NPR’s Tell Me More with Michel Martin included a couple of homeschooling pieces yesterday. Four interviews were offered, including Joshua Powell. The 21-year-old Georgetown University student gained the most time explaining his perplexing issues with homeschooling.
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But first, we want to hear the experience of a student, or formally homeschooled student. One young man in Virginia. That state allows families to opt out of public school for religious reasons without requiring any information about the level of education being delivered at home. Josh Powell’s parents applied for a religious exemption for him and his eleven siblings. They were taught at home by their mother. But Josh came to believe his education was falling short. He eventually took remedial classes on his own. He’s now a student at Georgetown University and his story was featured recently in an article in the Washington Post and he’s with us now. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
JOSH POWELL: Thank you so much for having me.
This is a Joshua Powell story that doesn’t stop. Josh seemed to show resourcefulness in self-directing his education as a teen. A dream come true for any teacher and parent. His parents obliged his needs outside of the home. But more is revealed by this young man that revolves around the religion issue. When his parents investigated the possibility of Josh attending school, the family ran into this advice.
POWELL: They said, no. And we had quite a few discussions about it. I had tried to, basically, tell them the reasons that I wanted to go and make it clear that it wasn’t me trying to abandon them or any of that. But just that I wanted the support and structure. And at one point, they actually agreed, but then they were advised from the HSLDA, the Home School Legal Defense Association, that allowing one of their kids to go to school might jeopardize their religious exemption status. So they ended up changing their mind and saying I had to stay at home.
Virginia’s 36-year-old religious exemption is a strange invention. Illinois and several other states have similar compulsory school attendance exemptions without a dollop of official religion involved. Our family does improvise and we toss our faith in by ourselves, independent of government. Of course, many homeschoolers are not religious. Homeschoolers in states offering an exemption without a religion loophole don’t have to struggle with a “stance of saying that they needed to home school for religious reasons.” Seems more of a personal matter that shouldn’t engage government officials. Sticky business when that private issue is wrapped around laws.
Joshua Powell’s “reality” seems far-fetched in his current position that is going “really well” at Georgetown:
..my goal was to one, let him [UVA Child Advocacy Clinic] know that the hypothetical that he hypothesized in the report was a reality and that there were stories that matched that. And two, because I was hoping to petition and advocate for my siblings, who I think would be better served by another education alternative.
Every person has holes in their education. No one can learn everything. Not taking a standardized test is a definite school experience and many homeschoolers are happy to evade “teaching to the test”. Many publicly schooled children wish they never had to suffer through it, so Josh Powell just might not understand the negatives he didn’t experience in the public school.
But he has certainly gained a great deal of attention.
Virginia’s religious exemption from public school compulsory attendance pops up every few years in the news.
From HEM News & Commentary