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, May 12, 2007

Careers advice for a gifted child

This is a post that will only begin to address the issue and will do so with a tale from our own lives.

When my wife was a child, she had broad horizons: there seemed to be so many things she was interested in, so many possibilities of things she could do. Needless to say, she took her ideas for her future to the adults around her, to those who were in a position to dispense careers advice. Now, the events are so long ago, that she cannot recall precisely who it was who advised her so - which adult, which teacher, which "career adviser", who told her as they did, but the advice has never faded, the exact words used remain with her to this day.

She was a child who thought about many things, whose interests were deep and many and various. So she had more than one vision of her future. So, one day, she asked this career adviser their opinion of her choices:

"I would like to be an archaeologist when I grow up." she revealed, rather shyly - for she was ever rather shy.

"Everything has been found already." was the blunt, dismissive reply.

Syahidah, the little girl, was rather disappointed about this, for she had dreamt of travelling the world, going to strange places, in search of even stranger lost and distant realms, almost forgotten, newly to be discovered. This vision had been dismissed as romantic nonsense - yet, the funny thing is, her idea of the possibilities is closer to the truth than her narrow-minded "adviser": there are still cities to be discovered, lost worlds to be explored. That we have found much, does not mean that there is not much more to be found, deep beneath us all.

Though disheartened by this opinion, she mustered the courage in her small body for another statement of her ambition.

"I want to be an architect.", she said, already proud at the thought of the buildings she might build, the cities she might shape.

"Everything has been built already, in Singapore." was the even more dismissive and bone-headed answer.

Look at the answer of this "adviser". For a start it considered the world entire to be nothing more than Singapore: as if the architectural needs of an entire planet were not worth bothering with. Secondly, Singapore, more than many cities, is very much in need of good architects. Too much of it looks the same as everywhere else. Some architectural genius would go a long way to improving the quality of life in this small but ambitious city. Furthermore, Singapore is constantly pulling "old" buildings down (anything over fifteen or twenty years seems to be too old to leave alone around here) and replacing them with new ones. There is, therefore, both a dire and enduring need for good architects, here.

After two dismissals she didn't have the courage to raise any more of her aspirations to be shot down. The little girl that was Syahidah never forgot those words - and never more did she dream of being an archaeologist - or an architect.

That unremembered adviser, whose words have never been forgotten, deprived Singapore of an architect (which it so evidently needs) and an archaeologist - which I have never heard of it having. Such conversations, between the advising adult and the child - gifted or otherwise - should never be conducted lightly. They have a permanent effect on the child concerned.

In the end, my wife has become an artist - but that is a story too long for this post. Let it be said that no-one helped her along the way - or advised her appropriately.

So if a child approaches you for advice on a career, think carefully. Don't dismiss whatever they offer up as possibilities: look at the positive side of what they are proposing, look at the good things that could come of them. Don't puncture a dream just because you no longer have any of your own (which was probably the case with her sour, disenchanted "adviser"). Let their dreams continue to live - and give them a little encouraging prod. Who knows, perhaps your kind words may lead them to become a fulfilled, successful, happy, productive individual, one day - instead of someone whose progress was blocked and stifled by "advice" lacking in vision, imagination, and knowledge of the world.

My wife's childhood adviser knew nothing of my wife's gifts. Her self-diagnosed possible career paths were, retrospectively, more than appropriate given the mental strengths she has later shown: in particular in visual matters - a strength required in both archaeology and architecture - as well, of course, as in art.

Often the child with a dream, may also be a child with a reason (for that dream). Listen to them, and speak as wisely as you can, for it is a chance for you to help someone become what they truly wish for - and should be.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:06 PM 


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