I don’t know if you saw the recent story in the Washington (or is it the Amazon.com) Post about 21-year-old Josh Powell, a young man who recently enrolled in Georgetown University. However, he didn’t follow a conventional path to get there.
Josh Powell had been home schooled by his parents under Virginia’s religious exemption law that allows parents to educate their children if they feel the school system conflicts with their religious beliefs.
By the time Josh was 16, he had never written an essay. He didn’t know South Africa was a country. He couldn’t solve basic algebra problems.
Not only are children like Josh 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.
He asked his parents whether he could enroll in school. When they said no, he researched Virginia law. He found that was their decision to make under the law.
In 2008, he wrote to Buckingham school officials, telling the board that he didn’t share his parents’ religious objections to public school and asking to enroll.
He said the administrator he spoke with was kindly but dismissive.
Finally, Josh wrote to the Buckingham County School Board again, telling it that he had siblings who wanted to attend school and that by law, officials must consider their views as well as his parents’.
It said no.
He Googled “financial aid” and applied to Piedmont Virginia Community College. A neighbor gave him a ride, an hour each way every day, until he had earned enough to afford an apartment nearby. It was terrifying, he said, as he was unsure how to behave in a classroom or whether he was going to embarrass himself answering questions. But he was thrilled.
Josh eventually found a way to get several years of remedial classes and other courses at a community college. “With the addition of lectures, the structure, the support, the tutoring — things just finally clicked. I remember my first semester sitting in my developmental math class. No one wanted to be there except for me. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I have a chance to learn!’ ”
Now he’s studying at Georgetown University.
He still feels like he’s missing some fundamental knowledge, with gaps in science, history and English. “Not having read any of the standard high school literature, people make references I don’t get,” he said.
Most of all, he worries about his siblings: There are 11. One, old enough to be well into middle school, can’t read, Powell said.
Now he’s trying to get his brothers and sisters into school, to ensure that they don’t have to work as hard as he did to catch up — or get left behind, as he almost was.
As we’ve been thinking about determination this week, I think that Josh Powell is the embodiment of determination. He overcame what seemed to be insurmountable odds to achieve what many of us take for granted. We can learn much from him as believers, when it seems that that whatever we are trying to achieve is faced with incredible obstacles. As Paul wrote, “I press on.” Josh Powell pressed on and, by the grace of God, so should me.