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, June 21, 2007

Genius and academic success

Does genius connote academic success? Are geniuses always found at the top of classes?

Sometimes. Sometimes not. It depends upon the genius, and the subject. Contrary to common opinion genius does not necessarily mean academic success. Some geniuses just won't perform in a conventional academic setting.

There are reasons for this. Sometimes people of genius have a very narrow gift - such as Pablo Picasso's - or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's - that would probably preclude much success outside their domain of mastery. Such geniuses cannot be expected to show universal academic success.

Other geniuses, however, are more universal - such as, of course, Leonardo da Vinci - who could, no doubt, have shone at any subject, at any time, given the chance.

I write on this subject, because of an internet searcher from Singapore who searched with the term: "Genius who fails exams". I am assuming that this is either a parent of a gifted child searching for related information to explain their experience with their child's failure - or a gifted child themselves (or one with a high opinion of themselves, anyway).

While academic success shows high intellectual performance, it does not indicate originality. So, performance in exams alone does not indicate genius (though it may indicate prodigiousness if taken at a young age). Correspondingly, failure in exams may indicate nothing more than a lack of interest on the part of the student. A very gifted child, especially a genius child, may find the school requirements too boring to engage with and may, therefore, underperform, to the point of failure. It is quite possible therefore for a genius child to actually be a failure in school. This, however, creates a very real problem of securing for the child the necessary growth opportunities to realize their gifts. It is best, therefore, if a genius child does not actually fail, because it tends to close doors that need to remain open. The child's path will be ever more difficult as a consequence of academic failure unless their gift is such that they can operate totally outside the mainstream of life and produce their wonderful results alone. In such a case, academia may, in fact, be a total irrelevance.

So, if your child is gifted, but not doing well in school, don't be disheartened. It doesn't show that your child is not, in fact, gifted. It shows that your child is not, in fact, engaged, by the school system. That is a different matter and probably needs a personal solution. Work with your child to find a way to engage them. It is more difficult for them later if you don't.

As I noted in another post, there is a penalty against the genius child built into exams. Generally speaking, original answers will be marked WRONG, rather than marked up. A child of great originality will do less well, therefore, than a dull child who gives the expected answers. Exams are full of flaws in their construction and methods...and this is just one more of them.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and six months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, sixteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:57 PM 


Blogger Jason Jones said...

One word: homeshooling

2:00 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

One word: indeed.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous averral said...

indeed, i was always marked down in the Singapore education system simply because "the answer is not in the book"

i find that the Australian education system is more flexible, it promotes questioning and thinking... original answers are marked up instead!

5:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

That is the way it should be Averral. Originality should be prized. Here, however, it is not.

I would be interested to learn more of your experience of Australian education.

7:59 PM  
Blogger EbTech said...

I had quite a few arguments with teachers regarding test answer disagreements! Some teachers are reasonable. The danger is when standardized exam papers require fixed answers, even though the true answer may be subjective.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Hi EbTech,

Yes. I have seen exam papers with ambiguity in the questions, in my lifetime. I have also seen wrong answers (in my considered view), very occasionally, for official answers to national exams.

Exams don't always give an accurate assessment, for these reasons...and others.

11:14 PM  

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