Virginia Homeschooling in the News Cont…Religious Exemption

The Washington Post Local put out a lengthy article about a formerly homeschooled and disgruntled 21 year old young man now attending Georgetown University.  Susan Svluga delved deep into the controversy and confusion of Virginia’s unique religious exemption to public school attendance.  Over 2,000 comments on the article have been generated.

Student’s home-schooling highlights debate over Va. religious exemption law  By Susan Svrluga

For supporters, Virginia’s religious exemption law ensures an important liberty in a state where Thomas Jefferson made religious freedom one of the defining principles of U.S. democracy.

Opponents also cite Jefferson’s legacy, saying the founding fathers thought education was essential to a successful nation. They warn that the statute leaves open the possibility that some of the nearly 7,000 children whose parents claim a religious exemption aren’t getting an education at all.

Despite Josh’s chagrin as a 16 year old that he had not written an essay, didn’t know South Africa was a country and couldn’t solve basic algebra problems – he has some commonality with many publicly schooled high school graduates attending remedial classes on their chosen campus.  His “common collective of knowledge” concern seems slightly overblown.  Essays, geography and math are useful tools to learn and Josh Powell must have absorbed some kernels of learning here and there or he wouldn’t be in Georgetown University now.
Josh’s concern  is with the independence resulting from this particular means of Virginia home education:

Powell was taught at home, his parents using a religious exemption that allows families to entirely opt out of public education, a Virginia law that is unlike any other in the country. That means that not only are their children excused from attending school — as those educated under the state’s home-school statute are — but they also are exempt from all government oversight.

School officials don’t ever ask them for transcripts, test scores or proof of education of any kind: Parents have total control.

Several other states’ homeschoolers have a plain vanilla exemption, with nothing as exciting as religion inserted into the formula. Take the religion out of the exemption and it resembles those private school and homeschooling  rights in states such as Texas, Alaska, Oklahoma and Illinos.  Unless private schools or families are suspected of educational neglect, those homeschoolers are not required to provide “proof of education” to the government.  When religion is involved, the question seems to be whether authorities want to tangle with a neglect charge in the rare event of a problem.

The director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law has Josh Powell’s same concerns about his and his siblings’ education.  Andrew Block said:

“It permits the lawful denial of all education for exempt children. And it simultaneously puts school boards in the impossible situation of having to serve as arbiters of parents’ religious beliefs or intruders into the parent-child relationship.” he said. The law “really puts the schools between a rock and a hard place.”

Josh’s father, Clarence Powell, responded graciously and openly in the article.

“As Josh has pointed out, and I believe he’s 100 percent accurate, a good education is not an option. It’s essential,” Clarence Powell said. “You basically get one opportunity to do it. If you come out on the other side deficient, it’s hard to make up for that. If you’re a loving parent, the last thing you want to do is create a situation where your children are limited or hindered.”

There aren’t too many parents who want their children to be ignorant and only capable of working a minimum wage job. There is a tiny patriarchal movement, with a homeschooling subculture, who do try to keep girls down in only allowing ‘proper homemaking skills‘. It appears some of those former homeschoolers and Josh Powell feel government accountability should be in home educator’s lives.  Ironically, the Homeschoolers Anonymous group and Josh seem to be well learned and it appears they found educational means. At the same time, the ill treatment within the Quiverfull Movement should be stopped.  Currently, child abuse is not legal.

But Josh Powell and his siblings appear to have loving, supportive parents.  They seem to have raised resourceful children.

Josh’s younger sister, Jennifer, is grateful for her home education. It appears she followed an interest-led style or unschooling. Jennifer took specialized science courses, while also working with her father in his landscaping business.  Jennifer Powell will be attending the University of Virginia this fall.

Josh’s concern seems to revolve around what he missed, as quoted below:

“Not having read any of the standard high school literature, people make references I don’t get,” he said.

Following that, maybe what they missed in the public school arena was unproductively negative. The escape many homeschooling families made from the public schools was often because of the poor quality.  Just as a prom might be missed, there might be other activities that were fantastic memories to hold on. You can’t have everything.

As a society, we want all of our children to be educated.  Where did Josh gain that passion for learning, but at home?  In defense, many homeschoolers note their children don’t alway gain the same knowledge publicly schooled children do.  They just learn different things.  But the love of learning is often there, which is a lifelong gift.The question is – Does government accountability in the public schools make for that better world we all seek?  Many who suffered through the school system and found freedom to learn, just as Josh eventually did, say no.

Cross-posted at Home Education Magazine’s News & Commentary

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