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 +

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Child Prodigy Schools: an educational trend.

In various parts of Asia, Child Prodigy Schools are being established. They answer to a social need - even, one might say, a social demand, in Asian culture, that children "perform". What this means is that, in many parts of Asia, so competitive is the culture, that many parents want for nothing less than that their children be prodigious.

Now, a child prodigy is, in my opinion, based on close observation, an innately gifted child. The prodigious gift is something that emerges from within the genetic inheritance of the child. It is very clearly present, from birth. It is not and never shall be, an environmentally bestowed attribute. So where does that leave "Child Prodigy Schools"? Nowhere, absolutely nowhere.

Yet, that doesn't stop Child Prodigy Schools from being opened around Asia. A recent one is a case in point: The Henan Child Prodigy School in China.

This school makes, as these schools tend to do, an outrageous claim. The owner of the school states that he can bestow a "photographic memory" on the children who attend his school. There are, at present, 150 of these unfortunate souls. I will tell you why they are "unfortunate" soon enough.

After receiving his training program, Zhang Xuexin, the Principal, claims that the children are able to memorize textbooks and traditional poems, and recite them - forwards and backwards. He then goes on to state that they are, therefore, "child prodigies". Well, even accepting his proposition that they end up with "photographic memories" (which I don't), being able to memorize a text and recite it backwards does not imply that one is a prodigy. It implies that either one has a good memory - or that one has spent an awfully long time learning the text. A good memory, on its own, does not confer prodigious status either. A child prodigy must be able to think (if they are in a cerebral domain - as, it is supposed, these are meant to be). Memory is a tool of thinking - but it is not, in itself, evidence of active thinking. A good memory may exist where a good mind does not.

I have seen a video of these children demonstrating their "talent" and it is truly chilling. They sit in rows in a classroom with their eyes closed (although some appear possibly to be slightly open - but more of that later). Before them lays an open textbook which they are unable to see (except perhaps those whose eyes appear to be slightly open). They are reciting what I am led to assume is the contents of the textbook, in a peculiarly inhuman, robotic way. They speak in unison, chanting the words from the book. Their faces have no expression. There is no emotion in them, as they chant. Most look terribly tired (one child is later seen to struggle to keep his eyes open and rubs them).

In the whole video the only person who shows some enthusiasm for life is Zhang Xuexin (as I assume the interviewee to be) who bubbles over with the simple joy of being interviewed on TV (at least, that is how it comes across). No-one else smiles or shows positive emotion in the whole video.

Nowhere do I see evidence of thinking, from the children. Nowhere do I see evidence of personality. Nowhere do I see evidence of happiness. Nowhere, indeed, do I see evidence of prodigiousness. I do, however, see a lot of children listlessly reciting words without any enthusiasm for doing so. I see humans made into robots.

Yep, that is a "Child Prodigy School" alright.

There is something more you should know - something which is more perturbing than the rest of the story put together. A kid playing table tennis missed the ball an awful lot. Huh? You say, what does that mean? Well, it could mean a lot. You see Zhang Xuexin has a lot of unorthodox ideas - I could have used the word "crazy" - but I didn't. One of these ideas is that the children would benefit from "absorbing energy from the Sun". To do this, he insists that they stare directly into the sun, periodically to absorb this "energy". There could be a very good reason why these children seem not to open their eyes much - and why they can't seem to hit a table tennis ball - I think it certain that most of them have damaged eyesight.

That boy rubbing his eyes may not just be tired - he may be wondering why there is a giant black spot in the centre of his vision. These children will go blind, for sure, if they follow Zhang Xuexin's regime, for any length of time - and if they follow it at all, they will have damaged eyesight.

Perhaps Zhang Xuexin's master plan is to open a School for the Prodigious Blind, next. I just can't wait to see what their training program is like.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and nine months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and two months, and Tiarnan, nineteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:29 AM 


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