I’m going to begin this story by asking you to imagine that you are a new parent. You and your wife or husband or significant other had a baby in the hospital and took the infant home with you. You’ve done all the right physical things—you’ve got a new-fangled crib that is certified safe for infants. Nothing your baby does in that crib can cause the baby to hurt himself or herself. You’ve got all the baby blankets, and colorful mobiles your friends recommended because they worked with their babies. You’ve got baby-safe washing powder to launder clothes with, so there won’t be any harsh chemical next to the baby’s skin.
You’ve got a shelf-full of products recommended by websites, friends and family members—lotion for the baby’s skin, some kind of white ointment to prevent diaper rash, shampoo that won’t make the baby cry if it gets in its eyes. And you have diapers—tiny ones for infants that are so small they look like they wouldn’t fit a baby doll you or your sister had when you were kids, and larger sizes, too, because you’ve been told they grow faster than you can possibly imagine. You have the latest Diaper Genie, complete with extra diaper bag refills and something called “Antimicrobial Odor Control” so the things won’t stink you out of house and home.
But once you’ve unstrapped your infant from the car seat and carried your baby inside your own home, a daunting thought occurs: there aren’t any more nurses you can call on with the press of a button for help with this baby of yours. Nobody will come if your baby begins crying, and you can’t get him or her to stop. In other words, it’s all up to you from now on.
One of you is carrying the infant, still swaddled in a pink and blue striped cotton blanket from the hospital. The front door closes…and now what do you do? Where do you put the baby down? In the crib? Oh, my goodness, it looks so alone in there! Maybe we should put it on the bed. No, somebody told you not to put babies on the bed, because they might roll off. Well, you think, how about this? We can put the baby between us lying on the bed, so maybe we can watch some TV, and the baby will be safe because nothing’s going to roll over me or you!
It’s all new, having a new baby—every moment of it. At first, you live in a kind of icy fear that despite everything you’ve read, everything you’ve heard, all the preparations you’ve made, you’ll do something wrong. So, the two of you tip-toe through the first days and weeks of the baby’s life, being careful about everything, so nothing terrible befalls your new child.
Now imagine this: you’ve been successful! The baby is now several months old, and you can put him or her down on a soft blanket on the living room floor or in one of those portable mesh playpens in the kitchen, so you can watch the baby as you go about your normal chores, the way, more or less, that you lived your life before you brought the baby home with you from the hospital. So now your baby is beginning to be mobile, making its first moves to crawl across the blanket or around the playpen, and it’s acting curious—reaching for things and grabbing them in its hand and examining them and usually sticking them in its mouth. The baby is changing so rapidly! It’s so cute, the way it does something new every day.
So what do you do now that your baby is approaching toddlerhood? Well, now imagine this: you’ve read a book called “To Train Up a Child” by two conservative Christian authors who are very influential in the world of raising Christian children and home schooling. And what does this book written by Debi and Michael Pearl tell you to do?
According to an excellent article published this week in the Washington Post, the book written by the Pearls “advocates ‘training sessions’ in which infants, as soon as they are old enough to crawl, are placed near a desired object and repeatedly struck with a switch if they disobey commands not to touch it.”
Take a minute. Have you digested it so far?
That’s not all. The Post reports that “the Pearls advocate hitting children with tree branches, belts and other instruments of love’ to instill obedience and recommend that toddlers who take slowly to potty training be washed outdoors with cold water from a garden hose.”
Look at the page depicted above. It’s from a handout called “Gospel-Driven Parenting” distributed by a conservative Christian group run by a minister named Chris Peeler, who is part of a larger Christian home schooling network run by a man called Gary Cox, described by the Post as “an evangelical pastor and pioneer of Maryland’s home-schooling movement.” Here’s what the handout says about beating your child: “The use of the rod is for the purpose of breaking the child’s will. One way to tell if this has happened is to see if they can look you in the eyes after being disciplined and ask for forgiveness.”
The handout does not explain how an infant who has just begun to crawl is supposed to “ask for forgiveness” after they have been beaten with a switch for the crime of reaching for a toy in a playpen.
This isn’t raising a child or even “training up” a child. It is child abuse, pure and simple, and it is a crime in all 50 states and the territories of the United States. Yet it is going on every day in this country, because there is an entire network of Christian home schoolers who have organized to insure that once parents get their children inside their homes and behind closed doors, the states can do nothing to stop them from “using the rod” to discipline and “train” their children as they are being “educated” by home schoolers.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and its leader Michael Farris have built what the Post calls “the most influential homeschool organization in the world. Over decades, they have eroded state regulations, ensuring that parents who home-school face little oversight in much of the country. More recently, they have inflamed the nation’s culture wars, fueling attacks on public-school lessons about race and gender with the politically potent language of ‘parental rights.’”
Sound familiar? Those are the “we own our children” advocates supported by Moms For Liberty who have been running, and winning, school board races across the country. They advocate laws not just allowing but mandating that the Ten Commandments be posted in every school classroom. They advocate that Christian prayer be allowed in the schools like it was in the years before the Supreme Court struck down the practice in the 1960’s. In fact, they want to bring much of the agenda being pushed by the home schooling networks run by Michael Farris and Gary Cox and Debi and Michael Pearl into public school systems everywhere.
Now imagine this Bible verse being taught in a public school: “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with a rod and deliver his soul from hell.” This jewel of wisdom is from Proverbs 23: 13,14.
The Post describes the Christian home schooling movement as advocating an education teaching “Bible-based arithmetic necessary to calculate the age of a universe less than 8,000 years old…in which dinosaurs were herded aboard Noah’s ark…believing Christians could out-populate atheists and Muslims by scorning birth control.”
“It’s specifically a system that is set up to hide the abuse, to make them invisible, to strip them of any capability of getting help. And not just in a physical way,” a woman who had been home-schooled but had left the movement told the Post. “At some point, you become so mentally imprisoned you don’t even realize you need help.”
The Post describes the Christian home schooling movement as “a conscious rejection of contemporary ideas about biology, history, gender equality and the role of religion in American government. Among conservative Christians, home schooling became a tool for binding children to fundamentalist beliefs they felt were threatened by exposure to other points of view. Rightly educated, those children would grow into what HSLDA founder Michael Farris called a ‘Joshua Generation’ that would seek the political power and cultural influence to reshape America according to biblical principles.”
That’s what they’re doing out in public, standing up at a school board meeting near you and demanding that this book be banned because it’s about a child with two fathers, or that book should be banned because it teaches about evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which of course goes against the Bible’s story that God made the earth and all its creatures in six days and rested on the seventh, and presumably, a few thousand years ago little children played with baby dinosaurs in their front yards instead of with dolls and toy trucks. Michael Farris, who founded the HSLDA, now works for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the non-profit that has funded lawsuits around the country seeking to infect the public sphere with conservative Christian beliefs and even laws.
But once they get those kids behind closed doors, out comes what the Washington Post describes as “the rod — interpreted by different people as a wooden spoon, dowel, belt, rubber hose or other implement.” The Post describes one man they interviewed who had been home schooled as “being struck several times a week — sometimes more, sometimes less — with what he describes as a shortened broomstick for disobeying commands or failing to pay attention to his schoolwork,” who underwent “‘killer bee’ spankings, when the rod was used against his bare skin.”
Now imagine this: According to the Washington Post, in the state of Virginia alone 57,000 children were being home schooled in 2022, a 28 percent increase over the figures for 2019.
Somewhere on your street, or on the street behind your house, or just across town, children are being home schooled. Some of them are being taught at home by reasonable parents who only want the best for their children. But, some of them are being brought home as infants from the hospital and within a few months, their parents are hitting them with switches because they reach out for a toy or a stuffed animal. The crime of child abuse is being committed behind closed doors probably in nearly every town or city in this country in the name of a Christianity that no sane person would recognize, and there is an entire movement dedicated to the proposition that the state should pass no laws against a parent’s right to do what he or she wishes to the child they believe they own.
Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com. We encourage our readers to get a subscription.