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My wife and I have been facilitating home education for three decades. Needless to say, we have seen a lot of students come and go with most completing their secondary education at home and transitioning into their adult post-secondary world.
While visiting with Matthew’s parents one day, we were discussing how we were getting a lot of invitations to weddings after being involved in so many lives over so long a time and how we had determined not to attend any as it would literally take up our entire summer and if we attended only some, it could be seen as showing favouritism.
Matthew had come to see us at his parent’s place and, having overheard our conversation, asked if we would make an exception and come to his wedding, if ever that should happen.
This is where I erred. In keeping with the general expectation for the “learning disabled,” we simply assumed that would never happen and so we assured Matthew that we would most certainly come to his wedding, if he got married. After believing that Matthew could accomplish the impossible, I hate to admit it, but I stumbled over this.
Why do we harbour a failure expectation and sentence those who are different to a lesser life? What arrogance! Does God favour one over another? How can we, on the one hand, believe that one of the best things we can find in life is a partner to share it with, then disqualify someone from this blessing because they are “not normal” or “different”?
I am ashamed to say that I even considered disqualifying Matthew. He was the fellow who had already thrown nearly every negative expectation of him on its ear. Why did I think he would not find a soul mate? I have since repented of this “sin.”
When we discovered that Matthew had a girl friend and I regret having to admit this, I was surprised! Why? So, when time brought us an invitation to his wedding, we quickly responded with our affirmative RSVP for two reasons. First, we had said we would. Second, how could we miss such a momentous occasion?
At the wedding we felt as though our own child was involved. A lot of things were going through my mind as we witnessed the covenant being made between Matthew and his lovely bride, Megan. Later, at the reception, we were honoured to be asked to say a few words about Matthew.
It was then that I realized that Matthew had been as influential in my life as I had been in his. I had helped validate and confirm his ability to do what the world would have predicted to be impossible. He, on the other hand, validated and confirmed my unorthodox approach to home education in general and my peculiar understanding of the “learning challenged.”
Even though I am older than his dad, I felt a strange camaraderie with Matthew. The dyslexic Léo, who had successfully overcome a number of obstacles, had mentored a fellow “learning challenged” person on how to overcome his own obstacles to success.
While Matthew had beaten the system by escaping it, I had come to beat it from within. We were both at odds with what was the “normal” thing to do and we needed each other to realize that it was okay to be different. Not just okay, but absolutely necessary in order for us to survive and thrive in this world, even if as non-conformists.
In a way, I came of age the night I addressed Matthew’s family and friends at his reception. I pointed out that by any measure, Matthew had made a mockery of the nonsense of standardization. He had broken or violated nearly every rule in the book of systemic “special needs” education.
He had defied the odds. He had overcome the obstacles. He had put down his fears. He had succeeded in spite of all the opposition… and he made me realize that I had accomplished the same, in my own way.
I had also found that the path of least resistance was to ignore the constant reminders that I was different. Both of us had moved forward by refusing to be held back or put back into someone else’s world.
I can’t say that Matthew saw this, but it became clear to me that my only requirement for fulfilling God’s calling in my life was to simply be me and to disregard the seemingly unlimited encouragement to conform to what I was supposed to be, what I was expected to advance as right and what I was to embrace as truth.
Matthew and I were friends in a world that is hostile to those who dare to be different. We were brothers in arms so to speak. Certainly brothers in the Lord, while being siblings in purpose. Without fanfare, we celebrate being different from the rest.
When I consider my educational path and compare it to Matthew’s, I believe his parents’ decision to educate him at home was pivotal to their being able to tailor the program to fit the unique requirements of a unique individual.
God directed parents to teach their children, not to put them in school. Parents can accommodate all the learning challenges, real or otherwise. Schools can’t. Matthew’s family, including his teacher aunt, had come to understand that.
The world has come to see learning differences as “problematic.” We tend to focus on the symptoms of the learning challenge rather than on the possibilities.
Matthew never knew that he “had a problem” so he likely never saw himself as weird. He was not “handicapped” by unreasonable expectations to be “like everyone else” and on that note we were colleagues. Only he took a lot less time to get there!
I believe that the majority of learning issues are not really issues as much as differences. If we validate those who have “differences” as being valuable just as they are and then clearly demonstrate that we believe in their ability to do what they want to do in their way and in their time, the results can be outstanding, even miraculous.
Before I leave this story, I want to make one more comment. You would think by the way that I have portrayed him, that Matthew was a saint. Aside from practical jokes, something the entire family is famous for, I never saw Matthew treat anyone with disrespect, but that is not what makes him a saint. His accepting sanctification through Jesus Christ does.
However, knowing that he is human and that no human is perfect, I can assure you that Matthew had his imperfections, as is common to man. I’ll bet that if we were to ask his dear wife, Megan, if Matthew has any flaws, she would be sure to provide us with a list, which, I am afraid, is also common to any “married” man, but he has never wronged me.
I have reserved the next chapter of this story for Matthew’s parents. Next time, I will read their perspective of what happened.