Nov 07 2011

Physical Punishment of Children

by at 7:35 pm under Uncategorized

This article appeared in today’s edition of The New York Times. In class today when we were talking about who is responsible for deciding how and what children learn, I couldn’t stop thinking about this article. However, I felt that as it did not specifically pertain to education I should put it on the blog instead.

The article describes Michael and Debi Pearl, who say that physical discipline of children is necessary. The couple published a book on their teachings, which advocate “systemic use of ‘the rod’ to teach toddlers to submit to authority.” More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls’ book, To Train Up a Child, are in circulation, and their teachings have lead to the deaths of three children by parents who used the book as a guide. Included in the book are “instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, ‘can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.'” The children that have died as a result have been found with severe damage and bodily harm. The basis of the Pearls’ teaching stems from Catholic roots; Mr. Pearl is the pastor of an evangelical church in Tennessee. The article ends with a quote from Mr. Pearl: “To give up the use of the rod is to give up our views of human nature, God, eternity.”

Right off the bat, this article disgusted me. Encouraging corporal punishment of children as young as 6 months of age is, to me, really sickening. Just to show the other side of the article, members of Mr. Pearl’s church are confused by the controversy that the book has caused because they all use his book as a manual and have never had trouble or hurt their children. Still, I believe that it is the responsibility of parents to protect their children from any type of harm. Inflicting harm willingly on one’s child is unthinkable to me.

Additionally, the article notes that the book is particularly popular and used among Catholic parents that home-school their children. In this case, children are being taught completely by their parents – who are using religion as a basis for their children’s education. If the children learn that physical punishment is acceptable and completely defensible through religion, how will they fit into the world? How will they treat others, and how will they treat their own children? This poses a huge problem for me. The children are being engrained with something that is not socially acceptable and dangerous if put into the wrong hands.

It’s easy for me to project my beliefs onto this situation. I’d be interested to see what everyone else thinks.

5 responses so far | Categories: Uncategorized

5 Responses to “Physical Punishment of Children”

  1. Colleen Gravens on 07 Nov 2011 at 9:15 pm

    I also found this article shocking and disgusting. I think this is a clear example of the negative side of “the state of families”, which has parents control their child’s education in respect to their values (Gutmann 13). I found the perspective of Pearl’s daughter interesting because she has chosen to continue these practices with her own children. “’I had a wonderful childhood,’ said their daughter Shoshanna Easling, 28, who is training her two children the same way. ‘My parents never spoke to me in anger, and I can only remember being spanked a couple of times.'” When exposed to certain practices in the context them of being religiously just and a part of growing up, I can understand why Easling would be inclined to continue these practices. However, I think this reproduction of dangerous child discipline is absolutely a time when the state should intervene. Although I still believe parents are an integral part in education and deciding what their children learn, extreme practices like these call for a democratic state that stresses diversity in education decision makers (Gutman 26). If parents can cause such harm to their children, I believe other actors as the sole decision makers, including the state, could cause just as much harm. The downside is that the United States has multiple actors with a say in education, but there are still cases like the Pearls and their book is still being sold.
    How do you think control of education and child rearing could prevent extreme child abuse? Should control of education or child rearing rebuke or punish parents that follow the Pearl’s methods?

  2. Ronak Parikh on 07 Nov 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Along with Colleen, I feel that this article really does tie into the negative consequences of following the “state of families” theory of education in the Gutmann piece. Not all families understand what is the best for their children and in this case the “state of families” theory can only perpetuate negative and harmful practices. Gutmann draws a parallel to this idea when she says, “The state of families appears to foster pluralism by permitting many ways of life to be perpetuated in its midst. But both these attractions are only superficial in a society where many parents would teach racism” (32).

    While it may not have been the case with Shoshanna Easling, many of these children can have traumatic experiences that can affect the course of their lives. This can change their opinions on family, on authority, and even on acceptable behaviors. For example, some of these children (especially as they grow older) may see physical punishment as a solution to problems they have with other individuals in society. As suggested by Gutmann, this experience can in turn narrow the children’s views and limit their exposure to a variety of methods of educational practice or simply in teaching proper behavior. “To reap the benefits of social diversity, children must be exposed to ways of life different from their parents and […] must embrace certain values such as mutual respect among persons…” (33)

    As a side note, if physical punishment is used in educational settings, this practice may also shape a student’s motivation for doing well in school or behaving properly. Here, academic achievement is a product of fear and not necessarily from a passion or a love of learning. Behavior is the same – these children may not understand the true reason for acting in a certain way aside from the negative consequences that acting out of line can cause. Often, the removal of the authority figure practicing the physical punishment can cause a child to explore those same behaviors they were constrained from.

    Overall, I do feel that the circumstances discussed in the article are extreme and frankly disgusting. However, the practice of physical punishment is in fact widespread in many cultures. Barring extenuating circumstances where the punishment is brutal, many cultures utilize smaller physical methods to teach their children about conforming to certain values and principles of society. Now, I won’t say that I agree with this notion of physical punishment but I feel that there is a degree of cultural relativism that must be taken into account when thinking about these issues. Sorry for the digression but just wanted to know what you all think.

  3. Charles Dann on 07 Nov 2011 at 11:34 pm

    That absolutely disgusted me. I cannot believe that almost 700,000 copies of this book are in circulation. It is just staggering.

    Relating to the Guttman piece, this is exactly why parents cannot be the sole decision maker with regards to children. Children deserve the same rights and protection that every citizen enjoys in our democracy. This system of horrific abuse is not only felonious but murderous and cannot be tolerated.

    There are many terrible parents out there. If a child’s well being is solely left up to parents with no “checks” on their power there would be horrible ramifications. It is up to our society to ensure that every kid has a chance. This applies to the home and to education.

  4. Cecelia Evans on 07 Nov 2011 at 11:58 pm

    As agreed by all above, this article is disgusting. As much as we all would like to believe that every parent has and knows what is best for their children, however, as we see in this article, it is clearly not the case.

    We need democracy in our educational system for the very same reason we have democracy in this country. We cannot rely on the decision of one individual; be it the government, church, community, parents, or corporations to be all knowing and have the ability to be selfless and open minded to make the best decision for us all.

    Which brings the question of whether if there is a “best decision” for all. As we discussed in class the fallacy of false dichotomy, we learned that much of life is not in black or white but that it is in shades of gray. In other words, in education, there may not be a “best decision” for us all. There may be multiple “best decision,” each one differing depending on the circumstance and individual at hand.

  5. Sarah McKeown on 12 Nov 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I must admit that I am somewhat torn by this article. On the one hand, I agree with what everyone above has stated about the vagrant misuse of discipline on their children, often carrying their punishments too far and actually hurting their children. But on the other hand, I can also see the right that parents have to lightly punish their children physically, as long as they don’t cross over the boundaries of discipline to abuse. I don’t necessarily think that the Pearls’ interpretation of the Bible should be taken literally, and I think that they are causing people to view Catholics in a negative light. The article quotes Bible passages that say things like “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.” While beating a child with some sort of possession was appropriate when the Bible was written, I think that what it is really saying is that parents are responsible for disciplining their children because that is one way to show that they love them and care about them.

    When I was growing up, I remember getting spanked. It wasn’t because my parents wanted to hurt me; it was because they wanted me to learn right from wrong. I can remember my mother threatening to use a belt to spank me, although she only ever used her hand, and only ever on my bottom, where she knew it wouldn’t really hurt me. And my father refused to do so, often deferring the punishment-giving to my mother because he always told her “I have such big hands. I can’t imagine spanking her. I might hurt her.” In this sense, I truly believe parents have a right to spank their children, because sometimes that physical repercussion and the shock that a child experiences when their parent actually follows through with a punishment is necessary for a child to learn from their mistakes. I remember getting spanked when I was little, but it didn’t scar me by any means, because my parents did it in a way that demonstrated that they cared, often telling me afterwards why what I did was wrong and why they had to punish me. Because they did it in a constructive manner and not out of anger, it eventually fell to the wayside as a punishment as I got older because it grew unnecessary. In this way, I do agree with the Pearls’ advice that “parents should be loving, spend a lot of time with their children, be clear and consistent, and NEVER strike in anger” (although I don’t believe rods, pipes, or other instruments besides the hand or a spatula should be used on a child, and I think a child should only be spanked on their bottom to avoid any real pain or possible injury).

    I think the anger aspect is what the parents who use the Pearls’ book forget about. I think parents sometimes become so angry when their child misbehaves and that it is what causes punishments like spanking to go too far. I also think that some of the other punishments that the Pearls recommend go past discipline and enter the realm of abuse, such as making a child hose off outside after lapsing in their potty training or withholding food from them when they are hungry. These punishments are just too severe for small children, and I don’t even think punishments such as spanking are necessary until the child is old enough to understand the purpose of the punishment in the first place (six months old is just too young because they won’t understand what they did wrong). For a lot of reasons, I am against the use of the Pearls’ book as a tool for disciplining children. I think a lot of their proposed punishments are too severe and blur the lines of discipline and abuse. The use of tools to hit or spank children, especially on places on their bodies that are so easily susceptible to bruises and injuries (arms, legs, etc) is just too severe. However, as far as their belief in spanking (when used out of love, and when limited in severity) in order to teach children right from wrong and how the Bible encourages parents to love their children and be invested in their children’s’ proper upbringing, in a very general way I agree with the overarching sentiment of their teaching.

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