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 +

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back to School

Today, my eldest son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, a scientific child prodigy, returns to school. We live in a country, Singapore, that makes no provision for such a child and so he is returning to Primary Two - his age group. He will attend classes along with all the other seven year olds. There is something sad about this, for at school he will be "learning" the most basic of things, while at home he busies himself with adult level science material of his own choosing and interests. The mismatch is painful to watch. I have resolved to home school him when that is possible but I have to make the necessary arrangements first - in the meantime, we are legally obliged to let him suffer the dullness of the primary classroom, while he dreams of matters rather more complex.

We have asked his vice-principal about the possibility of acceleration if he passed the relevant exams but were brushed off with: "All teaching must be age appropriate." We were informed that, even if he passed the exams he would not be allowed to enter a senior school, for more appropriate instruction (though looking at his scientific interests that is really not high level enough either).

I do not know what the situation might be in your own country, as you read this...but are there other parents of gifted children who have encountered this problem - of a school system that makes no adjustment for children who have an unusual gift for something or in general?

As a father I feel at a loss that the system should show such inflexibility. The resources are there. There are teachers who teach, labs filled with equipment...but no-one is allowed to transgress the holy rule of "age appropriate instruction". What does this mean, exactly? It means that the government has laid down a set of expectations, indeed requirements, for what will be taught at any given age (in the public education system): no deviation is permitted. I don't know if your country is similar in this drive for uniformity of instruction, but it leads to a situation in which the average person gets a suitable education -but someone who is unusual, in any way, will not, for they will be held to the average demands, made upon them. The result, for any truly gifted child, can only be boredom and frustration - and a restricted development of their gifts.

At the end of Primary Three, I understand there is an effort to recognize the "gifted" - but it is too little, too late, and seems to be designed with too narrow an idea of what giftedness is and should be.

We are left, therefore, as parents who want our child to grow in the way he wishes, to alter our lives in such a way as to make homeschooling possible. That means I will have to do the teaching since I am the only one apart from my son with a scientific background. Either that, or he will have to teach himself (something which he does a lot of, anyway). Clearly, difficult compromises have to be made. In addition, legal hurdles remain to be cleared in a country that doesn't encourage homeschooling and seems to have very few who do so. I don't know how it will all work out, at this moment, but that it has to, is evident. No child should be subjected to an education far below his needs: the result is a kind of slow withering of the mind and will. It is, no doubt, a tragic situation being repeated all over the world, wherever there are gifted children in an education system that doesn't make the necessary effort to make way for them.

There is no tradition of acceleration here in Singapore. Indeed, there are statutory barriers in its way. I see no purpose to such barriers apart from appeasing the majority by enforcing educational conformity. Any country which does this, however, is hampering its own development, by preventing the full development of its brightest. Perhaps the system means well but, for the exceptional few, it is not the most supportive of environments. I think that the rarity of the gifted, in the population, in a country that only has a small population, of four million, has allowed those who make educational policy to be unaware of the needs of such children - and of the benefit to the nation of helping them flourish. Perhaps, one day, they will wake up to the situation and its potential.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, a scientific child prodigy and his gifted brothers, please go to:
I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:45 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

y dont you move out from singapore n live in usa.there's a lot of schools n universities accept ainan.for ainan sake too.u've to sacrifice a little,,maybe a lot.. i've follow the story about gregory robert smith,his parents willing to do everything to make sure their child get proper education.they even move out from a state to another.

i think this is the best way to ur child 2,to move out from spore., find the suitable place for ainan, where everybody appreciate him.

7:58 PM  

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