Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Good People Make Dangerous Choices (Pondering Pearl and Lydia Schatz) Part III: Defining Aggression as Normal, Acceptable, and Desired Behavior

Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz chose to follow the teachings of Michael Pearl, learning far too late that their duty to do follow Pearl's system in the right way, their trust in his system, and their loving intent proved quite inadequate, resulting in both serious disease in one child and death in another. In previous posts we discussed several factors that contribute to the perfect storm that causes good, normal, and trusting people to lose perspective, falling into dangerous and deadly patterns. “Moral disengagement” and “cultures of obedience” foster these evil consequences, but there are even more factors that contribute to the development of dangerous degrees of blind obedience.

Albert Bandura not only demonstrated the significance of moral disengagement in the development of violence as noted in this post, but he also developed the theory of social learning which concerns learning through the imitation of behavior. In 1961, he did a landmark study with a Bobo Doll to evaluate how children respond to violent behavior, showing how children learn by observation of adults who set an acceptable standard for them. A child's penchant to learn through imitation might seem very obvious to most people, but Bandura demonstrated how easily and readily the children imitated the aggressive and violent behavior modeled by adults. The children in his Bobo Doll Study were not instructed to behave violently and received no reward for doing so.

In the study, a woman aggressively attacks the doll by throwing it, beating it, sitting on it, and hitting it with small toy hammers while she is observed by children. Those children were then placed in that room where they had watched the grown woman attack the doll, by themselves and without direct supervision. Every child in the study proceeded to aggressively attack the doll, and they employ other devices such as a toy gun in the toy chest in the room to use against the doll. Some of the children were rather creative in their play, testing out their new methods independently that were not modeled by the adult. Several variations of the study have been repeated since the initial one, including the substitution of the doll with a live clown. The results always prove to be the same. The children attack, and they continue to independently expand their behavior to include new methods of attack, above and beyond what they observed in the adult who introduced the aggressive behavior.

This video includes only a portion of the responses recorded during the initial study. If you can make it through the music in the beginning, the second song that plays midway through the video until the end is rather comical in context. This particular video features the representative and responsive behavior of one boy and one girl.

By citing this study, I hope to communicate a message about how one establishes acceptable behavior and its effects on the behaviors of others, a matter that I believe applies to the concerns about Michael Pearl as well as the Schatz Family. As adults, we continue to remain social creatures, and we are deeply yet subtly affected by the actions of others. The behavior of those around us sets a standard which suggests which behaviors should be tolerated, rejected, or embraced. When we see a leader, an expert, and especially, a minister set a standard, it bears an even greater significance for us and carries a greater level of influence.

In the interest of ethics, particularly in the wake of WWII, psychologists began to study the ethics of behavior, not because they saw human beings as evolutionary animals but because they wanted to prevent the development of the same conditions that allowed the Nazis and Jewish Holocaust to flourish. These efforts within social psychology test the veracity of what we tend to observe every day and put tried and tested quantitative values and estimates on behavior so that we CAN put the significance of behavior into perspective. These scientifically qualified and quantitative studies helps us understand specifically how potent our behaviors really are within groups.

In terms of modeled behavior that we see in all people regardless of their subcultures, one third of everyday people will observe and follow a group's behavioral consensus when their own behaviors are visible within that group and when the behavior is unanimous. (Conservative Christians show no notable differences in behavior from those within the general population.) The presence of only one or two dissidents among a person's peers [non-authority figures] also has a profound effect on individuals' public behavior within a group, dropping that figure of behavioral conformity down to a consistent 10%. Just one person's behavior holds a tremendous amount of power in terms of group behavior, far more power than they ever realize. An individual holds the power of choice, and because of the potency of his own individual behavior, each individual also bears a duty to those around them concerning their behavioral choice in terms of ethics. Upcoming posts will specifically examine the much higher level of compliance demonstrated by individuals in response to the expectations of an authority figure.

Opening Pearl's “Pandora's Box”

As the children imitated the behaviors established by the adult who opened the door to aggressive behavior that was directed toward the Bobo Doll, Michael Pearl likewise establishes acceptable patterns of behavior for parents and encourages them to follow patterns of punishment through his prescribed formulas of behavior. He has opened up an Pandora's Box full of a host of things which may include some benefits, but a predisposition to aggression against children was one of the most powerful and truly dangerous things that sprang from his teachings.

Many followers identify corporal punishment as the first choice for dealing with mistakes and inconsistencies right along with disobedience, as Pearl's standard defines mistakes as unacceptable. That box also contained intolerance of expressions of shyness and fear in children by redefining it as disobedience, intolerance that is echoed in the First Time Obedience teachings of Voddie Baucham. I'm sure that Pearl's teachings had a certain degree of influence on the development of the First Time Obedience concept and upon other leaders like Baucham.

Though he may not specifically teach specific rules for every single problem in the everyday life of a child, Pearl's standard of intolerance certainly did communicate the authoritarian “no mercy” standard to the Schatz Family regarding weakness and error in the general sense. Pearl's method teaches that honest errors, just like crying in an infant, demonstrate rebellion, and all occurrences and episodes of rebellion must be punished without variance. Though you likely can't find a quote where Pearl tells parents to spank their children to correct them for errors as they study their schoolwork, the principles he advances certainly communicated to the Schatz family that corporal punishment was indicated for the error of mispronouncing a spelling word. A spoken word of an eight year old requires far more deliberate will than does crying in an infant, that infant's only means of verbal communication. Punishment serves as the first choice for dealing with mistakes and just plain, old human error to which even adults are given.  Addendum 8Apr11:  Please see this additional note concerning extenuating circumstances that may explain why discipline was used with Lydia for the mispronounced word.

The standard of aggression does not remain with the parents only who accept this behavior as normal and as God's ideal. Parents model and communicate to their children that corporal means, punishment, and effecting positive change within one's environment through force and domination serve as the first and most reliable measures that normal and loving people rely upon in the course of everyday life. As the children in Bandura's study with the Bobo Doll responded to the standard set by the adult, the children who survive Pearl's child training will find force and domination to be the path of least resistance when they need to accomplish their personal goals.

Because of Michael Pearl, parents don't teach the primary lesson that obedience is a virtue. They teach the greater message that “Might makes right.” Children have learned to be aggressive and forceful and domineering, because they observed their parents as they set this standard for them. They've also learned that force should be used to counter the effects of human weakness, a principle that children will live out in their workplaces and in social settings like on the golf course or even in their churches, should they retain the desire to continue to attend. With their own children someday, punishment becomes their own path of least resistance for teaching and training and correcting errors. The measure of the use of domineering force does not apply to willful disobedience alone. The method makes violence acceptable through habituation. Untold numbers of children are required to “pick up the tab” on Pearl's indulgences, though Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz certainly continue to pay dearly. So have their daughters.

Click here to read the entire series on the archive.