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 +

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Prodigy Paradox: education is easy, when it is hard.

A child prodigy is not like other kids, in a way that may not be immediately apparent. A child prodigy may find extremely challenging academic work, easy, for it will engage the child's interest, and allow them to apply their intelligence to a greater degree than something which is not demanding.

On the other hand, for such a gifted child, the easy everyday work of school may actually be harder to accomplish. Why is this? Because school work is very easy. It demands no intelligence - from the point of view of the child prodigy - or even a profoundly gifted, exceptionally gifted or highly gifted child. Since school work is so easy, it provides no challenge or stimulation to the child but presents a very real difficulty: boredom. The prodigy child is simply bored by the lack of demand of school work set an age level equal to their own. The conceptual requirement is too limited to engage them: their brains are on idle. What does the prodigy child do when faced with typical school work? They switch off, completely and hide somewhere deep within themselves from this dullest of all worlds. They retreat from the utter boredom of the classroom, and find a place of more interesting reverie within themselves.

What would the teacher think of a child so disinterested in the school work that she finds it problematic to draw his attention? One thing she will not think is: "That child is bored, therefore he must be a prodigy/profoundly gifted/exceptionally gifted/highly gifted." Nope. She will think: "That child is not paying attention to ME. After all the hard work I put into these lessons: HEY YOU! WAKE UP!"

I see this tendency in my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, aged six. His school work, which is admittedly absolutely trivial, makes him sigh with the boredom of it all. Any distraction, however minor, is able to take his attention away from the boredom in front of him. However, if you present him with adult level scientific material, he will read it with interest, question you on it, present his own theories and interpretations and engage in experimentation. He only comes alive when there is the challenge of something new, interesting - and, this is very important HIGH LEVEL. The work of school is simply too simple to even wake him up.

If your son shines at things which are complex and demanding out of school, but expresses boredom at school, this could very well be the situation that is developing: the school is not challenging him and so he - or she - is switching off.

If your gifted child has to proceed through education at the same age as his peers - as is the case in Singapore, where we are - then the education system will NEVER meet the needs of your gifted child, if that child is showing the symptoms above of insufficient challenge.

(If you would like to read more about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:51 PM 


Blogger arifa said...

The most frequent comment I recieved in school by my teachers was 'intelligent, but not interested'.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Arifa, that is the problem for the more gifted children: school provides no challenge, and therefore no interest. It is such a pity. The best of us are ill-served by the usual education. It is no doubt very harmful to the cause of humanity, in general...

Best wishes

9:19 AM  

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