Not only do the Pearls hold their adult children up as a living testimony to the success of their child training methods but many of their children have written articles for their parents’ magazine, No Greater Joy. The oldest daughter has even written a glowing letter describing how wonderful her childhood was. So, although I do not like causing pain to people who I feel were both physically and mentally abused as children, there are simply too many people who believe that the Pearls are the epitome of what a God fearing family should look like for me to ignore the adult children.
I am starting with Rebekah Pearl Anast, the oldest daughter. For years, I have been concerned with her. Something about her writing has always made me feel sad for her. I am using information gleaned from the Pearls’ book, To Train Up A Child, the website, No Greater Joy and the Anasts’ own site, 7xsunday to describe both her early years and present life.
In their book, To Train Up A Child, the Pearls describe their four month old daughter as being mobile at an unusually young age. Instead of putting up a gate to prevent the young Rebekah from climbing the steps, her parents switched her tiny body.(Meaning that hit her with a flexible stick) As she grew older, her father’s method of keeping his children from drowning was to allow them to fall into a pond. If his children were too well balanced to take the plunge, he gleefully pushed them into the water (again from To Train Up A Child).
His method of gun safety was similar in practice to his lesson in water safety. Michael writes in his book, To Train Up A Child. With our first toddler, I placed an old, unused and empty, single-shot shot-gun in the living room corner. After taking the toddler through the "No" saying, hand-switching sessions, they knew guns were always off limits. Every day they played around the gun without touching it. I never had to be concerned with their going into someone else's house and touching a gun. I didn't gun-proof my house, I gun-proofed my children. I am not certain why the Pearls insisted on such a dangerous practice in their own home.
Part of the Pearls’ methods includes teaching children to always show joy. Michael accomplished this outer show of mindless happiness by playing a strange game with his kids. He had his children follow a series of commands such as sit, stand, touch the door knob, don’t touch the door knob. It sounds like the game that most of us played in school, Simon Says, until you read that Michael had a switch in hand ready to spank any child that didn’t obey with a smile and cheerful demeanor.
I have taught the children to obey first and ask questions later. When they were small and I put them through paces, they learned to immediately do what I said. If they ever failed to instantly obey a command, I would "drill" them. "Sit down. Don't speak until I tell you to." Understand, I was not taking out frustrations. It was all done in the utmost pleasantness and usually even fun. "Stand up," I would say. "Now come here. Go touch the door." And, before they could get there, "Sit." Plop, down they would go. "Now, go to your rooms and clean them up." Just like little, proud soldiers, off they would go to the task.
If one of them should fail in his attitude, he would be spanked--without haste or hostility, mind you. Negligence or clumsiness was a time for patience and grace, but lazy rebellion was punished with the rod.
Some people might wonder why his children haven’t rebelled but that is where the truly insidious part of Michael’s methods come into play. The Pearls have discovered that children respond to love and attention. All children want their parents’ approval, affection and time. Not only were his children taught to deny their own emotions and only express joy but they have been taught that love is dependent on their acting in an approved manner. It doesn't matter that the book, To Train Up A Child, sounds like a manual for potential brainwashers or that the Pearls use methods from behavioral science to 'train' their children. Outsiders are willing to accept the fantasy that following the Pearls will produce perfect, happy kids.
At one point, the Pearls income was so low that they were forced to eat what might have been cat food. Rebekah describes this time period on her forum, 7xsunday under the thread called, How is Becca? When my family first moved near the Amish community in TN, I was 14 years old. The first winter we had cabbage, wheat, raw milk, and canned cat food or poor quality tuna (the cans were missing labels when we bought them and we couldn't tell for sure if it was cat food or tuna.)
It doesn't appear that either Pearl held down a paying job during this time period. Although I am uncertain, I think that this is the time period in which they were trying to start their ministry and magazine. Most responsible parents would either put their dreams on hold or one of them would find employment outside of their new business.
In 1974, Micheal Pearl announced to his wife that they would homeschool their young family. Debbi took up her husband's suggestion and began teaching her children at home. Rebekah has written that she suspects that she was dyslexic. She even jokingly claims that she would have been forced to ride the short bus if she had attended public school.
Rebekah writes, I never spent a day locked away in my own introspection (Mom was sure to intrude!). Despite the fact that I can no longer find the post, Rebekah has written on the forum, Well Tell Me, that she had trouble with daydreaming. Perhaps Debbi felt that her daughter had a real attention problem but I wonder if was it just another way to control their daughter. Even her inner thoughts were not off limits to her parents.
The Pearls certainly had a problem with boundaries.In the article Safeguarding Your Children, Rebekah remembers, Dad built our house so that all the bedroom doors facing the main living room/family room. None of our doors had locks on them until we were older, and then only the girls. We were never allowed to spend time in our rooms behind closed doors. The door could only be closed for five minutes of clothes changing. If a door was closed for a longer period of time, Dad was likely to walk in unannounced to see what we were up to. One has to wonder what their father thought his children were going to do if they were left alone for a few minutes. To me, this lack of any privacy shows an extreme need to control not only their children's life but their private thoughts as well.
By the way, the same article describes how Michael Pearl presented prostitution to his children. During a trip to Memphis, Rebekah observed a woman being slapped by a man. Despite the fact that No Greater Joy brags about the manliness of the Pearl men, Michael did not step forward to help the woman nor did he search for a pay phone to call the police. Instead he uses the opportunity to teach his kids about prostitution. She’s a prostitute,” Dad told us. “He’s a pimp. She works for him, selling her body to lascivious men who will burn in hell, so that she can continue to buy drugs to satisfy her addiction. God hates prostitution and pornography, kids. It destroys lives and families.” I think that he taught his children to stand idly by while people are being hurt.
Instead of being the wonderful fantasy life that the Pearls try to present to their followers, Rebekah's childhood sounds nightmarish. I have no idea why anyone would want this for their children.
In the next installment, I will continue the Rebekah Pearl story.