The One That Got Away- Josh Powell and the Ones That Didn’t

The One That Got Away- Josh Powell and the Ones That Didn’t August 1, 2013

by Calulu cross posted from her blog Seeking The Light.

Author’s note: I realize that there are successful home school experiences out there and yes, I know a number of them. The kids I’m speaking of today were all the kids in my art classes. None of them has gone on to any great success yet.

It was with great interest I’ve been following the story of central Virginia’s Josh Powell and his quest for a decent education in the face of Virginia’s laws allowing homeschooling parents to teach as much and as little as they’d like. He is one very determined young man that took on the world of Virginia homeschooling to do what was right, have the same opportunity towards a well rounded education that will benefit him the rest of his life.

Knowing all too well what the homeschooling world of central Virginia looks like from my years giving art lessons to homeschool kids I’m impressed that Josh was able to summon up the courage, sheer gumption and focus to make it out to an educational goal. He’s officially my new hero!

It is my dearest wish that all this national publicity he’s getting will shine the spotlight on our state’s disgraceful homeschooling laws. There must be oversight by the state over what the kids are learning in homeschools. Homeschooling in Virginia puzzles me because we have some of the top public schools in the nation towards the northern part of the state.

Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons but the main thing is that what I feared for most of the homeschoolers I taught ten years ago here in Virginia has started to come to pass. They are mostly unemployable. The most successful of the lot works the drive thru window at Starbucks and many of them tried and failed working at that most homeschool friendly employer of homeschool kids – ChikFilA.

Listening them and their occupations here…

1- Starbucks Drive Thru

1- Ruby Tuesday waitstaff

3- Volunteering at local ministry

1- Playing with the town’s semi pro football team hoping to get a college scholarship for football and make it to the NFL

1- Clerking at grocery store

Uncountable – either working on family farm/enterprise or doing nothing at home

1- Homeless, living on the street.

1-Toiling as unpaid slave labor at Teen Mania

That’s a pretty pathetic turn out for kids that were bright and could have done well with a good education. Only the girl at Starbucks is in college, working towards her degree at the local community college. Every time I roll through Starbucks I see her and all she can talk about it getting away from her controlling interfering parents. Which I find really comical and interested because her mother is and was the head of the local homeschooling org.

But the one of my art kids that just breaks my heart and makes me want to smack HSLDA around is what happened to a gal I’m going to call ‘Beth’ here for privacy’s sake.

I first met Beth when her mother signed her up for my high school aged homeschooling art classes where I taught things like classical drawing technics, introduction to oil painting, stained glass introduction, air brushing and a host of other subjects geared towards those children thinking about studying art at a college level. Very hands on, designed to get everyone a taste of things they hadn’t done before.

Beth’s mother warned me that Beth was rebellious, prone to lying, she was all sorts of negative things. Beth had been schooled at a public school her first few years, mother said, until it was obvious she was rebellious.

But I never saw one sign that Beth lied or was rebellious. She was always a lot of fun and I truly enjoyed having her in my class. The only thing I saw was a teenager struggling towards independence while her parents tried to control every bit of her being.

Taught her two years then stopped teaching homeschoolers because of the odd assortment of problems and over protective mothers that sought to control what and how I taught. A couple more years pass and I go into ChikFilA and see that Beth is working the counter and seems to have trouble making change to the point where the manager comes over and started berating her in front of all the customers.

I hear through mutual friends that Beth has been hired/fired from every fast food place in town. She didn’t even possess the most basic life skills, such as making change.

More years pass until a lone December night when I was working at the community cold weather shelter and spot a familiar face. Yes, it was Beth, at the cold weather shelter for the homeless.

After I managed to help get dinner out and dinner cleanup, plus make sure everyone has a bed and clean bedding Beth and I go into the side chapel library to catch up. What she tells me shakes me to the core. Gone is a pretty shy girl with wavy auburn hair and green eyes. In her place is a hard eyed woman dressed in black and spiked collars with a blue semi-mohawk.

Her life since graduating from her homeschool sounds like something almost out of Charles Dicken’s tales of poverty and workhouses, an updated Oliver. Beth worked at every fast food place imaginable but because of her scanty education had troubles making change or doing some of the very basic tasks that were part of the job.  Beth fell in love with one of her fast food coworkers and ended up getting immediately pregnant because she knew almost nothing about the way her body worked. Her family threw her out of the house when it was obvious she was pregnant because she was setting a bad example for her brothers and sisters. Beth has been living from shelter to shelter never able to hold a job for long. Once her baby is born her parents use social service and the court system to get emergency custody of the child for them to raise and throwing Beth back out on the streets with no help.

That night I sat and held Beth’s hand as she wept and wailed over losing her baby, the abandonment of her family and the fact that she had no options in live. She’d matured enough to realize most of her problems could be traced to the fact that her education was practically nonexistent.

Over the course of many moons I tried to help Beth, get her into drug rehab anywhere, put on the list for housing, helped her try to file for financial aid from the government. But nothing I did to try and help actually helped. Beth left rehab to live on the streets with bunch of rag-tag kids.

I fear her parents choice to keep Beth locked up like veal being raised in a box have doomed her to disaster, poverty and a life defined by chaos. This is why the homeschooling law in Virginia needs to be overturned, ALL children in the state deserve a chance to be educated at least enough so that they can have a shot at life, become productive members of society.

Comments open below

Read everything by Calulu!

Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago. Her blog is Calulu – Seeking The Light

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • JoannaDW

    Fat chance Beth will be invited to speak at HSLDA conferences or invited to participate in any of their lobbying efforts disguised as “studies” proving that homeschool is better.

  • Saraquill

    Those people who raised Beth don’t deserve to be called parents, after hurting her in so many ways.

  • And there are several more children in that home, including her baby…

  • mayarend

    I could bet money that the parents will always blame it on:
    1. The few public school years
    2. Her “rebelious” personality.

  • Trollface McGee

    Who sadly will likely be raised the same way as her mother, with the mother being held out as the example of what happens when you “stray.”
    Some people really have no business being parents, much less home schooling.

  • gimpi1

    I think when you’re in the “closed-loop” thinking, everything that happens is seen as reinforcing your beliefs. You’re never wrong. You just change how you see thing.

    Beth’s parents no doubt blame her “rebellious” personality and outside influences for her problems. They will crack down on her siblings and her child harder than ever, to keep “the world” from “corrupting” these kids, the way Beth was “corrupted.”

    When some of her siblings “rebel,” they’ll blame her. When some of her siblings are successfully brainwashed, that will “prove” the rightness of their actions. If Beth’s child resists them, that will “prove” that Beth is the problem, some sort of bad seed. When their kids can’t find work with the limited “education” they have provided, that just “proves” how corrupt “the world” is, not recognizing the sterling characteristics of the Joshua Generation.

    When you’re inside the bubble, you can’t see the outside.

  • Yep – exactly what I meant.

  • EvelynKrieger

    Sorry, these are just bad parents. You don’t have much of a sampling as far as the homeschooling world goes. Just read the hundreds of comments on the NPR page asking about homeschooling. These kids are doing well: entering college early, duel-enrollment, winning academic contests, starting businesses, using online courses, and entering good colleges. These kids you write about would still have problems if they went to public school because of their home life, but yes, they’d probably have a better education.

  • NeaDods

    Are you willing to read the hundreds of comments on this blog and Homeschoolers Anonymous about how homeschooling has failed them? For every anecdote you have about homeschoolers doing well there is an equal and opposite anecdote about homeschoolers being abused, miseducated, or uneducated. And unfortunately, HSLDA and its ilk have done all in their power to make sure that honest, accurate surveys of how homeschoolers and public schoolers are never done. Surprising, really. If homeschooling really was superior, an unbiased study would prove that. And still no one has done that study. No one actually has that accurate sampling.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I mentioned the home life of only one of the hundred plus kids I taught that were homeschooled. None of the others home lives were mentioned so you’re making the assumption about the rest of them.

    As far as the NPR page those are the thousands of self-deluded under educated mommas that will never talk about the hidden side of it, the behavioral problems, the social interaction problems. They are JUST like the Duggars in that they only show a false rosy side in order to hoodwink the world. There is not one impartial survey anywhere that shows homeschooling for religious reasons creates better educated people. You know why? Because for most it does them a significant disservice.

    There must be state oversight and accountability for those poor homeschooled kids to have a chance of a decent future or career.

  • Don’t you think that it is strange that among all the home schoolers this writer met through her work, not one is more successful than the one who helps customers in a take away? She talks the longest of the worst case, but the point is that almost none of them (only three) actually managed to find paid employment from a non-parent. And even those are “lowly” jobs.

  • EvelynKrieger

    The very same could be said of schooled kids. How many are failed by high-stakes testing, bad teachers, dull curriculum, bullying? Just because a child attends public school does not guarantee she will receive a great education or be happy. I am saddened for any children who are hurt by homeschooling, just as I am saddened. by children who are hurt by public school. I am a teacher. I worked in private and public school. I also worked privately with students as an academic coach and I can tell you that many were damaged by the school practices and poor teaching. I am very involved in both words–school and homeschooling. I’m interested in educational reform, alternative education, and parent choice. What bothers me is when the critics refuse to believe that families should have choices and that education is not a one-size-fits-all. I noticed that many of the comments on NPR were from successful young adults who reflected positively on their homeschooling years. I have long-term personal relationships with many homeschooled families, so I’ve seen the good side: well-adjusted kids who go on to college and careers. My daughters are among them. I don’t need studies.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    You mean you chose to ignore studies.

    The state of Virginia needs to change the law so EVERY child has a chance to receive a great education. There must be oversight of education at all levels. Christian private schools, of which there are plenty in Virginia, many that are superior to some public schools and will not teach your children about whatever Christian boogieman you’re trying to avoid by homeschooling. Guess what? Those schools have to be overseen by the State, must teach to a certain educational standard.

    If the state of Virginia would properly oversee the education plans of homeschooling and require testing to prove that the children are actually being taught and are learning then everyone in my great state would have equal opportunity in the sphere of education.

    Education is not one sized fits all but homeschooling without accountability has proven to be disastrous. Being educated is essential in today’s economic system. I guess you don’t think everyone should be educated and that’s fine, just don’t whine about it if your children cannot find high paying jobs while my kids are successful in their chosen careers.

    Raising a generation without the ability to support themselves is selfish and irresponsible.

  • Independent Thinker

    As a mother who has homeschooled I would even take your suggestion a step further. There needs to be curriculum choices reviewed by certified teachers and a few face to face annual reviews to look over the child’s progress. I personally attended four homeschooling conventions in two states and can speak from personal experience. Some of the curriculum choices are awful. Many books marketed at homeschooling conventions are written by parents who homeschool themselves and have no educational or professional achievements that would indicate they should go in the business of developing curriculum. (If you work at NASA and want to write a science textbook, awesome) The number of typos and grammatical errors alone are enough to throw up a red flag. Want examples? Pick up the Eagle’s Wing Education Series.

  • Independent Thinker

    Homeschooling families are quite a spectrum. I think the primary concern is with families that choose to homeschool from Kindergarten to 12th grade. Some younger children may need an extra year at home to mature a bit before heading off to school full time. Older kids may only need to do one or two classes to graduate and may take online classes to speed things along. Anytime a child is taught at home they fall under the umbrella of homeschooling. Without knowing the full history of a child’s academic experience you can not credit homeschooling as the reason for their success. I was only homeschooled myself for about 18 months of high school. The rest of my education was in a traditional classroom setting. Am I supposed to credit the homeschooling community for the fact I went to college and started a business or am I supposed to credit the schools I attended during the grades K-10? I also was academically ahead in my credit hours in high school so that’s why I only needed the remaining 18 months to graduate and that was being homeschooled on basically a part time basis.

  • EvelynKrieger

    What I meant was, I don’t need studies to know that home education is working for my kids and those families I work with. I certainly do believe children should be educated, but perhaps we disagree on what that means. My kids are going to college and pursuing careers. They’ve done college-level work in high school. They are very involved in the arts. Where I live, in MA, each district has its own guidelines as to what homeschooling families need to provide to get approval. This might be a written plan at the beginning of the year, a portfolio review, a meeting, or standardized test. There are laws as what they can and cannot require of you. Sounds like Virginia may be backwards in all this. Frankly, I’m a lot more concerned about the scores of children who are dropping out of school, graduating with minimal skills, and attend over-crowded and failing schools.

  • EvelynKrieger

    Exactly. Don’t lump all homeschooling into one bag. I have one child who went to private school for 12 years, a daughter who homeschooled for 2 years, and another who only went to school for two years. It is what works for each child in a given family and situation. Homeschooling does not even have to mean the parents are primary teachers. It’s a viable choice with many variations. And like anything, it can be done poorly.

  • Rebecca Campos

    This blog entry makes me incredibly sad because I’ve seen it too. I currently do “homeschool” (actually we now use Connections which is technically public school) my youngest and have homeschooled at various times one of my other children. While I was obsessing over finding good curriculums and standards of measurements, those around me kept saying relax, they’ll learn what they need, don’t stress over it. Don’t stress over it? This is their future!
    Curriculum choices are abysmal and everything is tainted by religious agenda, especially science and history curriculums. I really believe there needs to be oversight on curriculums and honestly, if homeschooling is everything HSLDA and their groupies claim it is, then what’s wrong with standardized testing and measures to ensure each child is progressing in material? Nothing to hide right?