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 +

Monday, May 07, 2007

On jealousy and policy

Sometimes I receive a comment post that I just can't post, because I know something that they seem to forget: my children read this blog too. Such posts may not be overtly unpleasant (very, very, few comments are, thankfully), but they may be inappropriate in some way, for a child to read.

One such post recently came from a reader at an Ivy League University in America. They were very careful to point out their Ivy League origin and wrote as if they spoke for the University itself. However, on reading the entire comment, it became clear that they were, in fact, an overseas Singaporean - probably sent overseas to study by their parents. There were three strands to their argumentation each of which was profoundly at odds with the reality of gifted children. I found it remarkable that such thoughts could be found in the mind of someone attending such a prestigious University. I will look at one strand, alone, in this post.

If the essential argument of their comment is extracted and generalized, it could be stated in the following simplified form: "A society should do nothing to help a gifted child succeed, because that gifted child may not do so, in the end, and the money/resources given to them would then be wasted."

I found myself utterly flabbergasted by the essential bovinity of this line of thinking. This person - male or female, I do not know - who originally came from Singapore, placed such a high value on money that they would argue against the expenditure of any of it to help a talent flourish. They would rather that such talents went unsupported so that money could be devoted to other - unstated purposes. Or perhaps, simply hoarded, and not spent at all.

Imagine a world that was run according to this commenters outlook. No gifted child would get appropriate schooling. No gifted child would get opportunities to grow and express themselves. No gifted child would realize the fullness of their talents. Perhaps, too, no gifted child would grow into a productive gifted adult, so hampered were they by their ungiving societies. What would such a world be like? It would be impoverished in every way. It would be a world of lesser culture, lesser science, lesser richness and diversity in every way. Yet, this commenter imagines that their world is a better one - because they don't expend resources on such gifted children. The exact phrase they had used to describe the situation was that money shouldn't be devoted to such children because there was "too high a risk" of them not succeeding. This supposedly educated individual clearly considers it better to waste the talents of all gifted children, than "risk" wasting money on any of them who turn out not to meet expectations.

What could underlie such a viewpoint? I think it likely that jealousy, whether conscious or otherwise, does so. Jealousy at the gifts of such children; jealousy that anything should be done to help them. Something else, too, seems to underpin such thinking: too high a value placed on the hoarding of money and resources, rather than their wise usage.

I have entitled this piece: "On jealousy and policy" for a reason. For I wish you to consider what sort of world would come to be if this jealous, abstemious, short-sighted mindset were to be the policy of a nation. Such a nation would utterly stifle its future growth. It would become a stagnant place where no ideas grew and no-one flourished. It would be a dying culture, a nation without a future. Yet, that viewpoint is held by an educated Singaporean.

If Singapore is to flourish, grow and become a great nation - as it aspires to be - it must guard against this brand of short-sighted foolishness, lest it become a nation that could have been, and nothing more.

Oh, and by the way: if this individua'ls parents held his or her view, then they wouldn't have sent them overseas to study at an Ivy League college - for isn't that "risking" resources that may come to nothing?

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:24 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jealousy may certainly be part of it, but I think a lot of people (not I) hold the view that the gifted don't need extra help. Their reasoning is that the gifted are inherently more capable and therefore it is unnecessary to devote extra resources to their education.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You may be right. However, this misunderstanding of giftedness and its needs should be addressed in another post. The gifted are as in need of help as the disabled are.

More on that later.


12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its comments like that that make me wonder whether these people know what gifted really means. Maybe some regard it as "just a label."

I think a lot of it is difficult to believe. Sometimes I feel like I might as well be using the word "sasquatch" in place of "gifted."

Perhaps to this guy, he felt that giftedness doesn't really exist, or isn't as significant as it actually is. Perhaps he underestimates it.

Just as many gifted people do not know what normal aptitudes are like and assume on instinct that everyones abilities are similar to their own, perhaps many people of normal intelligence assume that everyone's abilities are either the same, or only marginally better or worse than their own. Perhaps they don't comprehend the great magnitude of difference there can be in level of ability.

Now I am getting MYSELF curious again... Id really like to get a sense of scale. I'm not certain that I have normal pinned correctly. Lol. :)

- Kathy

11:14 AM  
Blogger h r o s w i t h said...

This is a sad and dangerous view. The worst comes when not just an individual but establishments that should support education, like school for instance, or even family, share this view (lack of comprehension?) on giftedness. Talking from personal experience, when I was a child I attended school in a philo-Communist environment. Giftedness was a social stigma, and something to conceal, as inappropriate. The idea was (and still kind of is) that supporting the needs of gifted children at school you will hurt other children's self-esteem or something. I couldn't phrase that better, actually, because I still fail to grasp this idea. I believe all children should receive the help and support their need. It's not a matter of being better or worse as horridly teachers would put it - that would be nonsense. Everyone is different, so different you can't even compare them. That's why children all should have the same rights - i.e. a chance to be cultivated according to their specific needs. The needs of a gifted child are much different compared to those of other kinds of children.

Although my parents despised this view so common among public school teachers, I must confess they had a dangerous view of their own. They admitted giftedness, but simply thought it does not require help or support. It's just something you are born with. I was expected to hard work but never praised for that because it was taken for granted, and ironically often discouraged from my interests that would distract me from focusing on what they considered appropriate (in particular, I was forbidden to pursue my interests in art and music). I grew up on my own in many was (not only intellectually-wise). In retrospection, it was kind of sad that perfect strangers, who had met me maybe a couple of times, on a few occasions took the disturb to come home and talk to my parents and tell them not to waste me, and cultivate me. Parents should realize this is part of their responsibilities towards their children.

You can be proud of your three children, and I hope, as they grow up, they'll be equally proud of you and grateful for the amazing way you are supporting them. It's not an easy task. Best of luck! =) ~Hroswith

1:35 AM  

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