Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Schatz Family is Not Unique: Why People Make Dangerous Choices (Pondering Pearl and Lydia Schatz) Part X

In only a few days, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz are scheduled to return to the Butte County Courtroom in California for sentencing, months after they plead guilty for their respective roles in the death of their adopted daughter Lydia and for the injuries sustained by their other children related to their use of the discipline methods taught by Michael Pearl.

The United States Court System bears witness to other deaths and injuries to other children, some of which author Philip Greven notes in his book, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. To those who wish to understand how Christians can make such dangerous choices to discipline their children to such an extent and how the practice is especially tied to Protestant traditions in the United States, please read Greven's book. 

And please read it, especially if you employ the Pearl Method as a disciplinary measure with your own children.

Had Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz opted to stand trial, though we would have certainly learned more about the details of the family and the discipline methods used within the family, though the Pearl Method would have likely been described in the proceedings, the press has noted that the prosecutor had no interest in focusing on Michael Pearl. Perhaps one of the Schatz children may later decide to pursue Michael Pearl for damages in a wrongful death suit in the future, but as it stands, Pearl still operates unchecked in terms of the law. His subjective methods of cruelty remain at large, and his writings remain in the marketplace.

But... Consider that, as Greven writes in his book, in the history of our nation, a few similar cases have gained the attention of the courts, demonstrating that the Schatz Family is not entirely unique. And in at least one other case in 1985, the spiritual leader of a group that promoted stringent discipline methods was convicted and held culpable for the abuse and death of another child. Perhaps this precedent may one day provide some basis to hold Michael Pearl accountable for his teachings and for the tragic consequences of his ideas.

From the Chapter entitled Memories of Pain and Punishments in Greven's Spare the Child
Rev. Frank Weston Sandford

Reverend Frank Sandford developed an authoritarian apocalyptic sect called “The Kingdom” and also “The Church of the Living God” in the late 1890s in Durham, Maine. In a memoir written by Arnold White chronicles the abuse that he and others endured in the group, noting that any lack of obedience was defined as “stubborn,” and that parents sought to "'break a child's spirit' beginning at an early age.”

In 1904, a former member commented about the lack of normal and natural affection among the members and among family members. She recalls how babies would be put on 40 hour fasts with no food and water, including nursing infants. When she talks of how a room full of babies cried like little lambs and called an elder over to listen, the elder snidely commented that it was “the devil in the babies.” She reported that at any given time, a person could hear some child screaming while being whipped.

Sandford's own six year old son was required to fast for 72 hours and was threatened with a beating thereafter for behaving with impertinence. Sanford stood trial and was convicted in court for cruelty, but was only fined $100. However, as soon as this trial concluded, he was charged with manslaughter for the death of a fifteen year old who was required to fast while he had diphtheria. The court could reach no judgment regarding this incident, but the State prosecutor was convinced that Sandford's actions caused this child's death. (Kindle Location 725 - 768)

From the Chapter entitled Disciplined to Death in Greven's Spare the Child

In 1985, a jury found Dorothy McClellan of West Virginia “guilty of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit the unlawful wounding of Joseph Green,” a twenty-three-month-old boy who had died after being paddled for two hours by his parents. (Kindle location 833)

In 1974, Dorothy McClellan and her husband established a Fundamentalist community called Stonegate, a cultic group that lived in a large 27 room Victorian home in West Virginia. The group followed a system of discipline that became child abuse which they justified as a religious practice. Because the spiritual leader, Dorothy McClellan, promoted and enforced the practice, the judge also convicted her for her role in the child's death. Her appeal was overturned.

The judge declared that:
Dorothy McClellan is an extremely strong-willed and manipulative woman who was unquestionably the leader of the Stonegate group. She instituted therein a policy of child discipline which ultimately encouraged the acts which brought about Joey Green's death, and thus is just as surely responsible as if she had wielded the paddle herself. One only has to realize that her teachings created an atmosphere I which each set of parents had their own monogrammed paddles which were carried openly and used frequently. Indeed, through her leadership there evolved a system of child abuse which was mistaken under the guise of religion. (Kindle Location 865)
Greven's states that the judges statement overlooks the implicit issue that “the pervasiveness of such views about physical punishment among Fundamentalist, evangelical, and Pentecostal Protestants as well as many Americans of other persuasions, both religious and secular.” (Kindle Location 876)

Before considering the man complex consequences of physical punishments, we must first explore some of the religious and secular rationales for inflicting painful punishments. Only then will we begin to understand some of the intellectual sources – as well as the experiential roots in the early lives of many individuals – for our persistent collective commitment to hitting children in the name of discipline. (Kindle Location 889)


I still plan a few posts for inclusion in this series, but the sad nature of the material has slowed my pace in preparing them. They will come in time.

I would like to again revisit John Bradshaw's Reclaiming Virtue and also discuss Heimlich's new book, Breaking Their Will.

And most importantly, as both Greven and Bradshaw note, no discussion of child discipline can be complete without the inclusion of material from Alice Miller's number of works on the subject, especially For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence.

Click to read the entire series on the archive.