The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The biggest bully in the school

Who is the biggest bully in the school? Is it the oldest kid in the classroom? The heaviest in the class? The one with the nastiest temper, most given to anger? Think about it for a second or two.

Perhaps you have thought of it, perhaps you haven't. Sometimes it is the teacher who is the bully.

What do I mean by a teacher who bullies? Well, sometimes a teacher takes a dislike to a student, often a gifted student, and engages in directed attacks. They might be in the form of remarks at the expense of the child, it might be shouting, intimidating, social isolation, expulsion from the class, or more simply, but just as harmfully, ignoring the student: never choosing the student to answer a question and ignoring that student's question.

Why would a teacher pick on a gifted child? Sometimes the teacher is somewhat insecure or inadequate and feels threatened by the gifted child who always asks questions she cannot answer. Sometimes, the teacher takes offense when the gifted child seems bored and disinterested in the class: this teacher might punish the student in some way - yet what is the student's crime - it is the teacher who is being boring by teaching below the level at which the child could work.

Sometimes the teacher simply cannot understand what the student does or says. This teacher is usually not very bright and can react with anger at the actions, words, thoughts and questions of the gifted child. One such teacher has bullied the gifted child of a reader of this blog. I have answered her in the post beneath "A confederacy of dunces", below, at:

The teacher shouted at the reception class student (aged 6) who had made a model of a nephron, part of a kidney, in class, on his own initiative, having been asked to do something else, along with the others.

For this display of creativity and technical skill, memory and knowledge, the teacher shouted at him, "Not to be so silly", when he told her what it was, dismantled his model in front of him, told him "It is naughty to lie to me and waste material." and sent him to stare at a blank wall for the rest of the afternoon.

That action is many things, but one thing it is most certainly, is bullying. Just because the perpetrator in question is a teacher, it does not alter the status of her action: it was the act of a bully. It also demonstrated very clearly that his teacher is far from bright - she is probably not bright enough to teach the average kids, never mind the gifted ones.

How common is bullying by teachers? I can only go by those who have confided in me. My wife experienced it. I experienced it, my brother experienced it too. My reader's gifted child experienced it. I would say, therefore, that it is not uncommon for the teacher to be a bully.

I will speak more of my own and my family's bullying experiences in another post. For now, ask yourself, as the parent of a gifted child: is my child being bullied, by his teacher? Would you know if it were happening? Teachers are in a position of responsibility and respect: the student is conditioned to accept whatever they do. Some teachers abuse this position - and their students. Tell your child that the teacher has no more right to engage in destructive behaviours towards them than anyone else has. Ask your child to describe any incident in which the teacher upset them. Judge if the teacher was engaging in bullying. If so, speak to the Principal and ask for a different class for your child that would not expose him or her to that teacher - or find another school, if the behaviour is chronic. The most damaging bully of all, is a teacher - for the student has no protection from them and no help from anyone against them. Naturally the teacher is supposed to protect the child from bullies, not be bully.

Remember it is the gifted child who is more likely to be bullied because they will stand out as a target in the classroom, so if your child is gifted, be on special guard.

If you have experience of bullying teachers, or your children have, please share your experiences in the comments.

(If you would like to learn about Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy, and his gifted brothers go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:20 PM 


Anonymous Anna Stanton said...

Thank you very much for your advice. I've discussed the situation with my husband and we both agree we must remove Jack from his current class.
This past week has been half term however come monday i am going to arrange a meeting with the headmaster to discuss the possibility of moving Jack to the other reception class pending teaching style and attitudes of the teacher. It does look promising insofar as the other teacher is concerned. My sister's daughter attended his class and tells me he is very receptive and open to the brighter kids, always giving them special responsibilites and projects (which Jack adores).
I am going to arrange a portfolio of Jack's home projects to take to the meeting, which I hope will persuade that he is very able and needs to be in an encouraging and challenging environment.
Thanks again for your help. You've given me that shove in the back that was necessary for me to have the confidence to take some action.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks Anna for your post - and the news it contains.

By writing, you encourage others to take the steps necessary to ensure the proper education of their children, in a safe environment, lacking in the kind of distress that bullying brings.

I am happy that my advice has made you take the right step to helping your son become what he may. Your example will help others do the same, in turn.

Thanks...and keep me posted about how Jack is doing.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous pam h said...

You asked for examples of teacher bullying. I have an anecdote from my father's time. In retrospect, we chuckle at the memory, but I'm certain the teacher meant no levity at the time.

My father was chronically late to school. He invariably missed the opening lessons for his math class. Notwithstanding, he never scored less than perfect on his examinations. This irked his teacher.

So on a day just before the end of term, before my father arrived in class, the teacher taught the class the rule that anything to the zero power = 1; then told the class, specifically, to not mention this to my father.

As I understand it, this is not something that could be reasonably inferred from a general knowledge of mathematics.

When the final eaxmination came, my father correctly answered every question but one.

The teacher had exacted his revenge.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Pam

Thank you for your story. To do as he did, this teacher must have nursed a smouldering resentment of your father and took this time bomb style revenge.

A teacher should not have an ego, but should appreciate each child for what they are. Your father was good at maths, whatever his personal approach to attendance: that should have been enough to satisfy any teacher.

Best wishes

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Valentine,

I've just discovered your blog and have spent some time reading the various (very interesting) posts. It's wonderful to read about your sons and your family as well as yourself and your achievements.

I was content just reading (for now), but your post about bullying sparked a strong reaction in me. For as long as I can remember, my time at school was mostly miserable, I was only truly happy when I was alone in my room, reading or engaging in my various interests. I always had the feeling that one of my teachers never seemed to take me seriously. I always felt stupid in his presence. I was never called on to participate in the classes where I performed well (when I raised my hand I was ignored) and then I was given a "bad" grade, because I didn't participate enough... I was also ignored and bullied by my classmates, who hurt me physically as well as through words.

After switching schools, things got really bad. One of my teachers shouted at me every day, I was isolated and alone, again, and she called my mother into school each day. It was a bad time. I remember that the school had a reading competition each year which I desperately wanted to participate in but the teacher refused to let me participate.

Living in a town where there were only two schools I could go to (at the time), I grudgingly switched back to my old school, where the bullying by my peers and the mocking attitude of some of the teachers resumed. School was not a happy time for me. I was always an outsider. I then moved to another country, and even though I was still the outsider, my achievements were finally noticed and rewarded.

I think that your post is very important and provides some great advice.

Take care,

3:03 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Sadly, it is often the lot of anyway who is different or special, in any way, to be isolated and frequently bullied.

I wonder how many of those wonderful people never fulfil their potential because of this?


Thank you for sharing your experience, Carina.

Best wishes to you

7:15 AM  
Blogger Lynn Tan said...

when i was reading about bullying teachers in school... as an average student and lucky to be in schools with wonderful teachers i have no complain but John (my Aussie Friend) has experience some resentment of sorts from teachers..

there was once this teacher(lets call A) was teaching multiplication.. and he wasn't listening for he understand the concept already and had already completed his work.. but A asked him why isn't he following her lesson.. he replied.." I know the concept already and had already finish the work"

but A wont believe him.. and ask him to come out and write all the 100 sums on the board.. and needless to say.. it was all correct and not only was A stumped.. his classmates copied his answers off the board and ignored A for the rest of the class..

and A was extremely pissed at John.. speaking of narrow minded people

9:44 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Lynn, your story is characteristic of some teachers inability to respond well to the more gifted students. I wish they would learn!

Best wishes

10:39 AM  
Blogger Lynn Tan said...

bear in mind something.. some teachers dont have the passion for teaching sometimes.. it maybe the high salary that attract them to teach ..or it maybe their ego thus their inability to accept people more intelligent then them

10:49 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are quite right Lynn...some teachers teach for all the wrong reasons. I think teaching is one of those professions in which its occupants should really be those who have a strong desire to do it well and help others grow.

Best wishes

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Mary Ann said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog, and hearing about your wonderful that you have recognized their abilities and helped to nurture them! This "bullying" thread nearly broke my heart...but at least now I don't feel so alone. My oldest son has test scores to show he is profoundly gifted, and his main areas of passion are math and science. His 3rd grade teacher took an instant dislike to him, because he never paid attention in class, but in spite of that, when she would call on him to answer a question, in the hopes of showing everyone that he was not paying attention, he always knew the answer. It probably didn't help that he was not shy about pointing out when she was giving the class outdated scientific some cases, information about the solar system that had been proved wrong over 50 years ago! She would tell him that this was what she was teaching, and he should just assume the information was correct and not question it. There were two very socially adept boys in the class who were her "pets" and she encouraged them to pick on my son, ignoring instances when they would physically and verbally attack him, but punishing my son when he would fight back, or humiliating him in front of the class in many different ways. My son became so distraught at this treatment that I removed him from the class halfway through the year, and have been homeschooling him ever since. But I am sad, because somehow, our family became the "bad guys" through all this, and the teacher has badmouthed us to all the other teachers, so even if he wanted to return to our small public school, it would now be impossible. Why do people like this become teachers? Perhaps because they had no other options, and the requirements are lax enough in the US that although there are some fabulous teachers out there, some really inept ones are able to pass the exams and get jobs in the school system. I don't know - I just know that my heart breaks for my child, who, at such a young age, had to experience this kind of discrimination from someone who should have cherished and nurtured his abilities, and celebrated his differences, not been threatened by them.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Mary Ann, thank you for your sharing your son's experience. I know how difficult that can be.

To answer your question, I think that people like your son's teacher are probably taking out their own frustrations on not being too bright, on those who are. They are in power in the classroom. When they were in school, it is likely that they were outshone by others and grew to resent that. Once they are in charge in the classroom, they are taking out their own childhood (and adulthood) issues over inferioty out on the superior ones.

They shouldn't be in a classroom, they should be in mental health care.

You are fortunate to be able to homeschool your son. We have so far not been allowed to homeschool ours, the Singapore system being as restrictive as it is.

Best wishes

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found this blog and this particular article resonates with me greatly.

I was an extremely gifted child. Perhaps even a prodigy, but I'll probably never know. I was a victim of extreme bullying from all levels throughout much of my childhood.

It was so bad that for the past 20 years I had completely blocked out all memory of it. I am only now beginning to understand and heal.

I have never been able to achieve my potential because of dangerously low self esteem. Teachers failed me.

I have gotten so much clarity in the last year or so, and yet the cycle continues. I am unable to break the habits of my dysfunction.

I will make sure that nothing of this sort EVER happens to my son, who is also extremely gifted. A two year old who tells his mother she is being ridiculous, and knows what it means. He really cracks me up. One of the only things that keeps me going.


2:38 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for sharing your terrible experience: it could be a help to others who have suffered so, too.

Yes, the gifted often suffer terribly for their gifts. As a parent, you have the opportunity to defend your child from the same - because you understand it and are therefore prepared for it.

Do consider homeschooling if you have to.

Don't give up on yourself: there is always time for recovery, even after 20 years - take a little step everyday towards a fuller expression of your gifts and you will surprise yourself where you will be in a few years.

Best wishes to you.

4:20 PM  

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