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 +

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On athletes and geniuses

At my school, in Britain, athletes got cheered, geniuses got jeered. The great sadness of this is not in that this happened, but in that this is not unusual. The world over, this is the more common of the possible reactions to such people.

The gifted athletes were school heroes - almost universally popular, accepted and welcomed. Those of great intellectual gift, however, were marginalized, picked on, bullied, victimized. They were often subject to consistent, systematic, social exclusion. This did not happen to all gifted kids at my school - but to many of them, it did. The mediocre majority ganged up on them and made their lives uncomfortable at best, hell at worst.

It was common for the kid who was brighter than the rest, but perhaps somewhat different, to be mocked for their differences. I remember one kid who was clearly genetically unusual from his appearance alone - who was gifted in physics and maths, who never received anything but a jeer everytime he spoke. No-one welcomed him. Everyone laughed at him. He, however, would talk on as if they were saying nothing until he got his point out - yet, I wonder how he really felt at this universal scorn, hate and mockery that greeted his every word. He never showed any reaction - but he must have heard what they said; he must have felt their loathing directed at him.

I remember his name, but won't mention it for fear that I might bring him some harm, now, all these years later. No doubt, he wouldn't want to be reminded of how he was treated. He was the most acute example of this phenomenon - but there were others: gifted children who had become the centre of much dislike, simply because of their gifts.

The oddest thing about this is that my school was a fee-paying, "Public School" - a highly selective institution, which made an effort to find academically able students to fill its classrooms. Yet, that did not mean that all were equally able. There were those one would term highly gifted and above - but the vast majority would not have even been termed moderately gifted: there are simply not enough of them to go around, what with all the schools seeking to recruit them. So, most would just have been "bright".

Yet, though most were bright, by typical standards, they were not welcoming or kind, or warm to those who were brighter than they were. Usually, they were hateful towards them. They treated the best among them with a virulent spite that had no end: it was as if the very fact that the best were better than them filled them with a deep-seated loathing.

Looking back, I find it astonishing that gifted athletes should have been loved; and gifted intellectuals should have been hated. There was something profoundly wrong with the culture of the school. Thinking more on it, however, I think that it wasn't just the school, but the whole nation at fault. Britain was already showing signs of anti-intellectualism at that time - and, though I haven't lived in England for years, from what I have read, recently, that poisonous ideology has become even more entrenched in the British psyche. I will write more of that another time, perhaps.

Is it the same in your country? Are athletes feted and the intellectually gifted isolated and bullied? I would welcome your observations, thoughts and feelings. Thanks.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:25 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in the US where excellent athletes are indeed adored and those with very high IQ are often bullied in school. BUT...I don't think they are bullied BECAUSE of their high IQ. I think they are bullied because they tend to be introverts. And introverts regardless of their IQ, attract bullying because their introversion makes them less bonded with large numbers of peers. I have also seen the shy of average or low IQ bullied, and the extroverted genius adored by peers (sometimes an entertaining "class clown" who sets up ingenious pranks).

Celebrated athletes tend to also be extroverts- since those most celebrated are on teams of some sort and it's hard to be an introvert and also a fully engaged team member. So team sports selects for extroversion, which will never be bullied because extroverts are always well bonded to their peers as the very definition of extroversion.

IN sum, I think this is an introversion/extroversion issue, not an IQ issue. It just happens that introversion and high IQ often go together and athletics and extroversion often go together (especially team sports). And introverts will always be bullied more than extroverts (who are unlikely to be bullied at all because they bond so well with so many). I've seen introverts of all IQ's bullied, and the ocassional high IQ extrovert celebrated, so that's why I think it's more about introversion and extroversion than IQ.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your comment is well thought through - and may have application in some cases. However, in the case of the UK I really think there is a genuine anti-intellectualism - or as I term it - giftism, at work in most cases.

Your are right, though, that extraversion may act as a protective influence against such bullying. I will think on it.

As for the "class clown" idea: that was the protective ruse of one of my own relatives: it worked perfectly.

Thank you for your perceptiveness and thoughtfulness.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe they hate you because you think you're better than them.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi. I didn't go around thinking I was "better" than them...but you know what? I was. (Intellectually, creatively and MORALLY, that is...but heh, I am not going to discuss that).

Best wishes.

7:31 AM  

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