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, March 03, 2007

The NUS High School meeting.

I met with the Principal of NUS High School, yesterday.

The meeting was several hours long and covered many areas. Ainan and my wife were both present. Apart from ascertaining Ainan's understanding of Chemistry and ability to learn science in general, through questions and posers, in areas old and areas new - including Physics (which he solved, without prior knowledge, thankfully), we discussed much of what could and could not be done for Ainan.

There is much I cannot say, at this stage, for I do not want to prejudice matters moving forward. Yet I do wish to raise certain concerns. Firstly, they have never had a child of Ainan's age before - and do not have any prior experience with this degree of precocity. He gave examples of highly precocious children who have begun to deal with material of a comparable level, from the maths discipline (they have no other scientific prodigies, at all) - but these were all twelve or thirteen years old, or more. Ainan is almost twice as precocious as the next most precocious children, therefore.

Throughout the discussions with the Gifted Education Branch the word "flexibility" has been used, and another phrase: "No barriers". I felt, in the meeting, that the Principal was not entirely comfortable with these requirements. He spoke, instead, of "no exemptions", "no exceptions", and said things like: "If we do that for one, they will all want it". His reasoning was not, therefore, consonant with what I had been led to expect was the procedure. There are, therefore, tensions in the system over how to handle a child such as Ainan. There is little or no experience of children like Ainan - and little or no willingness to make the range of accommodations that would be necessary to create an ideal situation.

I got the impression that it was very much that Ainan was expected to adjust himself to fit in, and that adjustments would not be made to fit him, better. The system would not alter: the occupant of the system must. This attitude does not take into account his age.

So, although as you may have read in the previous posts the NUS High School presents opportunities to secure a degree, and a broad education, it also presents problems that will need to be overcome.

He expressed doubts about Ainan using the labs. He made it clear that he wanted Ainan to "go slow". He spoke of a six year course. All of these things do not take into account Ainan's individuality or his particular ability to learn very fast. The picture he mapped out for Ainan, basically does not seem to understand the degree of precocity exhibited or its full implications for an appropriate education.

The most worrying thing he said was that: "I don't want his chemistry to get too far ahead of the other things." This shows a particular failure to understand the nature of prodigy - who always have a very strong peak, along with whatever other talents they have. He seemed to be saying that it was better to impede his progress in Chemistry than let it race ahead of everything. That is not the right thing to do at all. What would be better is to give him opportunities to bring everything else up to the standard of his Chemistry - which could be done in a few months, with access to good teachers. I suggested it. His response: "I don't have the resources...and I have six hundred other students, too." The implication was clear: why should I do that for him, and not for them?

He made it clear that no individualization would occur to accommodate the presence of Ainan, despite the fact that he would be about half the age of their youngest students.

He did judge, though, at the end, that Ainan was the best scientific mind he had ever met for a Primary student, there being no other in his knowledge, as precocious. Perhaps he should think on that, for a while, and understand that, as I said to him at the end: "An exceptional situation requires an exceptional response." I wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. It was something he could agree with, I think, logically, but not temperamentally.

However, the meeting was a productive one. I got to understand more of what was on offer: to gain an initial perception of the problems and possibilities it presented. None of the problems are insurmoutable - if there is the will to overcome them. My main remnant worry is that I am not sure that that will is there. The possibilities, however, if the problems are overcome, are great. Ainan could finally have access to the educational opportunities he needs.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:59 AM 


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