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When we first met Matthew he was starting level five. By the time he completed his official home education program he had worked very hard to master… level 5.
Perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I want to make the point that despite the fact that he did not excel in academics, his home education program was not a waste of time, but rather a phenomenal success in that it prepared him for his life.
Matthew did excel in HIS studies. That is, he learned what he had to in keeping with who he was, and what he could and wanted to do. He learned enough to become an asset in his father’s shop, so we started talking about an apprenticeship.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that about this time, a representative of the apprenticeship board, a man who clearly understood the difference between education and aptitude, was instrumental in directing the initial process for Matthew. He showed Mom that having Matthew go through the apprenticeship learning modules, he would have the fundamental skills and knowledge that would be required for his training.
There are two things that must be stated here as they are very important. Nobody referenced Matthew’s “learning challenges,” at least not in my hearing. Everyone simply treated him like a regular student wanting to get involved in the trades. My job, and it turned out to be vitally important, was to encourage him with my undying belief that he would succeed as he was.
The other thing that must be noted is that the struggle that had followed Matthew through his formative academic years mostly ended when he started learning from modules that were intended to prepare him for what he wanted to do. In other words, since there was purpose to learning this material, that is, it was necessary to pursue his goal, it was not nearly as hard to have him sit down and do it.
Some would say that was because he was older and more mature and I would not disagree, but I think it is just as much a matter of the practical applicability of what he was learning. We can all do well when something interests us, and even better when there is good reason for learning it.
And so, Matthew was ready to start his apprenticeship with his dad as his sponsor and mentor.
However, there arose a major obstacle that became a game changer for Matthew. In order for Matthew to proceed, he had to write and pass the apprenticeship entrance exam, which was likely seen as a death sentence by him, as is so often the case with those who are “school challenged.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about this exam is that it is like every other school based test that measures a student’s ability to regurgitate specific information that is most often quickly forgotten. The test Matthew had to write was one that measured skills, and particularly those needed to succeed in the chosen trade. This test is written by people who hate tests for people who hate tests!
No matter, a test was a test as far as Matthew was concerned and the ghosts of his past experience with school came to the fore, causing him to believe he would just fail it like every other test he had written.
I had advised during Matthew’s home education program that testing should be avoided or minimized. I encouraged mom to assess his progress through observation as I knew testing would cause Matthew unneeded stress. Therefore, Matthew had been protected from this dreaded activity, until now.
So, Matthew dug in. He really dug in. Not dad, mom, siblings, friends nor relatives could convince him otherwise, until I was brought into the fray. My approach was not that novel. I simply did not tell him he HAD to do the test, but that I believed he WOULD pass the test.
This episode really stands out in my wife’s and my memory. It was a Sunday afternoon. It had taken all my persuasive powers over several days to convince Matthew that he could do it and I finally got him to reluctantly agree to try the apprenticeship practice exam. I instructed him to write the test while I had a nap, promising him I would review his efforts when I returned.
Matthew had a great deal of respect for me, so I am not sure whether he did it for himself or for me. Whatever the reason, by the time I got up from my nap, it was clear that Matthew had struggled a great deal at overcoming his fears and anxieties.
I cannot truly describe the feeling of dejection that surrounded Matthew. He knew he had done a bad job and by all appearances, his world had come crashing down upon him.
This may have been the first time I saw Matthew in a funk and it was only reinforced when I apprised him of the near catastrophic results of his effort after I had marked it. He had failed the test and he had done so convincingly.
Most people would have simply given up at that point, but I didn’t. I talked Matthew into relaxing and letting it go, and to allow me to study what had happened. It was not long before I was able to determine that Matthew had not actually failed the test, but had failed miserably at test writing.
Matthew had done so many things wrong, that he could have won the worst test writer of the year award. He had broken every rule of test writing. His fears and concerns were completely justified. It was painfully obvious that he had never been given any instruction on how to proceed and succeed at this task.
I then convinced him to return to the table and took the time to go through some simple rules for test writing, starting with showing him how to use the Formula Sheets (legal cheat notes), which he had not once consulted in his initial effort!
It took a bit more time and effort to convince Matthew to give the test another go, but this time I had armed him with the test writing skills that would reduce possible failure at test writing to enable an assessment of his skills and knowledge. I had a second nap while Matthew gave all he had doing what he did not want to do.
(This event reinforced my belief that in school “good students” are often good “test writers” and not necessarily good learners. I was then inspired to write an article about testing and another instructing students on how to write tests. Both can be found in the Education Unlimited Library.)
Now, if you have ever been in a time and space where you shared someone’s “best thing to have ever happened in his life” moment, you might have an idea of the sheer ecstasy and unbridled joy we witnessed and shared over the fact that this second time Matthew had passed the test. There are no appropriate words to describe the joy we all experienced.
Something happened to Matthew that day, a day no one will ever forget. Matthew had overcome one of his biggest fears! He had slain his Goliath! Now, he was ready to take on the world.
I must admit that of all the successes I have had in my career, this one will forever stand out as my crowning achievement. I had miraculously been used of God to free one He loved from a bondage that had been imposed by many well-meaning people who just did not understand how detrimental their approach had been. Matthew was not just free, but he was now free, indeed.