Anderson Cooper 360: Interview with Michael Pearl

Date: 2011-10-26

Still ahead, ungodly discipline. We reported on the death of two adopted kids whose parents followed Michael and Debi Pearl, the authors of a Christian guide called "To Train up a Child." They say their book doesn't advocate abuse, but it does say parents should spank their kids until it hurts. They take no responsibility for the deaths of kids whose parents use their techniques. We'll ask Michael Pearl about that when he joins us.

Also ahead, what killed Amy Winehouse? We now have the answers. The results of an inquiry into her death are coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Last night, we reported on the death of a 13-year-old named Hana Williams. Prosecutors say that her adoptive parents repeatedly starved and abused her and then last May left her outside in the cold to punish her. Hana died of hypothermia. Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homicide.

The case bears a striking resemblance to a story we first called "Ungodly Discipline." Seven-year-old Lydia Schatz was beaten to death by her adoptive parents, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz. Both were convicted in the case and went to prison. Like Hana Williams, Lydia was adopted from Africa by a Christian fundamentalist couple.

The girls also had something else in common. Their parents owned copies of a Christian parenting guide called "To Train Up a Child." Authors Michael Pearl and his wife, Debi, say their writings are based on the Bible. Michael Pearl told Gary Tuchman the book doesn't advocate abuse, but it does tell parents it is their religious duty to spank their children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL PEARL, AUTHOR, "TO TRAIN UP A CHILD": I don't use the term "hitting."

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's the word?

M. PEARL: Spanking.

TUCHMAN: And is there a difference? M. PEARL: Absolutely. A hand is hitting. A little switch is spanking. A wooden spoon or a spatula, rubber spatula, that's spanking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: In the book, the Pearls describe exactly how to spank a child. They also talked about that with Gary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Let's say a 7-year-old slugs his sister.

M. PEARL: He would get -- a 7-year-old would get 10 or 15 licks, and it would be a formal thing. In other words, you maintain your patient air. You explain to him that what he's done is violent and that that's not acceptable in society, and it's not acceptable at home. And then I would take him somewhere, like into his bedroom, and I would tell him I'm going to give him 15 licks.

TUCHMAN: With what?

M. PEARL: Probably a belt on a kid that big, a boy. I'd probably use a belt. It would be handy. I might use a wooden spoon or a piece of, like, plumbing supply line a quarter-inch in diameter, flexible enough to roll up.

TUCHMAN: See, what I'm saying here is why not just use your hand instead of all these materials?

M. PEARL: Hey, look here. Right here. Let me show you something. Does that hurt?

TUCHMAN: It doesn't feel good.

M. PEARL: But look what it's doing. Look what it's doing to your whole body. See? You don't use your hand on somebody. That's a karate chop.

TUCHMAN: You're telling me that when you use this material, that it can't cause permanent pain?

DEBI PEARL: (INAUDIBLE)

M. PEARL: My children -- my children never had marks left on them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The point the Pearls make in their book is that a spanking should hurt. Anything short of that, they say, is a failure in God's eyes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. PEARL: Rubbing the spaghetti all over your head, you shouldn't have done that at seven years of age.

TUCHMAN: OK. And that hurts. And I'm 50.

M. PEARL: OK. But are there any marks on you?

TUCHMAN: No. But you would hit -- you would hit a five-year-old like that?

M. PEARL: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: After Lydia Schatz died, the Pearls denied their book played any role in her death. They say what happened to her is not what their book teaches. They've released a similar statement about Hana Williams.

Tonight, Michael Pearl agreed to come on the program to answer some of our questions. I spoke to him just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Mr. Pearl, you're explicit that you're not in any way advocating child abuse or the extremes that cause these girls' deaths in the two cases, but if people who think they're following your book end up killing kids, does that concern you? Does that worry you?

M. PEARL: Yes. What that does is causes us to renew our efforts to reach these people before they do do something terrible. There's a -- there's an awful lot of people out there, probably in the millions, that are abusive to their children. There are men abusive to their wives. There's wives abusive to their husbands and their children, and these things have been going on, and they will go on. And it's -- where we can, we need to do something about it.

COOPER: But you don't feel it has anything to do with what you're -- what you're advocating?

M. PEARL: Of course not, no more than Alcoholics Anonymous would feel like they were responsible for an alcoholic that they failed to reform who went out and had a drunk-driving accident and killed someone.

COOPER: But your analogy doesn't really hold up with the Alcoholics Anonymous, because Alcoholics Anonymous is telling people not -- alcoholics not to drink. You are advocating people hitting kids, or what -- you call it spanking -- beating, what have you. You are advocating a severe form of corporal punishment for -- for parents.

M. PEARL: That's absolutely incorrect. We do not advocate hitting children, and we do not advocate any severe corporal punishment.

In fact, in my literature, if you read it, I speak against corporal punishment. What we teach is -- our book is called "To Train Up a Child." And we talk to parents about how they can train their children up to be happy, creative, cheerful, emotional -- emotionally stable. And so we teach that, in the process of training small children, we use corporal chastisement.

Corporal chastisement is not retributive justice designed to punish the child for the misdeeds. Corporal chastisement is getting the child's attention so that you can admonish him, teach him, instruct him, and guide him in the way he should go.

COOPER: I want to read something that you write about -- about what parents should use to spank their child. You said, "Any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain. Select your instrument according to the child's size. For the under 1-year-old child, a small, 10- to 12-inch-long willowy branch stripped of any knots that might break the skin, about one-eighth inch in diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a suitable substitute. For the larger child, a belt or a three-foot cutting off a shrub is effective."

You say you -- you don't advocate hitting or hurting or beating kids or leaving any marks on them, which under the law is considered child abuse, but in fact, in your book, you are saying spankings have to cause pain, and you're talking about spanking a baby under one- year-old with a ruler. How does a baby not end up bruised and hurting when it's hit with a ruler?

M. PEARL: Well, your changing the word "spank" to "beat" or "hit" is inflammatory rhetoric that obscures what I'm saying.

COOPER: Well, spanking is hitting. You can -- you can argue about semantics, but using a ruler -- to use the specific example of using a ruler on a baby under 1-year-old, how does that not, you know, cause pain and leave a -- leave a mark?

M. PEARL: If it were insignificant -- insignificant semantics, you wouldn't be so bent on changing the word "spank" to "beat" or "hit."

Spanking is well understood, traditionally. I represent 230 million parents who practice corporal chastisement on their children. And they call it "spanking" or "swatting." They do not call it "beating" or "hitting." Because there's a clear distinction.

The distinction is spanking is administered for the child's good, and it's done with an instrument. It's done, not in order to create pain. It's not done in order to create significant pain. It's not done in order to create suffering. It's done to gain the child's attention so you can admonish them.

COOPER: What about talking to them about it? Does that not work?

M. PEARL: Well, did it work for you? Did it work for your family? Does talking make a 1-year-old and 2-year-old... COOPER: It worked for me in my family, but I don't try to put what happened in my family onto other people. But I'm just curious. In your opinion, what's wrong with talking to the child about why you don't grab food off somebody's plate?

M. PEARL: Well, if you read our book, you'd know that talking precedes that. There's a whole lot of conditioning that precedes...

COOPER: Talking alone, you say, is not enough?

M. PEARL: No. No, in many cases, it's not. In most cases, it is. But spanking is not something we do all the time. Sometimes you might not spank a kid over once a month or once a year.

COOPER: But you do advocate carrying around and having, in various rooms of the house and in the car, in some cases, a -- I want to get -- make sure I have the wording right here. You write, "Many people are using a section of quarter-inch plumber's supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around your neck. You can buy them for under $1 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line."

So you are advocating parents carry around plumber supply lines with them so they can, if they want to, in your words, spank their child any time throughout the day.

M. PEARL: That springs from a story that took place. I went into an Amish woman's house who had about ten kids all under 12 years old. And that's a pretty big brood. And she had a little piece of supply line about a foot long, maybe, hanging around her neck.

And so every time -- I asked her why it was there. She said, "Well, when the children are disobedient, I have it right at hand. I don't have to go looking for it." And she said, "Just the presence of it hanging around my neck lets them know that they have to walk the line, and so they're obedient."

So I thought that was a humorous thing. So I suggested to people that you make sure you keep your little swatters close at hand, because we don't want to make a big deal out of spanking children. We want to have something ready to right where they sit. If you've got a little boy that reaches over and pulls the hair of his brother, you want to first to him say, "No, don't do that." But if he pulls again...

COOPER: But you do know that in both cases of these girls who died and were killed, the parents did keep these plumbing supply lines around the house.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes these conditions actually create such a climate of fear and intimidation for a child that it actually affects their development by changing -- changing the way nerve connections in the brain develop. Do you buy any of that? M. PEARL: Well, there's lots of science, lots of research that's been done, lots of psychologists that disagree with that heartily. Research has been shown that spanking creates children that are more higher educationally, that they're less aggressive, that they are more entrepreneurial, that they in every way make better citizens when young children are spanked. That's just statistics, just the facts.

Ninety percent of all Americans practice spanking. So all I'm doing is representing...

COOPER: Sorry. I don't want to interrupt you, sir.

M. PEARL: All I'm doing is representing what traditionally Americans have done.

Now as to your question about the children, no. When you have -- there's been about 1,600 children a year are killed by their parents through either neglect or direct abuse. That's an awful number. And the fact that, in 15 years of writing books and reaching several million people with our literature, only three parents happen to have our book in their home, that's like saying that, again, an Alcoholics Anonymous book in the home what caused them to have a drunk-driving accident. There's no correlation.

The parents had the book. These parents had the book because they were already molesting their children. They were already -- one of the parents was making their child eat feces, locking them outdoor in the cold, starving them. Those are not things they could get out of my book. Those are things that -- that they had a predisposition to.

The book there didn't cause those things to take place. I'm just sorry it couldn't -- it didn't reach them soon enough to stop those negative habits.

COOPER: No doubt about that. The American Academy of Pediatrics told us that your teachings go way beyond most people's understanding of corporal punishment and spanking, that they say they're violent, unacceptable and that you can't train a child the same way you train a dog or a horse, because kids' brains develop differently. Human brains develop differently at a young age and are going to respond differently.

M. PEARL: Well, they are a small minority voice in a great number of scientists and researchers who say differently. There's just a lot of evidence...

COOPER: You say you can train a child like an animal? Like you would train a horse? Or...

M. PEARL: You know, I live on a farm. I have horses and cows and chickens and pigs and all that sort thing. And I read a lot. And I noticed that the zoologists and the people who work with animals study animals in terms of how it compares to human behavior.

When I was in college and took a course in psychology, there was quite a few articles in there that dealt with animal behavior and how it compares to human behavior.

So all I have said is that, if you can train a stubborn mule to go up a hill when he doesn't want to go, then you can train a 1- or a 2- or 3-year-old child that gets stubborn. So the training principles are similar.

Let me give you the first principle in training an animal. The first principle in training an animal is you establish a relationship with trust. The first principle in training a child is establish a relationship of trust.

The second principle is the animal must know that you're not going to hurt him, and you must know that he's not going to hurt you. And that's the second principle in training children. There has to be confidence that neither one of us are going to hurt the other one.

And then you have to communicate to the animal your will. That's the third principle in training children. Communicate your will.

So yes, there's a parallel between training dogs, training horses, training cows, training chickens, training a turtle or a lizard. The principles are the same across the board. And any psychologist would tell you that that's the case if they're familiar with animals.

COOPER: Mr. Pearl, I really do appreciate your time. And it's obviously a controversial subject. And you represent a lot of people's beliefs. And I respect that. I appreciate you being on. Thank you.

M. PEARL: Well, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We asked Mr. Pearl's representatives after the interview about the study that he was referring to. He mentioned a study by Po Bronson. We called Mr. Brunson, who's been a guest on this program before, and asked him about that study. He told us the study does not at all condone spanking and it's a misuse of the science.

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