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, April 28, 2007

IQ and Wealth: Zagorsky study.

Are IQ and wealth related? Jay Zagorsky of Ohio State University has studied the matter and come up with some surprising conclusions.

In 1979, the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NSLY) began under the guidance of the Ohio State Center for Human Resource Research - and funded by the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 7,403 participants have been repeatedly questioned and studied over the years and the data trawled for interesting correlations.

Zagorsky thought to use the data to answer an interesting question: do you have to be smart to be rich? His answer is rather counter-intuitive.

Firstly, his data confirmed the common view that the smarter you are the more you earn. For every IQ point above 100, his cohort earned between $202 and $616 more per year. This equated to a person of IQ 130 earning between $6,000 to $18,500 a year more than their average counterpart at IQ 100. So were the smart ones wealthier? Did they have greater net worth? Were they freer of financial difficulties?

Rather peculiarly, they weren't. No strong correlation between wealth and intelligence was found. Indeed the smart were more prone to financial imprudence than the ones who were just slightly above average. As a measure of financial difficulties he looked at the failure to pay bills; make credit card payments; max out credit cards or become bankrupt. The smartest ones still got themselves into trouble in these ways. For instance, 11 per cent of people of IQ over 125 had missed credit card payments; 6 per cent had maxed out their cards. Though smart, they were not immune to carelessness with their finances.

So, what was the result of all this? Despite earning less than the most gifted in the cohort, those of average or slightly below average intelligence were as competent at accumulating wealth. Zagorsky's tentative conclusion - which he is investigating further - is that although the bright EARN more, they SAVE less.

What lessons can gifted parents get from this? Well, apart from teaching one's children the value of saving, it might be healthy to alter an expectation that many parents have of their gifted children: that they will be "well-off". This is not necessarily the case at all. It is partly because some of the professions that draw gifted children are not well-remunerated. University Professors, for instance, in most cultures, are not well-paid. Yet, they are among the most gifted of their societies.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and five months, a scientific child prodigy, and his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, baby genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:15 AM  1 comments

Friday, April 27, 2007

The children who never sleep

Singapore is a country where sleep is not much prized.

Why do I say this? Well, I just have to look at the school children wending their way to school - at around 7 am. Yes, you read right. They are on their way to school by 7 am - often earlier - because school often starts at about 7.30 am.

That is hideously early for a young child to be getting to school. Yet, it is not just the school children who have to get up early - the teachers do, too. The result is that an entire profession and about half Singapore's children, suffer from sleep deprivation. I say "half" the children for a reason. Singapore once had too few schools for the children they had to teach. There wasn't space and they hadn't had the time to build them all. So they struck upon an idea: use the same schools twice in a day. The school day was divided into two halves: a "morning session" and an "afternoon session". To fit both sessions into one day, the morning session had to start really early - and the afternoon session had to finish really late. A child on the morning session will finish about lunchtime, or thereabouts. A child on afternoon session will finish in the evening.

So, this system was created for a time when there wasn't enough teaching space to go around. Now, however it is different. There are more schools. There are fewer children - yet many schools persist in this division of the day into morning and afternoon sessions.

The children don't look well on it. They are evidently tired. I have taught such children. Many of them have poor concentration, simply because they haven't slept enough. There is another factor. Many of them are addicted to computer games and play them late into the night - or watch TV to similar hours - then they have to get up before 6 am to get to school. The consequences are not good. These children are too tired to really learn much at school.

It is time that the tradition of an early morning session be phased out. The children would be less tired and could focus better - and the teachers, too, would be less worn out and better able to give their energies to the classroom.

Every nation needs to sleep: even Singapore. I would like to see schools that start at a reasonable hour - say nine am. It would be a relief not to see tired children on their way to school, at an hour when they should really still be asleep.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:37 AM  11 comments

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On athletes and geniuses

At my school, in Britain, athletes got cheered, geniuses got jeered. The great sadness of this is not in that this happened, but in that this is not unusual. The world over, this is the more common of the possible reactions to such people.

The gifted athletes were school heroes - almost universally popular, accepted and welcomed. Those of great intellectual gift, however, were marginalized, picked on, bullied, victimized. They were often subject to consistent, systematic, social exclusion. This did not happen to all gifted kids at my school - but to many of them, it did. The mediocre majority ganged up on them and made their lives uncomfortable at best, hell at worst.

It was common for the kid who was brighter than the rest, but perhaps somewhat different, to be mocked for their differences. I remember one kid who was clearly genetically unusual from his appearance alone - who was gifted in physics and maths, who never received anything but a jeer everytime he spoke. No-one welcomed him. Everyone laughed at him. He, however, would talk on as if they were saying nothing until he got his point out - yet, I wonder how he really felt at this universal scorn, hate and mockery that greeted his every word. He never showed any reaction - but he must have heard what they said; he must have felt their loathing directed at him.

I remember his name, but won't mention it for fear that I might bring him some harm, now, all these years later. No doubt, he wouldn't want to be reminded of how he was treated. He was the most acute example of this phenomenon - but there were others: gifted children who had become the centre of much dislike, simply because of their gifts.

The oddest thing about this is that my school was a fee-paying, "Public School" - a highly selective institution, which made an effort to find academically able students to fill its classrooms. Yet, that did not mean that all were equally able. There were those one would term highly gifted and above - but the vast majority would not have even been termed moderately gifted: there are simply not enough of them to go around, what with all the schools seeking to recruit them. So, most would just have been "bright".

Yet, though most were bright, by typical standards, they were not welcoming or kind, or warm to those who were brighter than they were. Usually, they were hateful towards them. They treated the best among them with a virulent spite that had no end: it was as if the very fact that the best were better than them filled them with a deep-seated loathing.

Looking back, I find it astonishing that gifted athletes should have been loved; and gifted intellectuals should have been hated. There was something profoundly wrong with the culture of the school. Thinking more on it, however, I think that it wasn't just the school, but the whole nation at fault. Britain was already showing signs of anti-intellectualism at that time - and, though I haven't lived in England for years, from what I have read, recently, that poisonous ideology has become even more entrenched in the British psyche. I will write more of that another time, perhaps.

Is it the same in your country? Are athletes feted and the intellectually gifted isolated and bullied? I would welcome your observations, thoughts and feelings. Thanks.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:25 AM  4 comments

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tiarnan and the Piano

Yesterday, when I called home, I heard someone in the background on the piano. It was not an entirely disorderly attempt to coax music from it. Keys were sounded in sequence, from various parts of the keyboard, there was an effort at rhythm at times - and there was a sense of someone seeking the Mystery behind the piano.

"Can you hear Tiarnan on the piano?", asked Syahidah, my wife.

I could, and I listened for awhile. What was clear was that individual keys were being pressed in sequence - and not just whole areas of keys being depressed at once.

"He is sitting on the bench," she continued, "and you should see his face!"

"Concentrated is he?"


I imagined that look in my mind: a look he shared with his brothers when they got something into their heads to interest them. It was like Fintan when he drew art: an intense absorption in the task, to the exclusion of all else. Tiarnan was trying to work out how to play the piano, simply by experimenting with it.

Now, Tiarnan has just turned fifteen months old - and this playing with the piano reminded me of another time, over three months ago.

That time he wanted to go up on the bench, but didn't find it as easy as he did, this time, on his own. So I had helped him up onto it. Then he had picked at the keyboard, key by key, listening to each sound, sometimes depressing the key several times in a row as he appreciated each note. He hadn't just bashed at it: he had systematically studied what sounds it made, whether those sounds were reproducible - and listened to them individually. It was quite a surprising set of actions for a first contact with a piano. He had not proceeded randomly, but had approached it with order in mind - and the need to understand the range of sounds on offer, one by one.

Then, too, he had been very absorbed in the task and very keen to hear each note and understand what it meant to him. When it came time to do something else, he hadn't wished to be dragged away.

Watching him interact with the piano in this way, spontaneously, without guidance, makes me wonder at how much children determine their own path and their own interests. I really am coming to think that the most healthy upbringing is one guided by the child's natural choices and inclinations. Tiarnan seems to be making a choice of music as one of his interests since he seeks out the piano, himself and tries to make music out of it.

The first time I heard him on the piano, he sought to experience individual notes; this time he appeared to be trying patterns, of some kind - trying to make music.

At some point, we are going to have to give him a formal chance to learn the piano, it seems.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:45 AM  5 comments

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fintan and the secrets of the Sun

I like Fintan's outlook on the world. It is one crafted of reason and imagination - and one that is uniquely his own. He has his own means of expression which I have tried, occasionally, to capture, but perhaps have not yet fully succeeded: I call it Fintanism. By this I mean that he says things in ways that others wouldn't. It is his own outlook, his own vision that speaks. I think is important - for everyone who becomes an artist - as he promises to do, with the way he sees the world and the way he interacts with it - must have their own point of view. This is the defining characteristic - more than any technical skill or ability to produce art - the defining, foundational attribute is that of a unique viewpoint. If there is no uniqueness, there can be no original art. The work would just be as others' is. It would say nothing new and be nothing interesting. Thus, when seeing if a child can be an artist, we must first look to the question: are they different, somehow? Are they moved in different ways? Do they see the world differently? Are their responses their own? Are their utterances unique, in some way - do they, basically, have their own personality and their own outlook?

If the answer to these questions is yes and they show an additional interest in creative production in some artistic medium - then there is promise for them. If, however, they just show production in a medium - without any uniqueness in their responses - I would argue that there is little artistic promise at work. The first property of an artist is individuality - if it is not possessed then there is no artist - or artistry.

About three weeks ago, after we had been in the pool and I had managed to coax them through the sometimes long process of actually leaving the pool, Fintan, three, took it upon himself to stand under a palm tree.

"Look Daddy!" he said, excitedly, "The tree doesn't make me hot."

I was struck by the quirkiness of this way of looking at things: that the tree should not be the giver of heat, entertained the thought that it might have been.

There was Fintan, standing in the shade of the palm tree, by the pool, observing that, in the shade, he was not hot.

Then he did something that any scientist might. He moved to another tree, and stood under it, to see the effect of this one.

Again he pronounced his verdict: "The tree doesn't make me hot."

He was quite pleased with this - not alone because the observation was correct, in its own oddly expressed way - but because Singapore is hot, from his stocky perspective, and thus finding a place that isn't so hot is quite a pleasant discovery.

He did it once more, with a final, larger tree, before leaving the environs of the pool.

"The tree doesn't make me hot." He announced, finally, his observation most thoroughly investigated.

What is interesting about this, besides the quirkiness of his way of thinking and expressing himself, is what it says of his awareness of his environment. These palm trees let quite a lot of light through their leaves - for there are large gaps between them, and few leaves - so the difference in temperature is marginal. Yet, Fintan was sensitive to the change which he had first noticed simply because he had walked under the tree and felt the difference - then stopped and made his observation.

So, Fintan is not only visually aware. He is aware of temperature as well. I would say that it is becoming likely that Fintan is very aware in ALL of his senses. Being aware is part of his nature. If there is something to observe, in his surroundings, it is characteristic of Fintan that he does not fail to observe it. This too is the mark of an artist in the budding.

Who knows, perhaps he will draw beneath the shade of a palm tree. There are certainly plenty to choose from, around here.

(If you would like to learn more of Fintan, three, or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and four months, or Tiarnan, fifteen 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 @ 7:10 AM  0 comments

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ainan, the unconscious actor?

Over the past few months, Ainan has adopted a range of expressions which I had not seen on his face before. These expressions are incongruous when set against what I know of him. Where have they come from and why are they there?

Recently, I had the chance to find out. I managed to observe a number of children from his classroom and watch how they were. After a while, I noted something really peculiar: I saw those expressions of Ainan on another's face. At once, I understood: Ainan had acquired expressions from others - the expressions I had begun to see, were not even his own.

Why would he do this? Well, a gifted child has to do many things to blend into their environment - and to be accepted. Ainan had clearly found another way to be accepted: be like those around him, incorporate their expressions and actions into his repertoire - become, in some superficial sense, as they are.

On the one hand I feel like congratulating Ainan on his socially skillful manoeuvre. How can a child not accept another child that echoes himself? On the other hand, I feel saddened, for Ainan is sloughing off some of his own uniqueness in social situations, to become more like the people he is with and so allow him to be accepted. He is being less of himself in public.

There is another matter which concerns me. The expressions themselves fit another personality. One set of them fits a rather foolish personality - so it is really startling when Ainan uses these expressions - because they are those of a fool. Anyone who did not know Ainan, on seeing this, would seriously misjudge him. In those expressions, he has captured the essence of dullness. It is quite perturbing to see Ainan assume such a face. Yet, assume it he does, for social reasons.

Is Ainan consciously acting or unconsciously doing so? I would guess that it began as conscious imitation but has since become an unconscious pattern repertoire, which he deploys in what seems like a suitable situation.

Perhaps, if Ainan were away from that social context he would, over time, drop this new behaviour and become as he was. In many ways, I would prefer that - but I understand why he is doing this. It helps him be accepted - and he is successful at it, for he has many friends. Yet, it may be true to say that some of these friendships have come at a price - the price of altering his social self to fit those around him.

On balance, however, I feel happy that Ainan has the social skills and personality to allow him many friends. For many gifted children, in his position, are almost friendless. It seems that he knows how to behave to make others comfortable with him - and to get them to like him. I suppose that that is another kind of gift. Yet, it is disconcerting to see one of those social skills at work, sometimes.

Perhaps this is the way with all of us. We are different in different contexts. So, too, is it with Ainan - but it was a surprise for me to come to understand what was happening.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:02 AM  2 comments

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tiarnan's concern for Daddy

Yesterday, Tiarnan, fifteen months (just turned), did something very sweet.

I was sitting in the computer room and Tiarnan was outside near the kitchen with his mummy. He was carrying a plate on which there sat a biscuit with spread on it. Syahidah told him to go sit in the living room - and he began to walk off - but not in the direction she had indicated. He walked towards the computer room.

Thus, I saw his little form round the corner carrying this plate. He raised it up to me so that I could better see what he offered. It was clear what he intended: my baby son was trying to feed his Daddy. I wasn't hungry but I wasn't going to refuse this thoughtful kindness of my youngest son.

"Thank you, Tiarnan, for the biscuit." I said and he seemed gratified.

I reached down and took the half-eaten biscuit (for the rest was inside him) and ate it, bite by bite. He watched me do so and offered me the plate. I took it and placed it down on the table. When the biscuit was finished he pointed at the plate - and so I gave it back to him.

Happily he walked backwards out of the room looking up at me all the while.

As he left the room, he said, "Bye, bye!".

I was struck by his sweet thoughtfulness in thinking of his Daddy while the others ate. It must have been clear to him that one person was missing from the biscuit-fest - and he had not ignored that but had taken the initiative to ensure that his Daddy had a biscuit too. What did he do: he gave his OWN biscuit to me.

His sweetness and consideration, at such a young age, are not all that common. Many children of his age have yet to learn to think of anyone but themselves. To do so, requires that the child understand other people's situation and to be concerned about it: both skills and attitudes are usually lacking at that age.

It is warming to have a son who would actually think of his father's needs - and do something about them.

What a sweet boy: the littlest waiter in the world.

(If you would like to read more about Tiarnan, fifteen months, or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and four months, or Fintan, three, 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 @ 8:46 AM  2 comments

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