To Break Down a Child: A Call for Stories about Pearl-Style Discipline

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To Break Down a Child: A Call for Stories about Pearl-Style Discipline

By Shaney Lee, HARO Board Member


Hana Williams.

Sean Paddock.

Lydia Schatz.

What do these three children have in common? All of their deaths were linked to the abusive teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl in their book To Train Up A Child.

If you weren’t homeschooled growing up, it’s possible, even probable, that you’ve never heard the names Michael and Debi Pearl before. Their success with their publishing efforts are largely due to word-of-mouth through fundamentalist Christian churches and homeschooling communities.

It is estimated that over 670,000 copies of To Train Up A Child are in circulation. That’s at least 670,000 too many. Much of that word of mouth has largely been enabled through homeschooling communities. Their books have been prominently featured in the homeschool editions of Christian Book Distributor’s catalogues, been recommended on homeschooling forums, and handed from parent to parent at homeschooling conventions (not to mention sold in some of the booths).

The Pearls don’t just advocate spanking as a method of child discipline. They advocate a method of discipline that puts the child’s will in direct defiance of God’s will and of the parents’ will, that makes the breaking of a child’s will the ultimate goal of child discipline, and that puts parents in a position to believe that if they are not 100% successful in their discipline, they risk their child’s very soul.

And yet, when these teachings are linked to the death of multiple children, there are thousands who speak up in defense of the Pearls’ teachings.

Enough is enough.

It is time for those of us familiar with the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl to speak up and speak against these abusive methods. It’s time to show that the damage of the Pearls’ method goes beyond just a few parents who got out of control. It’s time to show that it’s justifiable for the Pearls’ teachings to be linked to these horrible outcomes.

If you were raised with the Pearls’ methods, it’s your time to speak. If you’ve read the Pearls’ books and are against what they teach, it’s your time to speak. If you are a parent who previously used the Pearls’ methods, it’s your time to speak.

Even if you’re not normally a fan of what Homeschoolers Anonymous does, I ask you to join us for this series.

Because this issue is bigger than any disagreements we might have about homeschooling. It’s about preventing another Lydia, or Hana, or Sean.

This is not about whether spanking is a legitimate form of discipline (that’s a whole ‘nother discussion in and of itself!). This is about taking a public stand against a method of teaching that is extremely harmful towards children. Any system of childrearing that views children as rebellious little souls whose wills needs to be broken — rather than as small humans who are learning to live and thrive in the world — dehumanizes children and will always be harmful in the end.

Hana, Sean, and Lydia can’t speak up for themselves. It’s up to us to do it for them, to stand up for children who still have a chance. While it is the homeschooling community that has largely enabled the Pearls, I strongly believe it is the homeschooling community that is most equipped to fight against their abusive teaching.

So let’s stand up for our children. They deserve better.


To contribute your story or thoughts:

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.

If you interested in participating in this, please email us at

The deadline for submission is September 15, 2013.

Homeschooling, The Tool My Parents Used Well: Shaney Lee


Homeschooling, The Tool My Parents Used Well

By Shaney Lee, HARO Board Member

I see homeschooling as a tool.

Like a gardening hoe, when used correctly it can help bring life and vitality to living things. Homeschooling is not an end in and of itself; rather, the end is for parents to raise healthy, well-rounded human beings. But used incorrectly, a tool can harm the very things or people it’s meant to help thrive.

My parents were two individuals that I believe used the tool of homeschooling well.

Thanks to their efforts, I was given a solid education that enabled me to get into a well-known university on a full-tuition scholarship and graduate from that same university four years later with honors. I had a wide variety of experiences while homeschooled that I believe contributed to the well-rounded person I am today. And I grew up learning to be comfortable with being the “odd one out” when there were no other homeschoolers around, which I think at least partially contributes to my willingness to risk how others may view me in order to do the right thing.

I also have many memories of things I may not have been able to do had I not been homeschooled: volunteer projects I did during school hours, exploring subjects not typically offered in school, getting to set my own pace.

Would I have received these same benefits had I gone to public or private school, instead of being homeschooled? I’m not sure. I think I probably would have, because I believe that my parents would have taught me many of the exact same things regardless of where I went to school. Even those things I wouldn’t have been able to pursue in school probably would have been pursued in a different way outside of school.

But that’s not really the point I’m trying to make. I don’t feel any need to prove that it was “homeschooling” specifically that contributed to the many positives in my childhood that made me who I am today. The point is that, in the hands of my parents, homeschooling was a tool that they used well (even if they did occasionally make a mistake here or there). Homeschooling wasn’t the only positive experience I could have had. But, it is the positive experience I did have.

And my positive experience with homeschooling is exactly why I chose to become a founding member of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO).

I know that many people see my decision as a sort of betrayal against homeschooling. They assume I must think homeschooling is deeply flawed and dangerous.

But that’s not it at all. It’s precisely because of my positive experience with homeschooling that I believe every child has a right to an equally positive experience. And just like any educational method, homeschooling is a tool that can be used for good or for bad. In the hands of abusive parents, homeschooling can be downright torture. In the hands of good-hearted, well-equipped, healthy parents, homeschooling can provide a child with an excellent education, and potentially open doors that wouldn’t be opened otherwise.

So I am excited for this week of positives.

I think it will show that neither Homeschoolers Anonymous nor HARO are anti-homeschooling. Rather, we are a group of individuals who have a wide range of experiences with homeschooling, but strongly believe that all children have the right to a positive educational experience.