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 +

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On haircuts and conformity

What is so important about a haircut? I have been prompted to wonder this by my son Ainan's school's obsession with the issue.

You see Ainan's hair has a natural wave in it. This gives him a "Romantic" appearance, when his hair is left to its own devices, akin to the Byronic era (and his friend Shelley, for that matter - we mustn't forget him). As a general impression, Ainan's hair, for me, conveys character and distinguishes him from others. Why is this? Well, we are living in Singapore, The Land of the Straight Hairs (as a Red Indian might have put it). Almost everyone in Singapore has straight black hair which lies flat upon their head. It is unobtrusive, looks the same from person to person, and doesn't get in the way.

Ainan's hair is different (though not curly like Fintan's on which I have posted on another occasion). In Singapore different seems to mean "not good". I make this as an observation of a general trend. That which stands out tends to be criticized, subtly or otherwise - and it has long been this way. In this manner, people are encouraged to stay within narrow bounds - and in general they do. It leads to a conformist society.

The matter of hair is just one on which conformism is enforced. In Singapore's government schools a standard short haircut is required. No-one's hair is allowed to deviate from this. There is no room for personality, or individuality of appearance: everyone must conform to the ideal of very short, sharply cut, tidy hair. Well, frankly, it looks ugly on many people - but that is the rule.

I came to know this rather abruptly when I was picking Ainan up from school. A teacher hovered about him waiting for someone. That someone turned out to be me. "Are you the father?" He began, sternly, without stating whom I was supposed to be the father of - which is odd considering how many children there were around. I guessed he meant Ainan, since they were quite near each other.

"Yes." I replied, unsure whether that was the best answer, true though it was.

"He has to get a haircut." He said this in a way that let you know that he was quite put out by the matter. It was a matter that provoked some irritation - anger, even, in him. He went further: "His hair is too long for this school."

I looked at Ainan's hair. It was not short, but neither was it long. It had what I call a "natural length" - it just seemed right - a middling sort of length that didn't get in his eyes, but gave his head some character, something distinctive about it - what with his wavy hair framing his face. I couldn't see anything wrong with it.

I felt his stern-ness of character as he stood in silence then. After a minute - or two - quite literally passed with nothing being said between us - because frankly I was unimpressed with his PR skills, so brusque did he seem, he said: "Well, are you going to get it cut?"

I just nodded minimally and grunted. I wasn't going to give him a word.

The funny thing was, he was basically stating that he thought Ainan's hair was somehow scruffy because it was too long. I busied myself throughout that silent two minutes pondering his appearance. He had a certain definite scruffiness himself. His hair was short - but his clothes hung sloppily on a frame that had definitely never been to a gym (though it was possible that he had swallowed a gym, and carried it around in his generous belly). It was funny that a man who projected sloppiness, should be so upset about a child whose hair was not cropped. I said nothing however, for he looked the sort who liked to argue - and I wasn't in the mood.

When I got home I learnt that he had made the same request of my wife, on another day - and yesterday he did so again, for Ainan's grandmother. So, he had stood beside Ainan on many different occasions, seeking to ambush relatives, who came to collect him, over the matter of his hair. It borders on the obsessive.

Yesterday, Ainan got a haircut.

When he came home and I first caught sight of him, my mouth opened in involuntary shock - and I clapped my hand to it. Ainan saw this reaction, but just looked on me impassively, not wishing to recognize my reaction.

Ainan looked very different indeed. Gone was the human quality of his hair, gone was the individual appearance it had given him, gone was the sense of the Romantic age - and what replaced it was a rather militaristic, very short haircut that let not a single wave run through his hair. His hair was neat in the sort of way someone with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) would make it neat. There was not a single hair venturing to stick up from his head. All was flat, tight and orderly. It looked, to my eyes, quite unsettling. It looked just like everyone else in Singapore's schools. Ainan's haircut now looked just as flat and straight - though not black - as everyone else's (owing to its shortness). All the personality of Ainan's appearance had been extracted - and he had become the Required Regulation Schoolboy.

I suppose I will get used to it - but I simply don't like it. I don't like a system which insists on a standardization of appearance of the schoolchildren - a system that doesn't like the kids' personality to come through. Perhaps they are not conscious of what they do - but when teachers make a big issue out of a haircut, as the teacher at Ainan's school did - they are repressing the individuality of their students. It is their individuality which is their most prized possession - if that is squashed, you will end up with a dull nation, filled with dull people who dare not express themselves - correction: filled with people who do not know HOW to express themselves.

There should be no regulation in the matter of appearance in school - or anywhere else. People should be allowed to be themselves and show themselves as they are. Only then can a lively, varied, interesting society be encouraged to grow. Too much emphasis on conformity of appearance (and behaviour - but that is another post) suffocates a nation. No such nation has a long term future in a world that demands creativity and innovation from each country - if those countries are to have a place in that world.

(If you would like to know more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and seven 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 adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:13 PM 


Blogger EbTech said...

Oh no, Ainan's hairstyle was quite nice too...

Einstein would not be pleased!

4:15 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Just imagine what they would have done to Einstein's hair!

1:54 PM  

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