Are We Spanking Out of Prejudice?
A self-published book encourages parents to employ corporal punishment to tragic effect, the New York Times reported Monday. The book, To Train Up a Child, is the work of Tennessee preacher Michael Pearl and his wife Debi, and includes recommendations on how to use “the rod” to make children comply with parental authority.
Since 2006, three children have died in households reported to have read the Pearls’ book or followed their website; the parents of the latest victim, who was found dead earlier this year, have been charged with homicide. In spite of these incidents, the Pearls defend their parenting philosophy, saying that while they do not advocate taking corporal punishment to such extremes, they stand by their support of spanking, fasting, and other punitive practices when they are used properly.
The book has proved particularly popular with Christian homeschoolers, whose online discussions of the book spurred sales: there are now more than 670,000 copies of To Train Up a Child in circulation. However, not all conservative Christians ascribe to the Pearls’ suggestions, and in the last several months, the book has sparked rampant debate, giving birth to at least one site devoted exclusively to anti-Pearl arguments.
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, a writer and psychoanalyst, voices concern about issues of child abuse in the introduction to her new book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, to be published in January. The book is an extraordinary study on a prejudice Young-Bruehl argues is rampant in the United States, and calls a break from “the natural order” in which societies provide their children with what Aristotle called “cherishment and education.”
People “mistreat children in order to fulfill certain needs through them, to project internal conflicts and self-hatreds outward, or to assert themselves when they feel their authority has been questioned,” Young-Bruehl writes, and “rely upon a societal prejudice against children to justify themselves and legitimate their behavior.” She notes that the United States is almost entirely alone in its failure to ratify the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been accepted by 192 countries. And as Publishers Weekly has noted this week, the book is “a clarion call for urgent action.”
As evidence of childism, Young-Bruehl quotes statistics indicating that America has the highest rates of child abuse in the world—and one can only imagine that a systemized and categorical treatment of children has informed common practices of abuse. She cites “the belief that…childhood is a time when discipline is the paramount adult responsibility” as a key contributor to childism, and, in looking at some of the Pearls’ followers, it is easy to see how this might be the case.