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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 23, 2007

The right to know in gifted education

Do parents have a natural, moral right to know about their children? What I mean by this is that if an educational authority administers tests, observations, or any other kind of information gathering procedure on their child - gifted or otherwise - is there a moral right for the parents to know the results, to read the reports and to have full access to all information pertaining to their child?

I ask this because our son, Ainan, is presently being studied by the Gifted Education Branch of Singapore. Much information is being gathered, but the information flow is largely one way, from us, to them. It is difficult to get information to flow back to us. We are not allowed to see the reports generated by all of this data collection, yet are expected to co-operate fully with it. This one-sidedness of their approach makes us more than a little uncomfortable, in fact it is upsetting.

My own feeling on the matter is that without full access to all information, the parent is being denied the power to make effective choices for their child. Without full access to the information the parent doesn't have all of the knowledge necessary to assess the appropriateness of the decisions made on behalf of their child. The parents are left with the choice to trust in the decisions made blindly, or not to trust them at all. Without full knowledge the parents can never be sure of the rightness of anything that is done. All we would have is what we know of Ainan - but we would not know what the other party THINKS they know. There is no opportunity to correct them, expand their understanding or put a different viewpoint, when we don't know what their viewpoint is. Being in the dark is no good at all from the parents' perspective - nor should it be any good from the educational authorities perspective, either - for by keeping the parents far from fully aware of all that transpires they are compromising the validity and integrity of the whole evaluative procedure. If the parents are in the dark, in some sense, so too are the evaluators, since a valuable source of feedback is lost. One cannot feedback about something one doesn't know about.

I would like your thoughts on this. Is there a natural right to know all matters pertaining to one's child (gifted or otherwise)? Is it fair for an educational authority to study a child but not pass the full results of that study on to the parents? Does it compromise the whole procedure if access is denied? What is done in your country? Are parents given full information? Is it their right?

Please write your thoughts in comment. Thanks.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:28 AM 

12 Comments:

Anonymous ed said...

The parent does indeed have the right to know - when one takes on board the obligations of the researcher ensuing from the ethics of social research. In fact, social scientists in the west are obligated to 'debrief' participants after studies/experiements are conducted or when such revelation does not compromise the findings.

Where this is absent, we can take it as possibly indicative of a society engaged in 'social engineering'. This is where control is taken from the people for the fulfillment of the agenda of those in power. What rights one gives up in generic arenas determines what rights are seen as privilege in subsidary ones.

On another note, the idea of the 'gifted child' in a society with income and life-chances disparities, is not representative of the objective meaning of 'the gifted child'. Rather, it means that certain relatively privileged sectors of society have greater access to the resources required to make the most of their child and develop whatever propensities that might realise their 'gifted' nature. Others who are less advantaged from birth, but who may be equally or even more 'gifted', are left underdeveloped by their social experience. Thus, the 'gifted child' in such a society would have to first be qualified and realised by her being a relatively 'privileged child'. Whilst there may be some underprivileged children who are recognised as 'gifted', this does not invalidate the fact that resources play a vital role in bringing out the best in anyone. This means that for every underprivileged child who is recognised as 'gifted', there are far more who are left underdeveloped.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the perspective from social science. I don't know whether that perspective is thought to apply in our own situation - but it is useful to know that it is a requirement in Western societies.

I can't comment on your thoughts on social engineering.

The final issue that you raise is one, perhaps, which I should look at. I would say that, in Singapore, the recognition of a gifted child is fairly evenly distributed across all classes, privileged or not - so that is one good aspect of it. I will post about it, to ensure that it is not overlooked. What then happens when recognition occurs is another issue of course.

Thanks for your considered comment: it adds something valuable to the debate.

Best wishes

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is an excerpt from the California State Education Code:

"56329. As part of the assessment plan given to parents or guardians
pursuant to Section 56321, the parent or guardian of the pupil shall
be provided with a written notice that shall include all of the
following information:
(a) (1) Upon completion of the administration of tests and other
assessment materials, an individualized education program team
meeting, including the parent or guardian and his or her
representatives, shall be scheduled, pursuant to Section 56341, to
determine whether the pupil is an individual with exceptional needs
as defined in Section 56026, and to discuss the assessment, the
educational recommendations, and the reasons for these
recommendations.
(2) In making a determination of eligibility under paragraph (1),
a pupil shall not, pursuant to paragraph (5) of subsection (b) of
Section 1414 of Title 20 of the United States Code, be determined to
be an individual with exceptional needs if the determinant factor for
the determination is any of the following:
(A) Lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including the
essential components of reading instruction as defined in paragraph
(3) of Section 6368 of Title 20 of the United States Code.
(B) Lack of instruction in mathematics.
(C) Limited-English proficiency.
(3) A copy of the assessment report and the documentation of
determination of eligibility shall be given to the parent or
guardian.
(b) A parent or guardian has the right to obtain, at public
expense, an independent educational assessment of the pupil from
qualified specialists, as defined by regulations of the board, if the
parent or guardian disagrees with an assessment obtained by the
public education agency, in accordance with Section 300.502 of Title
34 of the Code of Federal Regulations. If a public education agency
observed the pupil in conducting its assessment, or if its assessment
procedures make it permissible to have in-class observation of a
pupil, an equivalent opportunity shall apply to an independent
educational assessment of the pupil in the pupil's current
educational placement and setting, and observation of an educational
placement and setting, if any, proposed by the public education
agency, regardless of whether the independent educational assessment
is initiated before or after the filing of a due process hearing
proceeding.
(c) The public education agency may initiate a due process hearing
pursuant to Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 56500) to show that
its assessment is appropriate. If the final decision resulting from
the due process hearing is that the assessment is appropriate, the
parent or guardian maintains the right for an independent educational
assessment, but not at public expense.
If the parent or guardian obtains an independent educational
assessment at private expense, the results of the assessment shall be
considered by the public education agency with respect to the
provision of free appropriate public education to the child, and may
be presented as evidence at a due process hearing pursuant to Chapter
5 (commencing with Section 56500) regarding the child. If a public
education agency observed the pupil in conducting its assessment, or
if its assessment procedures make it permissible to have in-class
observation of a pupil, an equivalent opportunity shall apply to an
independent educational assessment of the pupil in the pupil's
current educational placement and setting, and observation of an
educational placement and setting, if any, proposed by the public
education agency, regardless of whether the independent educational
assessment is initiated before or after the filing of a due process
hearing proceeding.
(d) If a parent or guardian proposes a publicly financed placement
of the pupil in a nonpublic school, the public education agency
shall have an opportunity to observe the proposed placement and the
pupil in the proposed placement, if the pupil has already been
unilaterally placed in the nonpublic school by the parent or
guardian. Any observation conducted pursuant to this subdivision
shall only be of the pupil who is the subject of the observation and
may not include the observation or assessment of any other pupil in
the proposed placement. The observation or assessment by a public
education agency of a pupil other than the pupil who is the subject
of the observation pursuant to this subdivision may be conducted, if
at all, only with the consent of the parent or guardian pursuant to
this article. The results of any observation or assessment of any
other pupil in violation of this subdivision shall be inadmissible in
any due process or judicial proceeding regarding the free
appropriate public education of that other pupil."

12:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for that legal perspective on the Californian situation. What I think is particularly interesting is that parents there have the right to pursue an independent, private second opinion. I don't think that right subsists here, in the sense that it does there. That right alone could be helpful in certain circumstances.

Kind regards

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes you should have full access to any information that is gathered about your child and any reports or conclusions generated from the data.

You are absolutely correct that it is in the best interest of your child and in the best interest of science (if they are studying him) to get the most input possible. Even if they later conclude that your opinions are invalid for some reason, it is still worth having an open discussion and trying to collect them.

As a parent, you really should have the right to know.

To me, there are lots of reasons that it is more ethical for them to share your data with you. And I say that its YOUR data because it came from you and your kid. I think in many senses the data belongs to you, the same way any ideas or images I make, any photographs of me or recordings of my voice belong to me.

One reason is that if a government is not transparent, it is difficult to determine their motives and to find evidence of wrongdoing. A transparent government is an honest government. The fact that they arent giving you information makes me feel suspicious. Is it because they are doing something that they know is wrong or that they dont want you, who may be of completely different opinion, to interfere with? Is contamination of data their REAL concern?

What is their motive? To me, thats the key question. Does it seem as if the people involved have been instructed not to give you any data? Does it seem more like they are confused at the results and trying to cover up their own confusion? Does it seem more like they dont have time for all your questions? If they seem to have been told to withhold data, then why would they be told to do this?

Does it seem like an organized, standard proceedure to withhold data, or do they seem disorganized, chaotic, unsure what to do with the situation?

You are being left in the dark. It reminds me of the way they treat criminals. This really is not right.

Then again, maybe they think you dont know how gifted he is, how unusual he is, and they are concerned that saying anything will freak you both out and change his performance on tests.

I wonder what Ainan has to say about the data being collected? Does he tell you what goes on in those meetings?

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In practice, it is very difficult to get the school district to pay for an outside assessment. A full educational assessment can cost $5,000 US--a prohibitive sum for many people.

It is also very difficult to get the school district to accept the results of an outside assessment or to provide an "appropriate" education based on those results. This is true for disabled children as well as for gifted children.

Still, parents in the US do have the right to view the results of the district's assessment.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I agree that we should have access to the information. At present, we have no access to raw information at all - and only the occasional informal remark as to their conclusions. We have not seen any reports and so far have been told that we are not going to see any reports.

All involved say they have no power to decide and point the way to the Officer in charge. She is of a firm negative on all points. There is no doubt in her at all and she puts everything very strongly. Whether this is policy at work through her or she is acting this way at her own discretion, I do not know. There is no confusion though, no chaos - just the impression of what seems like procedure at work.

It may be that it is policy to leave the parents in the dark to a significant extent. I can't see any beneficial reason for this, from the parents' or the child's point of view - though it discuss the position of control on the other side. As Michel Foucault said: "Knowledge is Power" - it seems they adhere to that principle.

Ainan is not very talkative about his experiences - I shall have to post a characteristic response to questioning about it, from him: it is almost funny the way he reveals little or nothing. To him, I suppose, it is just another set of adults quizzing him, for reasons of their own.

I don't think they understand the value of open-ness, towards the parents and the mutually enlightening dialogue that would result. I think someone, somewhere, over-values secrecy, thinking it somehow important to keep. In this context, I think it is an entirely inappropriate mode of conduct. It sours everything.

Thank you for your insightful questions and remarks...they are very much appreciated.

Best wishes to you.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

So there is freedom in American education if you have the money to pay for it! $5,000 is an awful lot of money, even for one child...imagine having several...ouch.

Yet, on the other side, there is greater informational open-ness: this can only be a good thing and is likely to lead to a happier outcome for all concerned (even the education authority who are likely to have less of a problem with unhappy parents).

Thanks for the insight.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the parent certainly has the right to know. And in the U.S., where I live, that right is written into law (as somebody else's post shows with law excerpts). But what is a legal right in the U.S. has no bearing on any other country so while they morally OUGHT to let you see evaluation results, there probably isn't any way you can make them do so. They will do what they will do and you either have to go along with their program (whatever it is) or leave. Per your other posts about homeschooling (and how it is rarely allowed), it seems that you live in a society which believes that the parents are peripheral to a child's education and their input is not relevent. This is a very alien belief to me because it is the precise opposite of the U.S. view- in which parents who are insufficiently involved in their childrens' education are taken to task-but it is the one you unfortunately have to deal with.

On the plus side, even though they are cutting you out of the loop (and this is unsurprising given that they frown on homeschooling, probably because it is parent-controlled rather than state-controlled) there is more hope for an appropriate education than there would be without all this testing. So it may all work out in the end.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, what the US allows has no bearing here...but it is good to get a perspective on the situation, from overseas.

On the matter of state controlled versus parent controlled there is something I should add. There are international schools in Singapore, with their own curricula and agenda that differ from Singaporean state schools. However, Singaporean children are not allowed, by law, to attend such schools, unless special permission is given. In consequence, I know of NO Singaporean child who attends an international school. That is a pity because it would add to the diversity of educational experiences and that could only be good.

I hope that you are right and that it all works out in the end - but right now we don't feel good about being sidelined.

Best wishes to you

9:09 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The post deleted was an accidental copy of the one above it...it was deleted for being redundant. Thanks.

9:13 AM  

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