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I first met Matthew nearly twenty years ago. He is the youngest of a family of five, and had been born with “issues” that made him simply not fit the school system.
In fact, although I cannot say I know for sure, I imagine the school would have seen Matthew as unteachable and suspect it may have even made recommendation for home education, in spite of the fact that Matthew was worth a lot of money to them, if you know what I mean.
The first time we drove into the family’s yard, Matthew came bounding up with great enthusiasm to greet us as we got out of the car. Matthew’s walk was different. His talk was different. He looked different. He acted differently from what one would expect from a “normal” child. Matthew was unique.
There was no presumption, no insincerity, no guile, just an effervescent happiness. When he spoke to us, we felt like we had been his friend forever. We felt important, valuable, like honoured guests.
It is almost impossible to accurately describe what Matthew did to sweep us off our “facilitators’” feet, but he did. We both felt a purely unconditional love extended to us and without uttering a word, a simple expectation of reciprocation. Matthew was unique.
He immediately started telling us all about how he had repaired a broken down ATV (I used ATV, but for those of you who can remember the trike, that’s what it was). He was detailed and he was really excited about his accomplishments. He made what was not interesting to me, interesting as he demonstrated his accomplishments. Matthew was unique.
As we found our way into the house, Matthew’s constitution remained buoyant, but it was very clear that he had issues with school, any school, anywhere! However, he was amenable, even if reluctantly, to being educated at home as that meant he did not have to go to school. In this way, Matthew was not unique.
In fact, calling the process home education rather than home schooling greatly alleviated his concern about having to do “school” at home! Tricks of the trade, you know!
I never asked Matthew’s parents what was “wrong” with him. I did not care what his “condition” was or what “title” he had been given. I saw a kid who needed a chance to be who he was, not something I or we or someone or anything else desired him to be. He did not need fixing, he needed affirmation.
Besides the obvious fact that Matthew was “learning challenged,” we had another issue that we have had to deal with a few times, namely, the familial teacher. Matthew had an aunt who was a school teacher and as soon as she discovered our laisséz-faire-go-easy-on-him-unschooling approach, the debate was on.
As you have likely also experienced, sometimes we really do earn our pay and this was one of those times. Pretty well everything I suggested or recommended in the beginning was initially opposed by the aunt.
It was not that she did not approve of Matthew being educated at home. In fact, she knew the local school could not meet his needs and she agreed home education was the only solution. It was just that she understood the process more as delivering a school program at home rather than a process of ascertaining and meeting Mathew’s learning needs with an individualized program.
Yet, for whatever reason, Matthew’s parents followed my directives. I would assume that they were wise enough to know that if school didn’t work for Matthew at school, bringing home any version of the same thing would result in… the same thing.
So started our journey with Matthew along with a lasting and valued friendship with his family. He was initially registered as being in grade five, but hardly met any of the criteria one would use to determine that. Matthew was unique.
Now children are always a chip from some block and parents usually provide most of those chips! Matthew’s family was warm and welcoming, just like him, or should I say he obviously had a good example to follow with his parents and older siblings.
John was a mechanic who owned his own shop and Agnes was a stay at home mom responsible for the business’ bookkeeping, not to mention one of the best cooks… I dare say… in the world!
The friendship that grew out of meeting this family was such that they insisted on billeting us when we came into their region for work. This provided us with an inside look at Matthew’s world. He never changed. What he was in public, he was in private. He did not know how to be anything but Matthew. He was unique.
As the years went by, Matthew and his mom plugged away at learning the basics. It wasn’t always great going, to be sure.
I remember, one time, privately asking mom how the year had gone. She answered with, “Okay, I guess, but Matthew sure had his moments.” Later that evening after dinner, I had opportunity to ask Matthew how his school year had gone and he answered, “Okay, I guess, but Mom sure had her moments!” At least we knew they were on the same page!
Agnes had an ace in the hole, a trick, a bargaining chip. Once Matthew got his “school” work done, he could go work with his dad, in the automotive shop located in the same yard. Matthew’s day would start with the drudgery of doing school work and end with the ecstasy of being in the shop with his dad, brother, cousins and friends.
Eventually, Matthew had made significant progress such that his school teacher aunt relented and stopped hovering over Matthew and his mom, but I must tell you it was not the academics that changed her mind.
Matthew was comfortably himself and willingly went through the motions of learning with his mom so he could go work with his dad in the shop. Not being in nor playing school was a godsend for him and everybody could see it, including his aunt and she was pleased.
Matthew’s no nonsense, pragmatic approach to life instinctively told him that he needed a minimum of basic skills to specialize in his field, and he was right.
Algebra, for instance, was not only impossible, it was completely unnecessary. How much did he have to know about politics or geography or the environment to be able to fix things? What had application to his world was easier for him to learn than what didn’t. This should only make sense.
I am not saying that mom failed with Matthew. Progress was made, even if it was not great strides in academics.
Mom was very resourceful and having had experience with four older children, was fully capable of getting cooperation from Matthew, but I must admit, knowing what Matthew really liked (mechanics) and using that as a carrot (some would call it blackmail), she managed to keep him at it as long as she could.
Oh, one more thing. Mom did what she could to avoid frustrating Matthew or being frustrated with him. I believe that was key to her success.
We can all remember when we started most things and if the end has arrived, we are usually pretty good at remembering that too. Usually, the years in between become a blur of time. That is what happened to us and Matthew.
We certainly remember our initial meeting with Matthew and his family. It was indeed memorable. Not that the years that followed were not interesting, it is just that they went by so fast!
There were lots of laughs and fun when we stayed with Matthew’s family. We felt like we were more than guests. We felt like we were part of the family, like aunt and uncle. We always looked forward to going there because Matthew was such a neat kid and John and Agnes had become very good friends.
Alas, time flew by, Matthew grew up, seriously grew up to be a very tall fellow, requiring both my wife and I to need a boost to hug him. Even so, we always wanted to hug him because Matthew was special.
Matthew was truly different in that he was never pretentious. He did not play needless games. He was who he was. He was real. Matthew was unique.