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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 +

Friday, February 02, 2007

"Elitism" is a dangerous word

"Elitist" is a word used by people who want to destroy those better than themselves. Just think in what circumstances the word is used: it is used to describe actions that take note of someone of special attributes, that somehow acknowledge them, give them opportunities or "preference".

It is odd that people think it expresses "preference" to give opportunity to one with the capability to do something unusual.

Every developed society in the world has specialized educational programmes for those who are of limited intelligence. It is regarded as humane and necessary to design a special education for those of restricted understanding. However, many of these same societies do NOT have a special programme for those of greater than normal intelligence - many of them do nothing for the "gifted", among them. Why is this so? The reason often given is that it would be "elitist" to do so.

In that both groups - those of greater and lesser than normal intelligence are exceptions, they are logically equivalent: they both lie outside the norm. Yet, although it is regarded as self-evident that one group - the lesser - should receive special attention or "preference" - the other, the greater or gifted group, is often consciously neglected in the name of not being "elitist". Any society that discriminates in this way is a society that is slowly dying: for it is suffocating the growth of those who may grow furthest, given the opportunity to do so.

It is not "elitist" to give all members of a society an appropriate education - it is called being fair. Each child has different needs, but it is not impossible to categorize them broadly into types of need - and differentiate between those who need a typical, average education, those who need special, "remedial" education and those who need a "gifted" education. This seems obvious in its necessity - but surprisingly few societies make this educational provision for the three different groups: they stick generally with two educational types - "remedial" and "one size fits all". If you have a body size that is anyway unusual and you try "one size fits all" clothes you will see how inadequate the concept is. The same goes for human minds.

A truly forward-looking society might even differentiate between degrees and types of giftedness and provide educational experiences that address those very different needs - but perhaps that is being too idealistic and expecting too much of educational systems.

As a first step it would be a great advance if it were so that all developed societies had special education for the gifted as well as remedial classes. (It would be good if undeveloped societies had this as well - but they need to get a basic education system going first). Let us hope that we don't have to wait too long - and that those who cry "elitist" might just take a good look at the prejudices, narrow-mindedness and sheer envy that leads them to make that cry in the first place.

It is not and can never be "elitist" to educate all children according to their needs. That is what being civilized is all about - or should be.

(If you would like to read more about education, or my gifted sons: Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and two months, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, twelve months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifed education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, baby genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:56 AM 

7 Comments:

Blogger Jason Jones said...

One result of what you are describing is the present US education system. The public system was originally setup to produce factory workers. The basic structure hasn't changed. Giving an appropriate education to the gifted would require more individualized instruction (ie time) - something that most citizens and even most US educators disagree with.
Notice the blooming homeschooling area and private education industry - direct results of this.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your insight into the US, Jason.

It defies belief that no-one in power has actually addressed the inadequacy of the system you describe. The modern world cannot be built on a system that takes people to the level of a factory worker...indeed, soon, with robotics, there won't be any such workers. What then? Is the typical American going to be unable to find any role in society at all, being insufficiently educated to do so?

It seems to me that any extra time spent educating the gifted would be well spent, since that can only mean that they would be better prepared to make a higher level contribution to society, later on.

Apparently, it hasn't occurred to anyone with the power to do something about it.

Ah well...

9:38 PM  
Blogger jen said...

We were told by our school that they need only provide our child with a basic education and that it wasn't their problem if he required extra. The school doesn't have accelerated programs. If he had had a learning disability they would have thrown every resource available to them at the problem until they figured it out. To prove our case we payed for private testing. Still we were given arguements that advancing our child to the next grade level would be detrimental to him overall and that it would be better for him to "dumb himself down" and stay with his "peers". Fortunately we were in a position to be able to homeschool our child. Who by the way has flourished beyond expectation. Many people however can not do this. It is a shame that so many children in our country are losing their hunger for knowledge out of shear boredom because of the very attitude you addressed. I don't believe that the situation in the US will change anytime soon. School systems have a hard time funding the basics and things like music and physical education. Now with NO Child Left Behind our schools are focusing all their resources on the yearly tests that are required to prove that they are doing their jobs. Our children are being educated to pass these tests. Teachers are hard pressed to to find time to bring creativity into the classroom let alone give a child who needs harder math problems some extra work.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks Jen for your illuminating comment.

I find it quite striking that the school you referred to was basically arguing that dumb was better than bright...so just be dumb will you? Astonishing.

Singapore is another country that suffers too much from a love of tests. They begin, believe it or not, in the equivalent of first grade...and continue, I think three times a year (certainly at least twice), everywhere until the child leaves the system. It is all such a burden on the children - and has little to show for it, except the development, I would suppose, of good exam technique. This mustn't be confused with intelligence, however, though it seems the system here does make that confusion.

We have just applied for special permission to homeschool our child. It is not encouraging to note that the name of the department that makes the decision is called Compulsory Education! We will see what happens: I may have to post on that for comment posts are often overlooked.

Your point about funding raises an issue: why do schools have a "hard time funding the basics"? Aren't your taxes high enough to cope with that? (Your top rate of tax is about double that of Singapore's.) Something tells me someone has their priorities a bit mixed up.

Congratulations on your success with homeschooling your son. It sounds like it was the right decision.

Best wishes.

11:44 PM  
Blogger EbTech said...

A major cause of this attitude is general lack of understanding. The system tries to be "fair" by helping those who are perceived to be at a disadvantage. Most people assume that if you're bright or gifted, you're already ahead of everyone else and can find success without additional help. In their view, granting special education to the gifted is like granting financial assistance to the wealthy (hence "elitism").

If we want to change how society views gifted education, our first step should be to raise awareness of the real situation. Since gifted children have the potential to give back a great deal to society, the extra cost of creating gifted programs should be considered negligible.

Interestingly, America seems to compensate for its lack of education system by "importing" talent through immigration.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

There is a persistent lack of understanding of the gifted, mainly because they are so rare that most of those making the decisions are not gifted themselves...hence they really have no clue.

America is dependent on other nations for its intellectual power...that is a really shortsighted policy. One day, America will decline because of this. The only solution is for them to rectify their inadequate education system.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

There is a persistent lack of understanding of the gifted, mainly because they are so rare that most of those making the decisions are not gifted themselves...hence they really have no clue.

America is dependent on other nations for its intellectual power...that is a really shortsighted policy. One day, America will decline because of this. The only solution is for them to rectify their inadequate education system.

1:04 PM  

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