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 +

Friday, September 07, 2007

When "education" becomes abusive.

Very few people understand gifted children. Most teachers don't. Most school authorities don't. Most adults don't. Why is this? Simple: because they weren't gifted themselves. Only the gifted can understand, truly, what it means to be gifted.

This notion of how understanding is circumscribed by likeness of the self to other, also applies to the gradations of giftedness. It takes a moderately gifted person, to understand a moderately gifted other - a highly gifted person to understand a highly gifted other - and so on, all the way through exceptional gift and profound giftedness. Only someone truly of a particular level can truly understand the other, of the same kind.

Why do I say this? Well, I think that the perspective, and experiences of a gifted child have to be felt personally to be truly understood. The difference between living it and reading it is rather like the difference between reading The Lord of the Rings - and actually being Frodo Baggins in Middle Earth with a rather historic ring on your finger. It is impossible for us to truly understand what it is like to be Frodo Baggins - we can only see him as we imagine him to be, from the outside.

Thus is it with the gifted and the education they receive in schools. Those who educate them only know them from the outside - through reading and what they are told in their training. They do not truly know what it is like to be them.

So, it should be no surprise that education is often inappropriate for gifted children of all ilks. The more gifted the child, the more inappropriate it becomes. Yet, it is unlikely in the extreme that the education system will ever acknowledge the inappropriateness. Most education systems live under the delusion that they know best. I have actually heard a representative of our particular education system here, in Singapore, say, in essence, that she knew better than the parents how the child should be educated. Now, there is a delusion for you.

Education often proceeds by diktat: this is the way it is and all must accept it. It is rare for an education system to actually respond to the child's individual needs. Sometimes education systems talk about responding to a child's needs - while actually not doing so. Again, it is part of the incomprehension that comes with not being gifted - yet administering to the gifted.

Ainan is presently not receiving what he needs, educationally, from the system in Singapore. I very much doubt that he ever will be. This arises in the manner described above: those who can never understand, because they have never been like Ainan, make decisions about his needs, which they think should suffice. In our case, they refuse to listen to feedback that their intervention is insufficient: they think they know better.

What is the result? Lack of challenge, boredom, restlessness in the classroom, disenchantment with school, a loss of interest in learning - and general disengagement will all result, to varying degrees, if the child's true needs are not being met. In this situation, the result can only be described as abusive. It is abusive to keep a child in an unstimulating environment. It is abusive to deny a child true opportunities for growth. It is abusive to hold back a child's development all in the name of "we know better". Why do they "know better"? Because they are not bright enough to realize that they don't.

All over the world, hundreds of thousands of gifted children are being abused in this way, by the standardized classroom situation - by the undemanding education designed for those of average ability. As a result, most of the gifted children of the world end up as under-achievers - end-up as much less than they could be. Who is to blame for this? The educational system itself, for not recognizing that a gifted child has very different needs from an average child - and the more gifted they are, the more their needs will differ.

So, when is education abusive? Whenever a gifted child is involved and the individual child's particular academic needs are not met. In every case in which this occurs, the education received is a form of suffering. The education system is abusing the child. That is what education systems do to the best minds in their care. They abuse them with boredom, lack of challenge, frustration of their desires, and denial of opportunity.

In case you are the sort who doesn't care about an issue unless it affects you personally, consider this: if the growth of many gifted children is being stifled, in this way, all over the world, what do you think it does to the future intellectual health of human society? What does it do to the pace of technological and scientific change, to medical advances and cultural complexity and diversity? All these areas are hindered when the growth of those who become their human constituents are themselves hindered in their development. This issue of the abuse of our gifted children by inappropriate eduation affects us all: it is a universal problem that impacts the lives of all who presently live and are yet to live.

(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 @ 8:33 PM 


Blogger Bethany said...

I am so sorry to hear that Ainan is suffering within the school system. Have you considered homeschooling instead? Is it a legal option in Singapore even?

I've been reading a lot about this particular issue and am very distressed every time I hear yet another extremely gifted child suffering at the hands of mass education systems... you are right, they deserve better, but how can nongifted administrators ever understand what they cannot truly grasp...

Have you read the book "Exceptionally Gifted Children" by Miraca Gross? I am reading it now and it is very enlightening. Perhaps you might find something useful in it too.


10:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

We have considered homeschooling. We asked about it seven months ago - but they never got back to us. Instead, we were promised a correct response by the Gifted Education branch. We are still waiting for that. They are not being helpful.

As for homeschooling - we have just asked again, but it looks like they are being resistive. They referred us to "individualized education plan" that is being offered. It is not much of a plan - that is for sure.

So, presently, we are left without adequate or suitable provision - and no permission has yet been given to allow us to homeschool. Without permission, it would be an offence to homeschool, here.

So, we are stuck in a situation in which the ideal response: homeschooling, depends on permission being given. The system appears to be resisting this permission presently. Yet, that same system is not actually doing anything remotely suitable for Ainan.

It is not a happy situation.

We are hoping that homeschooling permission will be given. I, for one, would like to teach my son what I have learnt in my life. That, I am sure, is more than he would learn in a school.

Kind regards

11:38 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

Oh my, that IS frustrating! It must be hateful to be stuck like that... I really hope you'll find a happy solution soon, before Ainan is permanently "damaged" by the system. Would you consider leaving the country if needed? I know I would!

Wishing you all the best!


10:22 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Minni, for your sympathy. It is warmly received.

Yes, it is very frustrating. There seems to be no way forward since the "powers-that-be" distinguish themselves by being very rigid and inflexible.

We are presently considering our options.

Thank you for your suggestion.

Best wishes

10:33 AM  

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