Parenting book missing childlike innocence

“To Train up a Child” looks innocent enough.

The angelic, blue-eyed baby boy on the book cover grasps a fishing pole in one hand and an adult finger in the other. “650,000 IN PRINT” is emblazoned on the bottom. The Amazon product description says, “As you come to understand the difference between training and discipline, you will have a renewed vision for your family – no more raised voices, no contention, no bad attitudes, fewer spankings, a cheerful atmosphere in the home and total obedience from your children.”

But the customer reviews tell a completely different story.

User reviews for the book, written by evangelist parents of five, Michael and Debi Pearl, read everything from, “This book teaches parents to treat their children worse than dogs!” to “If you’re a sadist at heart and want to travel the road of child abuse as instructed by professionals this is the book for you.”

Last month, “To Train up a Child” was found in the home of a Seattle family who abused their 13-year-old adopted daughter until her death. The girl, 30 pounds underweight when her body was found, was quite possibly subjected to the Pearls’ method of training children to eat — “If you get a child who is particularly finicky and only eats a limited diet, then feed him mainly what he doesn’t like until he likes it.”

A similarly horrifying story was revealed last year, when a fundamentalist Christian couple, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, disciplined an adopted daughter from Liberia for mispronouncing a word. The girl died after she was beaten for seven continuous hours with plastic tubing, only being spared for short prayer breaks, according to the Anderson Cooper 360 segment, “Ungodly Discipline,” that aired in August.

The kind of treatment the Pearls encourage in this book is horrifying — tripping toddlers so they fall into deep water, hitting several-month-old children for crying and frequent beatings with a plumbing pipe, which has been the common thread in all of the known deaths of children whose parents ascribe to “To Train Up a Child,” including another of a 4-year-old in 2006. Bible literalists like the Pearls have been known to use Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him,” to rationalize the harsh physical discipline of children.

All this can be yours for just $7.95 (not including shipping) on Amazon.com.

I wondered immediately why this book was still so easy to procure. If there is some semblance of censorship on Amazon, why was it not being exercised here?

One of the few publicized instances I could find of removing content from Amazon was a book on child pedophilia — “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct.” The removal came after a massive online protest complained of Amazon’s initial decision to keep it online. In a statement made to TechCrunch, spokespeople said, “Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.” They also said it was “censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message was objectionable.” The only other removals I could find involved “incest-themed erotica.”

I never heard back from Amazon’s press office, but a friendly customer service woman told me that as far as she knew, the site didn’t pull products unless there was a recall.

Being a free speech advocate myself, I had to consider this issue seriously.

Washington Post “On Faith” blogger Brad Hirschfield wrote that prosecutors in the case against the Schatz couple couldn’t make an additional case for legal liability against the Pearls, and that as frustrating as it was, “That is probably as it should be given the importance of freedom of expression and the chilling effect upon it were it possible to hold (Michael) Pearl legally culpable for the death of Lydia Schatz.”

The freezing effect definitely is a concern for Americans; if we decide to stop the speech anyone deems “dangerous,” we could have a serious problem on our hands. People can find “danger” anywhere — in the Bible, in fictional novels, probably even in “Goodnight Moon.” The difference here is that these deaths came not as broad interpretations of “To Train Up a Child,” but from following suggestions explicitly. The Pearls aren’t forcing anyone to injure or kill their children, but they are planting some dangerous ideas in the heads of impressionable people. We can’t legally say the Pearls shouldn’t be allowed to write these books. But we can, and should, make it harder to sell them.

If fundamentalist Christian families are “training up” children in isolated places, as in the other cases, we have to think about protecting the ones suffering in silence. Their speech should be free, too.

_Megan is a senior in Media._