A Christian homeschooling service is currently under investigation by the Victorian Department of Human Services and Victoria Police for selling a book which advocates severe corporal punishment and was implicated in the alleged murder of an American child last year.

Kingsley Educational Pty Ltd is the family business of John Angelico, an advocate of regulation-free homeschooling. He argues that the government has no right to interfere in the education of his children. Kate Gibbons, a homeschooling mother and advocate of HS registration, disagrees. She says that if Angelico and his fellow travellers have nothing to hide, they should have no problem with the government checking in from time to time. Particularly worrying, Ms. Gibbons says, is the sale of a manual called To Train Up A Child on the Kingsley Educational website.

To Train Up A Child, originally published in 1994 by Christian fundamentalist couple Michael and Debi Pearl recommends that “if you want a child who will integrate into the New World Order and wait his turn in line for condoms, a government funded abortion, s-xually transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation and a mark on the forehead [a reference to the Mark of the Beast], then follow the popular guidelines in education, entertainment and discipline, but if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God’s way.”

God’s way, apparently, includes beating the sh-t out of your kid with anything that’s handy.

To Train Up A Child is described on the Pearls’ website as a useful tool for raising “whineless” children, using humour and real-life examples. In reality, it’s a very thinly disguised child abuse manual. Some of the funnier real-life examples in the book include Debi Pearl whipping the bare leg of a 15-month old child she is babysitting around 10 times, making a non-swimming toddler fall into deep water, and hitting a 2-year old so hard that they wheeze. They also recommend pulling the hair of a nursing baby, and whipping a 3 year old until he is “totally broken.”

To get away with all this, the Pearls recommend in their other material that you clear any branches you’re using of knobs that might break the skin and leave tell-tale marks, that one should only beat a child on the back so bruising won’t be as obvious (and because the Bible says so) – and don’t beat your kids at church, for Heaven’s sakes! Some parishioners have noses longer than their pews! They also recommend a half-inch wide length of plumbing supply line as the most efficient weapon.

In the interest of journalistic inquiry, I bought just such an instrument from a leading hardware chain (95 cents). With the disturbingly willing assistance of my girlfriend, whom I incorrectly assumed loved me too much to do me serious harm, I soon determined that a fairly light tap on the leg from such an item really, really hurts and leaves a nasty looking welt that takes about four hours to fade.

Last year, an adoptive mother in the United States was charged with murder after she used To Train A Child as a guide to torture one of the children in her care to death. Although her practice (the child eventually died from smothering after he was strapped into his bed) went beyond what To Train A Child specifically recommends, she was certainly acting in the spirit of the text. The Pearls recommend holding children down until they submit. Other parents and carers in the US have also run into legal troubles after using the guide.

In most states and territories, parents have a defence of “reasonable chastisement” if they want to give their kids a bit of a whack. The exception is New South Wales, where the Crimes Act was amended in 2002 to define physical force to the head and neck, or force which leaves lasting damage, as abuse. The question which the DHS and Victoria Police must answer is whether the methods the Pearls use could be described as “reasonable,” and if not, whether it is thus illegal to distribute material which instructs in crime.

Other publications which have run into similar trouble in recent times are the The Peaceful Pill Handbook, which was banned for instructing people as to how to kill themselves, and Join The Caravan, which was banned last year as it was considered to be capable of inciting terrorism.

Earlier this year, the Howard Government funded a $2.5 million campaign against smacking, though they did not make any moves to enshrine the concept in law.