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 +

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jealousy at NUS High School

As you may know, Ainan attended NUS High School for a time. As you probably won't know, we took him out after three weeks because it was clear that he wasn't going to be learning much there. The class offered was not of a level to teach him anything new. They also weren't willing to give him practical chemistry classes, they said: "All our classes are full: we have twenty-five students a class and can't take one more." That is what the Vice-Principal Suresh said to us. So, we didn't send him again.

Anyway, today someone from NUS High School, of about eighteen, wrote a very jealous blog about Ainan and my children. He attacked Ainan, 7, Fintan, 4, and Tiarnan, 1. He said we weren't "decent people". Is this a racist attack, I wonder, given that my children are half-Malay? (The boy in question is Chinese and so this is a potential factor, since "racial harmony" isn't perfect here. His comments were also rather strong.)

I am not going to refer you to the blog. If you have come from it, you should know which I mean. It is clear that he has no idea what a prodigious child is - or how it is defined. A prodigy is a child of adult capability, in an adult area, by the age of 11. By that criteria, Ainan, 7, should be considered a prodigy - for his studies are equivalent to an American Bachelor's degree (A level equivalent - for that is the academic standard of an American Bachelor's degree).

The funny thing is, Ainan is doing a subject at a level of someone the boy's age - yet he argues that Ainan is not "prodigious" for doing so. Ainan is ELEVEN years younger than this boy appears to be. I have not yet read a more jealous piece of writing on the internet.

I am glad, given this boy's attitude, that we took Ainan out of NUS High School: for one boy like that one, is one too many, in a whole nation.

He argues that education is not about allowing children to reach their peak capabilities. He says it is about teaching them to be "decent people" - so stating that my son, and all of us, are not. That is a libel, in itself, and no doubt actionable.

Ask yourself, is this boy an example of a decent person, when he attacks 7, 4 and 1 year olds - and their parents - on the internet? If that is what a decent person is considered to be, what an horrendous society he must come from.

(Note inserted: January 2008. I felt this post was necessary because I had been receiving a lot of traffic redirected from his libellous and offensive post. A defense of the situation was therefore necessary.)

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and ten months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and three months, and Tiarnan, twenty months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, 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 @ 3:00 PM 


Blogger Nicki Mann said...

Well, yes, of course you have to teach your kids to be decent people, but its ALSO important to help your kids reach their full potential... or they'll just feel bored, restless, and unfulfilled. Maybe the boy who wrote that was feeling bored, restless and unfulfilled, and is trying to fill that gap by insulting others!

10:14 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Nicki. I think the boy who wrote that post has overlooked this key factor in the contentment of gifted children, everywhere: they must be working and challenged at THEIR level - not at the level of some lockstep system that ignores their differences and needs. Otherwise an unhappy child will be the result.

Thank you for your perspective.

Best wishes

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, being an NUS High student, I would like to apologise on behalf of that student.

I feel that education in school is mainly academic and should be harnessed to the potential of any student if possible, while character education is a process that a person undertakes in his everyday life. It's not the main purpose of character education that the school was built.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Bee Yong said...

Hi Valentine,

I think the title of your post is a bit sweeping (and unfair to NUS High). “Jealousy of a high school student” or “Jealousy of an 18-year old student” may be more apt.

My son may be joining NUS High School next year. Based on my experience with the school (through admission talks and Maths & Science camp for P6 students), the principals are accommodating and flexible, and the students are generally polite and very passionate about Maths/Science.

I read about Ainan in The Straits Times and Lian He Zao Bao (the Chinese paper), and your wife’s appeal for a chemistry lab for Ainan’s practical experience. Has any organisation approached you to give Ainan the necessary support?

Best wishes to Ainan in his 'A' levels.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

On the contrary Bee Yong, the title is accurate because the boy who wrote as he did, states on his own blog that he is a student of NUS High School. Therefore it is perfectly accurate to write as I have - any other title would be less accurate and actually, therefore, more unfair.

Most of the students may be pleasant, in an institution, but that does not mean that all of them will be. Anyone who has been to school will know this. There will always be people you rather wish would leave others alone - but don't. I think he comes into that category.

I am glad to hear that your son may be going to NUS High. I hope he benefits from the opportunities there. For whatever reason, NUS did not go out of its way to accommodate Ainan, but made it specifically clear that they would not do so. They were unwilling to provide a lab, as actually needed, but were only willing to offer things not needed. We gave up, after a while.

The principals were not particularly accommodating in our case. They made the smallest of concessions - allowing him in to the school - but not the necessary concession - giving him the classes required. It was all rather a mystery to us why they didn't want to support him better. They seemed to delight in not providing, actually. It was all rather frustrating.

I think the difficulty comes, from many institutions, when they are called upon to make an exception, of any kind, to the way they normally do something. Many institutions, in this part of the world, are not good at that. Mainly because they just don't want to do it. It could all be so easy, if they wanted it to be. Sadly, they don't.

I hope your son enjoys it there.

We are still looking for appropriate lab space for Ainan.

Best wishes

6:56 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you to the NUS High student above for your remark. It is reassuring to hear a human voice from that location, given our recent experience of the other voice, who is not so.

Yes, I would agree with you. Character will come, no matter what. It will accumulate over a lifetime. It does not need a school and nor, necessarily, would it particularly benefit from a school. (It may actually be hampered by a school, given the way some students get treated in such places, through bullying etc.)

The sole true purpose of a school, therefore, should be to educate. A school which does not succeed in that duty, is failing as a school. Then, again, a school is not necessary for an education: that can be acquired outside of one and not infrequently is, in some parts of the world. People forget this.

I wish you well at NUS High - and thank you for having the kindness and consideration to speak up.

Best wishes

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, as a student of NUS High; I'd like to comment that I find your blog and the entries very intriguing and stimulating. With regard to the title, upon the first reading it does seem unfair to the school as it implies that jealousy is rampant and widespread in the school, whereas the conclusion you have drawn, "Jealousy at NUS High School" seems to be based on one single example. But when one reads the article one finds that you are merely describing the unfortunate event that happened rather than launching an attack on the school. So, there is no confusion, I think. Readers merely need to be discerning enough.

I disagree with the point made that education is solely for academic learning. You said, "Character will come, no matter what. It will accumulate over a lifetime. It does not need a school and nor, necessarily, would it particularly benefit from a school. (It may actually be hampered by a school, given the way some students get treated in such places, through bullying etc.)
" However, this does not mean that schools do not have to make efforts to develop character in their students; we cannot neglect this positive effect of the schooling system. Character should not be seen as being inferior to education; I think. Academic prowess should not (and I do not think it is) be the sole determining factor to the success of a prodigy, or anyone in fact.

Also, I would like to apologize on behalf of that student. I hope that you will not judge all NUS High students based on this sole encounter; and I hope that, despite your frustration, you will find some way to resolve your problems. "They seemed to delight in not providing, actually. It was all rather frustrating.
" - Certainly I sympathize with your plight, but I hope your perceived delight was not viewed through lenses tainted with frustation.

I have one question that I hope you could provide your views on; Are school set up to cater to prodigies or to provide education to normal students(who are not prodigies)?

Thank you, and best wishes for your family.

12:51 AM  

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