Texas Independence and Home Schoolers

On March 2 [2003] we celebrated the 167th anniversary of Texas’ independence. It was on that date in 1836 that sixty delegates at Washington-on-the-Brazos signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. That document was drafted overnight by a committee of five at the Convention of 1836 because the Alamo had already been under siege for nine days.

Those were difficult and demanding days. The people of Texas were responding to a Mexican government that had overthrown the Constitution of 1824, which established a republic composed of states in which the people had the right to “…constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.”

According to the Texas Declaration of Independence, the right to trial by jury had been denied and military leaders had exercised “arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny…” In addition, the government “…denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.”

The document proceeds by citing the Mexican government’s effort to disarm the citizens of Texas in spite of the need for arms to defend themselves against Indians who had been encouraged to attack Texas settlements by the government itself. With these words, the poor Texas pioneers, “fearlessly and confidently commit(ed) the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.”

In 1831 the Mexican military gave a six-pound bronze cannon to the settlement at Gonzales and the DeWitt colonists. DeWitt colonists in the summer of 1835 were still loyal Mexican citizens resisting the talk of war. This changed as information came to them of the brutality of the “Centralista” troops and their unprovoked attacks on citizens. Similar to the famous Battle of Lexington that was the beginning of the American Revolution, Mexican forces were sent to demand the return of the small cannon. Settlers gathered at Gonzales and refused to return the weapon. When the Mexican troops moved some miles down the Guadalupe River, the colonists, fearful of an attack, decided to take preemptive measures. On October 2, 1835, these colonists confronted the Mexican forces, and although only a few shots were fired, the Mexican troops retired because of the superior numbers and willingness of the colonists to fight.

In much the same way, modern home schoolers in Texas in the early 1980s signaled to the state of Texas that they were willing to resist the Texas Education Agency when it announced that home schooling was not legal. In spite of the fact that the official position of the state of Texas was that home schooling was illegal, hundreds of families began to make that choice, knowing it could provoke legal action against them. Over 100 families were prosecuted across Texas simply for teaching their own children at home. Like those 186 men at the Alamo who fought a desperate battle against a superior foe, these families continued against overwhelming odds; some even left the state to continue to teach their children at home.

In 1986, like Santa Anna’s invading force from Mexico, the State Board of Education (SBOE) sought to enact regulations for home schooling families. In a public hearing in May of that year, thousands of home schoolers descended upon Austin. Like the Battle of San Jacinto, the SBOE was surprised and overwhelmed not only by the numbers but also by the articulate arguments challenging its authority to regulate and/or define private schools, having not been granted that power by the Texas legislature.

The following year, the decision in the Leeper v. Arlington ISD case settled the matter. Home schools in Texas were and continue to be private schools for the purpose of compulsory attendance. In 1994 the Texas Supreme Court would agree in a unanimous decision, and our freedom was won.

Major and Quartermaster Bennet throughout his life was known for the following answer when asked about the uniform of the Texas forces in April 1836:

“Rags were our uniform, sire! Nine out of ten of them was in rags. And it was a fighting uniform.”

I think in some ways modern Texas home schoolers share much in common with our Texas founding fathers. We are independent and opinionated, some call us obstinate, and many come from humble means. Yet we are willing to engage any opponent who might seek to take or erode our freedom to direct the education and upbringing of our children. We are not uniform in our dress, our educational methods, or our goals except that we desire a good and proper education for our children and sacrifice to provide it. Just as the Mexican colonists in the 1830s saw their beloved Constitution of 1824 set aside along with their freedom, we must be ever vigilant to prevent the erosion of the freedoms to home school that we enjoy today. Thank you for doing what you do for your children and for staying informed and ready to act when the protection of our freedom demands it.