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 +

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Is education necessary for success?

I am struck by the obsession with education and degrees evident on many boards and sites devoted to giftedness. There is this underlying idea that gift should be manifested as "qualifications" and that, somehow, the more of these one garners, the higher their level, the better it is. They are somehow a kind of medal, or badge of merit. Yet, are such qualifications actually necessary for success, even now, in the modern world?

I would say not. I am thinking of a particular individual, related to me, who grew up in a time and a country when educational opportunities were not readily available. He had no education past elementary school and went into the world equipped with just reading, writing and arithmetic and a smattering of national history and native language (plus English). Many reading this and looking on the prospect of facing the world with so little educational ammunition might assume this background to be a recipe for failure. Not so. He is one of the most successful people I know. He began work as a child of fourteen, learnt his trade, started a business, learnt all aspects of that business, including all necessary law and details of accountancy, and all professions as they related to his chosen business area - and flourished. He is far better off than any of the highly educated lawyers and accountants and other professional suppliers who work for him, on his various projects. He has financial freedom. He enjoys what he is doing. He is making a real, tangible contribution to the world - all without a formal education to speak of.

Could the same background lead to a thriving success today? I believe so, for education is not intelligence. Education is not giftedness. Education does not mark a person as special. Education is a collection of received ideas, the opinions and thoughts of others. Being educated does not mean that you are truly capable of doing anything new or interesting or of being a "success". A man or woman without an education may be more than capable of making their way in the world, in a productive, creative, successful manner. Whether they do or not depends not on what they have been taught, but on their own ability to think for themselves. A truly gifted person should be able to make a success of themselves without a formal education. For a truly gifted person is able to work things out for themselves and learn how to do something from scratch. There is only one caveat to this observation: many professions and types of job, exclude people on the basis of whether or not they have a particular "educational qualification". This is a shame, because it is my observation that the educated man or woman may be no better than the uneducated one, at a particular role or task, or indeed may be far less competent - it all depends on the individual and their gifts.

I think that a society that orders itself too much on the basis of qualifications is one that is setting itself up for being second rate. Why do I believe this? Because many gifted people may not have had the opportunity to obtain a particular educational qualification, even though they are more than capable of doing so, and would be excluded by a society that paid too much heed to qualifications. Singapore is one such society: everything here is about paper qualifications - the entire edifice is built on them. I believe, from observation, that they are profoundly in error in being so obsessed with pieces of paper. Personnel departments in this country, do not look at people, they look at paper. In this manner, they under-utilize many good people, and overlook much talent. It is unbelievable to say it, but Singapore is a country where one can't even be accepted as an artist, without a degree to prove it. It never occurs to them that one might need to look at the art in question, to determine how much of an artist someone is.

What is the answer, for those of gift but without the relevant qualification? If the opportunity to obtain the qualification is not there, going into business for oneself, in a particular line, is the most productive response. Those who are gifted, but untutored, may succeed far beyond those who have an education, but less of a gift. They need only ignore the requirements of the society around them, and go into business for themselves. Just like my relative did - and won.

I should point out that I have received an education up to and including a Master's Degree at Cambridge University. I would also like to point out that everything of real value that I learnt in all that time, was something I taught myself.

(If you would like to read of my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, or 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 @ 3:41 PM 


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