The Tree of Freedom
By: Dick Karman

As chairman of the board of OCEANetwork, I cannot think of the miracles of the last 25 years without thinking about Galatians 6: 7-10.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
The Oregon Christian Home Education Association Network has reaped many blessings over the last two decades. Indeed, we have sown and we have reaped and God has given us the strength not to grow weary.

A Season of Planting and Watering
During the 1985 legislative session, Pastor Dennis Tuuri, a godly man, took me for a walk down the halls of the House of Representatives. He told me that we need not grow faint, for the joy of the Lord is our strength and HE rejoices in doing good.
That was a season of planting and learning. I didn’t think I wanted to be in Salem. But I understood that it was a season of sowing. We certainly didn’t expect it, but the seeds that were sown turned into the 1985 homeschool law which was a vast improvement over the previous law.
There was a time in 1990, only five years later, when the bureaucrats tried to take away homeschool freedoms and place us in a position more despicable than we were in before the 1985 law.  “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the LORD” (Proverbs 21:31).  

That was a season of watering and growth. The tree of homeschool freedoms which had been planted by the waters was taking root and giving freedom a “good name.” For those who do not know the story, over 1,000 homeschool parents dropped what they were doing and with just two-days notice came to Salem from all over the state for a hearing on proposed homeschool rules on a Tuesday afternoon. This immediate response to the threat against our freedoms gave us a reputation for peaceful, obedient and tenacious lobbying that lived for years.  I believe that God gave us this victory as a means to strengthen our trust in HIM.

The seasons continued on. In 1995, homeschoolers introduced a bill to protect homeschool freedoms by limiting the Department of Education’s ability to change the homeschooling rules. Although the bill died in committee, this was the start of something BIG. As homeschool families lobbied for the 1995 bill, they became well grounded in the principles of freedom, and the tree of homeschool freedom grew strong limbs.

In those turbulent years of the mid- 1990s, OCEAN changed to OCEANetwork, an infant non-profit corporation. Yet we were not timid; we plunged in to expand homeschool freedoms. We worked to develop lines of communication with the Oregon Home Education Network. Together we still work toward the same goal, total homeschool freedom.

A Season of Growth and Strength
In 1997, we were one signature away from a very favorable homeschool bill becoming law. It wasn’t perfect.  The legislature passed our bill – the governor vetoed it at the request of the Department of Education. Families viewed this veto as a cause to be more dedicated to the principles of freedom and more diligent as they made ready for the 1999 session.

The tree of freedom was becoming well developed spreading ever stronger limbs.

In fact, two years later, we no longer took baby steps – we took a giant step. We asked God to give us total freedom from government oppression. These are big words for a small grassroots organization. We submitted a total freedom bill. Our friends in the legislature said they would sponsor the bill, but did not expect miracles. They reminded us that we still had the same governor in office.

But God had done a mighty work in homeschool families. This was the opportunity for each family to understand the principle that home education is PRIVATE education. Lawmakers notice families taking a stand on principles (not something often observed in our Capitol). We saw support that we never thought we’d see.

Even though the tree was strong, there was a little bit of blight among the leaves and branches. As a board we used every effort to educate families and legislators about the principle that God gave children to parents, not to the government. But in the back of our minds we doubted and were getting ready for another gubernatorial veto. The bill had suffered a little pruning itself and did not give total freedom, but it did reduce the amount and frequency of testing.

The session was drawing a close in the summer of 1999 when God did a miracle. While OCEANetwork board members were struggling with how to let the families down gently while keeping them encouraged for another two years, a legislative aid said, “Have you heard? The governor signed your bill today!” It was virtually the same bill that the same governor had vetoed two years earlier!

That taught us a lesson we need to review and renew every year, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD;  He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). GOD had pruned our doubts.
For the last eight years we have remembered that lesson. Every session we return to Salem just like the widow in Luke kept returning to the judge. We fight for TOTAL freedom. We’re not fighting for a small compromise, but for freedom from a government that believes that they have more right to our children than God does. As recently as 2003 our bill made it through both chambers and went to the governor – and  was vetoed.

A Season of Maturity
In our season of maturity we do not grow weary in this well-doing, for we know in due season we will reap what we sow, if we faint not.
This year in the legislature the homeschool freedom bill was House Bill 2629.  Families used the opportunity to educate their legislators of the very personal and heart-felt belief that government should not be regulating home education. HB 2629 didn’t get out of committee.
But that wasn’t all. We fought attempts to add regulations to homeschooling (House Bill 2979) and to lower the compulsory school age (Senate Bill 392). By God’s grace neither became law. We also fought in favor of SB 850 and HB 3131 both which would have allowed foster parents to homeschool without restriction. All of this was just one legislative session.

Our conference theme in August was “Passing the Baton.” To look at it this way, Dennis Tuuri ran the first leg of the race for each of us before many readers were parents and before all current homeschool students were born. Pastor Tuuri passed the baton to OCEAN, but that pass was through a very reluctant runner (me). I took the baton, not because I aspired to political leadership, but because GOD wanted me there.

My wife, Dorothy, and I are not young.  Dorothy as a wonderful and loving help-mate did more than her share in Salem. In the last 7 years we have been able to pass that baton to Rodger Williams. He ran beside us for years, now he’s running his leg of the race. And soon he will be passing the baton on to the next generation of homeschoolers.
When a baton is passed, there’s always the possibility of dropping it. Are we running the race in such a way that we are preparing for a successful baton pass or are we going to stumble before the hand off? To go back to the tree analogy, is there some blight developing in its leaves?

The tree of homeschool freedom has grown and protects homeschool families in Oregon. The branches have spread and made new families very comfortable in the shade of years of growth. In this “shade tree” season some have grown a little lazy or at very best too relaxed to see that the tree still needs to be nurtured.

Withering and Dying or Spawning New Seeds of Growth
Leaders in both the Christian and secular homeschool movement have expressed concern that homeschool freedoms face a withering death. Now where are those who are damaging the roots of that shade tree that we have been discussing? Who would be causing these freedoms to wither?

Christian families are forgetting (or they don’t know, as we didn’t when we started homeschooling) that education is not “neutral;” it is not void of religious presuppositions. For that reason, they don’t see the danger in taking government funds for home education even though those funds come with the suffocating strings of “Thou shalt teach nothing religious with these funds.”

When parents lose sight of God’s plan and choose the world’s plan, they’re losing sight of how we reached this shade tree season. They, without really thinking about it, decide “I’ll take some of the government money to fund my homeschool. It’s no big thing: I just have to put up with those heathen textbooks, and, OH, yeah, I can’t teach God’s principles to my children between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. The government will want to tell me how to teach. And I guess I can’t have a Bible on the computer that they are providing. My house becomes a government building. OH, and they will want me to teach to the test – the same test that tells me it would be a good thing to read “Heather has two Mommies.”

Giving up your ability as a Christian to “take every thought captive” for Christ – in history, science, writing, even math – may be a caution for Christians to avoid government-funded school-at-home, but why do many secular home education leaders caution families against homeschooling, too? There are two reasons. The first is how homeschool families lose personal freedom and independence when they homeschool. The second reason impacts us all. The legislature wants accountability for money it spends (as I believe it should). Cheryl Walker, former Oregon legislators said it clearly when she wrote a lobbying piece against our total home education freedom bill. “I suggest that if they really want freedom from state control they stop accepting State Department of Education money. . . Taxpayers who are paying for home-schooling should have accountability from the students.”

Are we being paranoid? No, these are explicit things that homeschoolers in other states have had to put up with in order to homeschool with government money. The shade tree comfort we are enjoying right now is because God has honored those who have stood firmly on the principles in HIS word. It takes years, and often decades to get to this leg of the race. HE has allowed us an unprecedented place in Salem: We are a group that stands on principles; we are a group who doesn’t want money. We want freedom to raise our children.

The future of homeschool freedom could be grim. In other states hundreds and sometimes thousands of families have either forgotten or never been taught God’s principles. They have lusted after the government dollar and have followed it to its eventual, but inevitable location, in the government purse which is held together by government strings.

But we hear those who know the principles and choose to ignore them say, “before it gets that far, I’ll pull out.” It will be too late to “pull out” once regulation has caught up with government spending. It will be just like the frog in the pot of water: when the temperature gets too hot it will be too late.

OCEANetwork does not tell families how they should educate your children, but we will admonish you, God gave you those children - Won’t you please trust HIM to give you the funds (free from government strings) to educate them God’s way?

What about the next leg of the race?
OCEANetwork has a cause – turning the hearts of the fathers to the children. Why do we want to turn the hearts of fathers to their children? It is not for approbation, or recognition.

Luke 1: 16 (speaking of John the Baptist) says, “And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous. . .”  Why?  “. . . so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

That’s why OCEANetwork exists – not just to turn hearts of parents to their children so that family life can be richer and more fulfilling – we exist to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  We will Honor God and continue to fight for the freedom to disciple our children by home educating them . . . to make ready a people prepared for the LORD. We will stand on godly principles and not give in the pressure of a corrupt society . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. We pray that the next generation will be ready to take the baton . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

If we grasp and hold on to one principle, it would be that homeschooling is not just education at home – not just academics, not just pencil and paper; homeschooling is discipleship . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Is the tree that I discussed still growing or is it withering? I think the leaders across the nation see it withering. It needs support – the support of people with principles who are willing to take the baton and continue the race.

If the baton is dropped, it is very difficult to regain the lead. If the runner fails the pass the race is worse than lost. That relay team has to wait until the next race. They will have to go back to starting blocks. What happens if we lose the grip on the baton?

If we are not vigilant, I can see a time when another reluctant young man starts his walk down the hallways of Salem – not knowing that it will take at least 25 years to get to the level of homeschool freedoms that we have today.

I won’t be here – God has numbered my days.  It is a goal of the OCEANetwork board to raise up a generation of parents who have principles and have a vision of raising a generation of leaders who won’t be afraid to not only take the baton, but to pass it on.  I pray that my children’s children will be able to homeschool — not for academics, or accolades — but to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. >

(c) 2007 by Dick Karman

This message was based on a keynote message Dick gave at the 2007 OCEANetwork Conference.
Dick and his wife, Dorothy, began homeschooling their two children in 1983 and are now the proud grandparents of soon to be three grandchildren whom they pray will have the freedom to disciple their own children through homeschooling in the years to come. Dick and Dorothy founded  the Oregon Christian Home Education Network in 1986 and by God’s grace and strength have been serving Oregon home educators ever since then.

This article is not available for reprint. Please contact the author directly for permission to reprint.

Copyright 2003-2017 OCEANetwork