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, September 20, 2007

Childhood imagination and acting on the stage

Yesterday, I had the chance to see Fintan in a stage performance. It was not a theatrical show, as such, but more of a guided theatrical performance, with the help of their teacher.

Seeing Fintan transform from a child into a rocket, then a moon buggy, then an astronaut, and an airplane and back to a child again, told me much about the quality of his inner imaginative life.

Fintan was very committed to each action, each role, each image that he had to portray. He was very expressive, physically, in how he relayed the meaning of what he had been asked to do - and he was very, very enthusiastic. Above all, it was his imagination that was clear from his work. There was great physical detail in his imagining of the roles he was to portray - careful placing of body, arm, hand and face to give just the right meaning to what he intended. There was nothing half-hearted about what he did: it was clear that he both enjoyed it and was good at it.

Other kids of his age showed fair imagination, too (four year olds).

Yet, what was really telling, for me, was what happened next. We waited to see the performance of the five and six year olds. The contrast was clear. The older kids were more capable with words - more at ease with their use - but there was something dreadfully missing. Someone had stolen their imaginations. There was a marked reduction in imaginative power, creative commitment - and, compared to Fintan, detail of performance, in the older kids. I was surprised at this. I had expected to see a steady development of ability - a progression to higher things. But that is not what I could clearly see up on the stage. I saw more use of words and less use of body. I saw a lot of talk at the expense of expressiveness, imagination, creative daring, commitment, enthusiasm, insight and simple stage presence. Fintan showed all of these qualities at four - and his agemates showed more of them than the older kids. It was an odd and unsettling realization. Somehow, it seems, that children lose something as they get older: they lose their "childish" imaginations - but they don't gain anything worthwhile in return. Where the younger kids were fluid and fun, the older kids were stiff and dull. It was sad to see.

I have not had the chance to see this comparison in other cultures and races. But it may be general - and if so, it is a worry. Clearly, in this education system at least, the children are rapidly losing the very quality we would most want to see flourish: their creative imaginations. Not that alone, but they are losing it very early on. I saw a marked difference between four year olds and five/six year olds. A decline should not be noticeable over such a short time - but it was. Perhaps we should look for a different place and way to school Fintan - and Tiarnan - before they, too, are rigidified.

Then, again, it may not just be the school. It might be a natural process. Or it could be the whole culture. Whatever is to blame, it is most obvious that young children are losing their imaginations at a very young age.

You may say I didn't see enough children. Well, I did. There were two groups of about fifteen children each. The difference between the typical performance of the four year olds and the typical performance of the five/six year olds was marked. There was no doubt about it.

I really wonder at what schools do for children: do they open their minds up - or close them down?

This experience has really set me to wondering.

(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, precocity, 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 @ 8:10 PM 


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