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, March 06, 2007

How to educate a child: prodigies and the gifted

My earlier post on whether child prodigies should be given the chance to develop their skills has attracted an interesting comment. Should a child develop his or her strengths - or bring up their weaknesses? Is balance important in the modern world?

The answer depends very much on what the child is going to do with their life. If the child shows great passion for something, allied to great ability and this passion remains steady over a long period, it is likely that that passion will turn into their adult work. In this case, building their strength can only be good: it will make them more effective in their chosen discipline or disciplines.

Ainan shows a passion for science, in particular Chemistry (but he has a general interest in Science, too). I would be very surprised if he did not at least spend part of his adult life as a scientific researcher. He already has much of the knowledge and he certainly has the aptitude for investigation. He is already a scientist in every important respect. All he needs now are to further strengthen his knowledge - and get those "no-one will believe in you if you don't have them" credentials. I don't know how many years it will take - but theoretically, it might not have to be that many. He could be a working scientist at rather a young age.

What, however, about developing other areas?

This is already a problem for me - and for him. I see that he has aptitude in other things - but he has less interest and motivation in other things. Ainan is good at music. He became a pianist at six - but has since lost interest. He was even composing music. Yet, that has been shelved for his scientific interests. He is very good at Art - and was able to draw 3 D perspective drawings at 3 or 4 years old. Very mature. Perhaps that will be his second fiddle: just like Einstein had his violin, maybe Ainan will have his Art.

Now, at this time of his life, his drive is to grow scientifically. It would be foolish to try to suffocate that wish in the interests of imposing "balance".

In modern life, balance is not as important, in terms of education, as it used to be in earlier days, before society became specialized. Now, we hire people on the basis of single strengths and a genius may only have one towering strength (though as intellects they are often good at several or many things, they will naturally focus on one, in most cases, as it aligns with their passions).

I have great balance in my own gifts and experiences - but as I have posted before, many gifts are not necessarily better than one. The division of attention between them, weakens the overall effect. There are many things I can do well - but my son Ainan knows more Chemistry than I do - and he is only seven. That is despite the fact that I took Chemistry up to my first year at Cambridge.

Perhaps there are roles in life in which great balance of gifts is appreciated and of use. But most roles in modern life are increasingly specialized. Here, a "balance of gifts" is largely wasted effort, since they will never find their proper outlet. It is the individuals with great individual strengths that find their proper match and welcome in an increasingly specialized society.

So, for those parents worried about their children focussing on their strengths and ignoring their weaknesses I would say this. If your child learns faster in their strengths - and learns with difficulty in their weaknesses, it is logic alone that they will go further, in terms of reaching greater heights if they are left to grow their strengths, than if they are forced to bolster their weaknesses.

There is one caveat. There should not be any imbalances that lead to ineffectiveness. Everyone should be able to write halfway decently. Everyone should be able to handle reasonable maths etc. There should be no absence of basic skills.

Therefore there are two possible models: the "balanced" individual with many well developed skills. This person will have many choices and probably a varied career. Then there is the specialized individual with a few, perhaps one, great strength. This person will have a focussed career but may, in the modern world, find that success comes readily. They may, after all, be the best person for the job.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:50 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have said that you have "perhaps too many gifts." But doesn't that make you a better parent because you can recognize and nurture the many talents of your children?

Also, I think that there is more value in developing several skills than you think. Making new connections between things that no one has realized were related is the essence of creativity. Who knows? Maybe Ainan makes connections between chemistry and music and art? Does art help him visualize molecules? Are chemical reactions like musical harmony?

9:33 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, I would agree that, in my situation, with kids who are very different from each other, having a plethora of gifts and therefore viewpoints allows me to understand my children better, and so aid them.

As for Ainan: I would say his artistic ability is of immense value in his chemistry. If you could see the complexity of structures he is able to visualize draw and ponder, you would be rather stunned. Some of his molecules have atoms in the hundreds: yet he remembers them.

I shall post about that.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Talia said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Right now I'm doing a little bit of research into gifted children for a school project.
My interest in giftedness and how to educate gifted children stems from my own life and being "coded" as gifted growing up.
I was in a gifted program in the early years, but there was no gifted program when I reached high school so I did what a lot of kids did: I skipped a lot of school and did my own thing because school is often not engaging for the gifted child.
I think that what you are doing, encouraging your son's natural strengths and abilities, is wonderful. It seems like you are allowing him to learn on his own and provide the tools for him to do that.
With the question you pose of encouraging one talent to grow and blossom or encouraging all his weaker talents to come up to pace with the strength area, I would like to tell you that I think you should do both.
I don't mean that you should encourage him to be developing exceptional abilities in all areas of life, but that you should be encouraging him to explore all areas right now. Seven is quite young still and his little brain is developing a lot still, and it may be important in ways we have yet to understand fully for him to be utilizing all areas of his brain.
There is a lot of research out there on brains and brain development and I'd encourage you to check some of it out.
What I do know for sure is that you sound like an amazing parent who will be doing their best throughout your son's life to be his advocate and support system. Kudos to you!

7:19 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape