To Train Up a Child

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To Train Up a Child is a 1994 parenting advice book written and self-published by independent Baptists Michael and Debi Pearl, which has generated controversy for encouraging child abuse. The book has been endorsed by the Institute of Basic Life Principles. To Train Up a Child gained notoriety after methods recommended in the book were found to have contributed to several high-profile cases of child death.[3]

To Train Up a Child
2015 edition cover[a]



Michael Pearl (born 1945)[4] is an American independent Baptist preacher and author. After graduating from Mid-South Bible College, he worked with Union Mission in Memphis for 25 years.[5] His 2006 graphic novel Good and Evil[6] won the Independent Publishers' IPPY Award Bronze Medal in the Graphic Novel/Drama category in 2009[7] and was a 2009 ForeWord Book Award finalist.[8] His other publications include No Greater Joy Magazine,[9] Training Children to be Strong in Spirit,[10] and Created to Be His Help Meet.[11]

Michael married Debi Pearl in 1971.[12] Together they wrote To Train Up a Child, which they self-published in 1994.[2] The Pearls have five children.[5] Their daughter Shoshanna Easling has said she had a wonderful childhood and that her parents never spoke to her in anger.[4] Another daughter, Rebekah Pearl Anast, has said, "I think that the fact that all five of us are very happy, balanced people with great marriages and happy kids is evidence that my parents did the right thing."[13]

Michael and Debi Pearl's teachings on physical discipline were endorsed by the Institute in Basic Life Principles. The Pearls and To Train Up a Child were briefly covered in the documentary series Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, which details the Duggar family and their upbringing under and connections to the IBLP.[14]

No Greater Joy Ministries is the Pearls' 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The organization brings in between $1.5 and $1.7 million a year through product sales and donations[4][13] and has sold or donated over 1.5 million copies of Pearl's books, CDs, DVDs, and other materials.[13] The Pearls state that they do not receive royalties from the sales, and that the profits are used for ministry purposes.[15]



To Train Up a Child has been criticized for advocating child abuse. The book tells parents to use objects like a 0.25 in (6.4 mm) diameter plastic tube to spank children and "break their will". It recommends other abusive tactics like withholding food and putting children under a cold garden hose.[4][16] Its teachings are linked to the deaths of Sean Paddock,[17] Lydia Schatz,[18] and Hana Grace-Rose Williams.[19] In all three cases, homeschooling parents acted on the Pearls' teachings.[20] Michael Ramsey, the district attorney who prosecuted the Schatz case, called To Train Up a Child "an extraordinarily dangerous book for those who take it literally" and "truly an evil book".[1] Dr. Frances Chalmers, the pediatrician who examined Hana Williams's corpse, said that "this book, while perhaps well intended, could easily be misinterpreted and could lead to what I consider significant abuse."[4]

On his website, Pearl published responses to the deaths of Hana Williams and Lydia Schatz, listing quotes from the book that warn against abuse.[21][22] Michael Pearl reacted to the death of Lydia Schatz by arguing his link to the murder of Schatz was not objectionable because Pearl's children became "entrepreneurs that pay the taxes your children will receive in entitlements." Pearl claimed that he did not bear responsibility for the murders because the size of the plastic tubing he recommends in his book is "too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone."[4][23] Pearl called the murder of Hana Williams "diametrically opposed to the philosophy of No Greater Joy Ministries and what is taught in the book."[16] Pearl stated "The book repeatedly warns parents against abuse and emphasizes the parents' responsibility to love and properly care for their children" which includes training them for success."[16] The New York Times quotes that the Williams' other discipline tactics involved Pearl's book taken to extremes, such as the Pearls' advice that "a little fasting is good training."[4] A witness in the trial reported that Hana Williams was subjected to "the use of a switch, cold baths, withhold food and force children outside in cold weather as punishment";[19] in "Hana's Story," Kathryn Joyce writes that, according to the coroner's report, Hana was between 76 and 80 pounds at the time of her death.

The petition "Amazon, refuse to carry books which advocate the physical abuse of children," which mentions To Train Up a Child by name, received more than 100,000 signatures in 2011. As of May 4th, 2024, the book is still for sale on Amazon,[24] in spite of Amazon's stated policy not to carry books that promote child abuse.[25]


  1. ^ The cover repeats a 2011 claim by Michael Pearl that the book had sold more than 670,000 copies.[1] However, Nielsen BookScan recorded only 9,579 sales between 2001 and 2013. While it is possible the book sold best prior to the earliest sales records available, this figure is likely to be inflated by shifting books through mailing lists.[2]




  1. ^ a b Hodson, Jeff (November 27, 2011). "Did Hana's parents "train" her to death?". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  2. ^ a b Merritt, Jonathan (April 22, 2013). "How influential are Michael and Debi Pearl? And how harmful?". Religion News Service. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  3. ^ "The Tragic Death of Ethiopian Adoptee Hana Williams, and How It Could Happen Again". Slate Magazine. 2013-11-09. Retrieved 2023-06-19.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Eckholm, Erik (November 6, 2011). "Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Meet the Pearls". No Greater Joy website. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  6. ^ Pearl, Michael (2006). Good and Evil. No Greater Joy ministries. ISBN 1-892112-38-8.
  7. ^ "Announcing 2009 IPPY Awards National and Regional Results". Independent Publisher website. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  8. ^ "Book of the Year Awards". ForeWord Publishing website. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  9. ^ "Magazine". No Greater Joy website. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  10. ^ Pearl, Michael (2011). Training Children to be Strong in Spirit. No Greater Joy ministries. ISBN 978-1-61644-037-4.
  11. ^ Pearl, Michael (2012). Created to Need a Help Meet. No Greater Joy ministries.
  12. ^ Pearl 1994, About the Author.
  13. ^ a b c Harris, Lynn (May 25, 2006). "Spare the quarter-inch plumbing line, spoil the child". Salon. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  14. ^ Horton, Adrian (June 2023). "'Insidious organization': a reality TV family and the dangers of fundamentalism". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  15. ^ "About Us". No Greater Joy website. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  16. ^ a b c Burnett, Thane (October 8, 2011). "Was child abused to death due to advice from book?". The Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on September 15, 2014.
  17. ^ "Is Conservative Christian Group, No Greater Joy Ministries, Pushing Parents to Beat Kids to Death? - Crimesider - CBS News". CBS News. October 3, 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-10-03.
  18. ^ Hayes, Kevin (February 22, 2010). "DA: Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz Killed Daughter With "Religious Whips" for Mispronouncing Word". CBS News. Archived from the original on October 3, 2011.
  19. ^ a b Stoll, Lee. "Kids testify in parents' murder and abuse trial". KIRO TV. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  20. ^ Hodson, Jeff (September 29, 2011). "Murder charges for parents who left girl outside". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on November 3, 2011.
  21. ^ "Response to Schatz Case". No Greater Joy website. 17 August 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  22. ^ "Hana Williams Official Statement". No Greater Joy website. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  23. ^ Cooper, Anderson. "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Aired October 26, 2011". CNN. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Content Guidelines for Books - Amazon Customer Service". Retrieved 2023-06-20.