Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homeschoolers hail their alma mater

Recently a Tulsa housing authority tried to deny a family its constitutional right to homeschool. The family lawyered up and the housing authority backed down.

Whenever I read a story like that -- or a Los Angeles Times profile of an Oklahoma homeschool mom who is a bestselling author and one of the 100 most influential bloggers in the world -- I can't help but be thankful for ... Oklahoma Democrats.

To explain. One morning in 2001 I was sitting at the kitchen table having Raisin Bran with my eight-year-old son, Lincoln. Reading the sports page, he noticed the headline "Stoops visits alma mater." I asked him if he knew what an alma mater was. He didn't, so I explained it's where a person went to school. I reminded the towheaded third-grader that just a week earlier in Latin class he had learned that mater means mother. And since alma means nourishing, then alma mater means nourishing mother.

"You know what's funny?" the little homeschooler remarked. "In my case, it literally is true."

Indeed it is. And there are thousands of other young Oklahomans whose alma mater is their alma mater.

According to Article 13, Section 4 of the Oklahoma Constitution, "the Legislature shall provide for the compulsory attendance at some public or other school, unless other means of education are provided, of all the children in the State who are sound in mind and body, between the ages of eight and sixteen years, for at least three months in each year" (emphasis added). According to a legal analysis published by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), "Oklahoma is the only state with a constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to home school." And for that we can thank -- you guessed it -- Oklahoma Democrats.

More than a century ago, during the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention, delegate J. S. Buchanan, a Democrat from Norman, suggested that the "other means of education" language be added. Delegate J. A. Baker from Wewoka, another Democrat, agreed: "I think Mr. Buchanan has suggested a solution. A man's own experience sometimes will teach him. I have two little fellows that are not attending a public school because it is too far for them to walk and their mother makes them study four hours a day."

"People ought to be allowed to use their own discretion as to how to educate their children," he argued.

The motion to add the "other means of education" language was seconded by none other than convention president Alfalfa Bill Murray, another Democrat. (Would that today's Oklahoma Democrats were as friendly to homeschooling as their forebears.)

The words alma mater are sometimes applied to the Roman goddess Ceres, the goddess of bounty and agriculture. And though homeschooling moms do nourish their youngsters with food (when Lincoln was six he told his mom, "You're such a good cook you could get a job at Denny's!"), they also nourish them with instruction.

The psalmist compares children to olive plants. And as Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed, nourishing parents love to see their little ones "straight and green, sucking in the sap of their good education."

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