

    Years ago I read about half of the extremist parenting works being discussed in this story until I couldn’t take it any more. I saw little love but a hyper-legalistic, pharaisaical structure of household discipline.

    I found out too late that a close friend of mine was whipping her two daughters with some kind of object that left stripes across their backs. She claimed to have read most of this couples’ materials, though she never said whether or not she was following their exact recommendations. After a doctor’s visit, this mother was reported and put on probation. To this day, the relationship she has with her daughters is strained at best. Thankfully, in her case, both daughters and mother received counseling before anyone died, though I think the psychological, emotional, and spiritual scars will last a lifetime.

    It’s my hope through the terrible tragedy of the death of this young girl that parents every where will seriously reconsider how they show love to their children.

    In large part, how our earthly fathers show love to us is how we view God our Heavenly Father, at least in our younger years, even if we don’t want to believe that that’s true. Do we want our children to picture God as full of anger, wrath and demanding our obedience lest he “beat us into submission?” Or, do we want our children to see God as a merciful Father, “slow to anger, abounding in love,” quick to forgive all of our transgressions and mistakes, gently guiding us through life’s pains and problems?

    In addition to trying to draw the line of where child abuse begins, I think we should look at “drawing the line” of where hypocrisy and outright blasphemy begins. The apostle John gives stern warnings to anyone who adds to Scripture. When someone tries to justify child abuse “in the name of Jesus” and take a legalistic, self-righteous view of why beating children with plastic is entirely okay, I believe they are guilty of greatly adding to scripture and perverting the gospel.

    Sure, the Bible talks about disciplining children but not with instruments or weapons that can kill and never to the point of death or anywhere near it! The Bible has many more passages on love.

    I have homeschooled our three children for ten years now. We used to spank occasionally with our hands, brief and to the point. About four years ago, I quit spanking altogether, realizing that even if I tried not to spank in anger, the act of spanking itself made me feel sad or angry or both. So, I quit.

    I still take away privileges from time to time or have a lecture time. Both of these methods are more despised than any spanking! Yesterday, one of my children decided to refuse to do her math problems. She started ranting and raving at me. I calmly asked her brother (who has asperger’s syndrome and is obsessed with filmmaking) if he would get the camcorder and film his sister and I trying to get through math with her screaming. The playback was priceless. Now that she sees how ridiculous and rude she looked on tape, I doubt she’ll be having any more fits any time soon.

    Anyway, I’m by no means a perfect parent. I’ve learned so much from Ross Campbell’s How to Really Love Your Child and his How to Really Love Your Teen.

    Right now, I’m reading some books by homeschool dad Scott Turansky which are excellent. He focuses on showing love and kindness first to your children, then working through the behavior issues and encourages parents to “stay out of the boxing ring.” If this homeschool couple would have done so over the years, think how differently things would’ve resulted. I hope the mentioning of these books might encourage other parents who are fixated on extreme and possibly illegal and fatal methods of parenting to try something else that might have much better, happier results with more loving and joyful homes.

    Michele R.

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  8. Sharideth Smith’s avatar

    Well said. It should be no hardship for us as Christian homeschoolers to respond to this with outrage and a complete rejection of these people as being abusers who’s only relationship to us is the title they bear.

    My response will be simple, these people, those who believe as they do and the Pearl’s who propagate this frankly, anti-biblical methodology, are not accepted by me or my family as any sort of standard or worthy of protection from scrutiny.

    The outcry over this should be deafening. I can only hope the “should” will result in “will”.

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  9. Anne’s avatar

    Thank you so much for writing about this. I will add this to my list of posts worth reading on my own blog post about this subject.

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  10. Samuel Martin’s avatar

    There are so many misunderstandings out there about what the Bible teaches about spanking children that are often promoted by religious campaigners.

    My work seeks to help offer some more biblical information regarding some of the ideas surrounding spanking children. I hope that those interested in a more biblical approach will find my work helpful.

    Samuel Martin
    Jerusalem Israel
    http://www.biblechild.com

    Reply

  11. mamazee’s avatar

    this story makes me heartsick. My husband said “how on earth can you hold down the natural drive parents have to take care of your child?”

    I don’t understand how this happened.

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  12. caligirl’s avatar

    I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Shearer, and everyone else who is speaking out about the Pearls. I’m afraid to go into too much detail about my own family situation for fear of losing my ability to see the children involved, but to summarize, I believe that children in my family have been seriously hurt physically and emotionally by parents who were influenced by the Pearls’ materials. This started when their first child was spanked at only a few months of age for crying, and by the time the child was a toddler the parents were using a paddle, a wooden spoon, and a metal rod to the point of leaving bruises on their child. It was always done in places that would not be seen in public, such as on the upper legs, back, etc.
    Every time someone in our family tried to intervene we would be told that the parents would move far away and we would never see their children again. It was agony knowing this was going on but not knowing how to stop it. I wrote to the Pearls, as did others in my family, about our concern about spanking to the point of bruising, but they did not respond. When I came across a story about the Schatz family in my local newspaper, and then saw Michael Pearl’s Facebook quote in which he says that he is laughing, it made my blood run cold. When he says that all of the people who use his materials have happy children, I know this is not true. I have not even mentioned the emotional abuse & humiliation that has been inflicted on the children in my family by their parents, which I also traced to things that Pearl recommends. I remember when we were going through the worst of this experience in my family I started having nightmares about one of the children being killed by their parents. It’s probably too late to undo a lot of the damage already done, and I will probably carry a feeling of guilt for not figuring out a way to intervene for the rest of my life. The only positive thing I can see to come out of the horror of Lydia Schatz’ death is that maybe now the tide is shifting a little against the Pearls. Please keep speaking out. Thank you all. I will keep all of you in my prayers.

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  13. Karen Flanagan’s avatar

    Hi Rob. We love the Greenleaf stuff and have used it for….goodness 12 years now!

    Anyway, I just found out about all this yesterday from an e-mail chain. (Frankly, I have gotten so I avoid the news. It’s all just too much for me sometimes, but I digress…) my husband and I have read all the Pearl parenting stuff, and I must say, we view them favorably for the most part. We never interpreted anything they wrote to mean beat your kid till he breaks or dies. When swats were warranted, we usually gave swats per age. But really none of our kids (7 boys with very different personalities) required swats much after 6 or seven. By then, love, real- life consequences, trust, relationship, and privileges seemed to drive obedience or disobedience.

    Michael Pearl sometimes comes across authoritarian or gruff, but my goodness, as a nurse, 30% of all my male patients are like that, at least to me. I think it’s just his personality type. I don’t think he is bad or controlling or unloving. It seems folks focus on the “rod” stuff and miss all the relationship, “tying strings”, “keep your home joyful”, “enjoy your children” stuff.

    I think we as a christian community are so fearful of messing up our kids, we’ll follow almost anyone’s advice be it, Dobson, Ezzo, Trumball, or Pearl. What we really need are only two things; know Jesus, know our children. If we’re too busy focusing on some manual, then we aren’t focused on either Jesus or our children. It’s all about relationship as near as I can tell, but my oldest is only 17, so I’m still pretty green.

    As one commenter above put it, “. My husband said “how on earth can you hold down the natural drive parents have to take care of your child?” Therein lies the real trouble. I don’t care whose parenting advice one follows, something is wrong with this couple as evidenced by the fact that that “natural drive” did not kick in. This is horribly tragic beyond anything I can imagine, but I don’t believe Michael Pearl is to blame. Just out of curiosity, I wonder if anyone that disagrees with his teachings has contacted him privately, in accordance with Matthew 18:15-17?

    In the meantime, I sincerely hope and pray that these poor children, Lydia’s brothers and sisters, can come to understand that Jesus is Love.

    Karen

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  14. Kathy’s avatar

    A commenter above you mentions that she and other family members wrote to the Pearls about a disturbing situation in their own family, but received no response.

    However, what I wanted to point out, Karen, is that Matthew 18 applies when someone sins against you. It doesn’t apply to situations where there is a public teaching that is false or dangerous.

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