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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, August 04, 2007

Ainan's recipe for Fish and Chips

Unusual knowledge, gives rise to unusual perspectives - and, it seems, an unusual sense of humour.

It is Saturday. In England, where I once lived, on a Saturday night, one would often see people queuing outside Fish and Chip shops across the land. It was, in some strata a tradition, to "down a pint" with their Fish and Chips, of a weekend. The most modest of outlets was often able to attract quite a crowd, if they had the fatty flavour just right.

The other day, Ainan jested about a recipe for the flavouring of Chips (as in Fish and Chips). For those who don't know, chips are "french fries" - but thicker and generally softer than the variety sold in MacDonald's, Burger King and the like.

In England, most people added vinegar and salt to their chips, for flavouring.

Ainan looked at this situation and laughed to himself, before remarking:

"Why not add HSbF6 and CsF, to them?"

He thought this was hilarious. Perhaps I should explain. Vinegar is actually a 5% solution of ethanoic acid, salt is actually sodium chloride. What Ainan was proposing was that the Vinegar be replaced by Fluoro-Antimonic Acid. It is still acidic and therefore sour in taste. The only problem might be that this acid is 10 to the power 19 times stronger than Sulphuric Acid. Anyone eating it would be somewhat inconvenienced. The other suggested chemical, Cesium Fluoride, is also a salt made in the same way as Sodium Chloride - a combination of an alkali metal and a halogen. However, in this case he chose the most extreme readily available elements of their kind for the combination. By all accounts Cesium Fluoride has a truly awful taste, being far more flavoursome - in the most negative of ways - than sodium chloride.

Thus, Ainan's recipe is an analogy to the traditional one. It is still the adding of a salt and an acid, as flavouring - though with rather different effects!

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:26 AM  0 comments

Friday, August 03, 2007

The mysterious white box on the left hand side.

At present, as I write, there is an empty white box on the left hand side of my blog, beneath the introductory text. There is a reason for this.

You see, noting the interest in IQ of my many visitors, I thought to include a link to an IQ test program offered to me by Google. I thought it was a good idea. The test would allow a quick assessment of the testee's strengths in verbal, spatial and mathematical areas and provide a full report as to the meaning of these diverse strengths and abilities.

However, it seems that the program is not immediately active. I shall wait. So, if you see an empty box on my page, know it is there for a reason. One day it might even be filled with a very interesting link, which would allow anyone to gain some insight into their own mental abilities.

As I write, I am still waiting for the mysterious ways of Google to fill their empty box.

If it is full, you might like to take the test. Have fun.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:12 PM  0 comments

Language School, Singapore: Tiarnan style.

Sometimes, my house is like a language school: the air is filled with the sounds of different languages, all competing for the attention of a baffled ear.

Such was it yesterday, but in a most entertaining way.

Tiarnan and Fintan had developed a different perspective over what should be the right name for various objects.

Fintan, four, pointed at a picture of a horse and said: "Horse."

Tiarnan, eighteen months, took exception to this: "Cuda!", he insisted, most fiercely in Malay.

Fintan didn't give up: "Horse." he repeated, again.

"Cuda!", shouted Tiarnan, with even more vigour, peering up at his towering brother, most indignantly.

Fintan evaluated the situation and said: "Cuda."

Tiarnan was pleased. His little tense body relaxed, letting his ire flow away. He had won, Malay it was to be.

Syahidah, their mother, had watched this scene unfold and, rather mischievously turned to Tiarnan and said: "Sit down."

This got him going. He flared up at once and turned on her: "Dudok!", he snapped, shouting the Malay for "sit down".

I found this interchange as informative as it was entertaining. Tiarnan is growing up bilingual in Malay and English. In this conversation, and in many others, he has shown a tendency to translate from one language to another, indeed, at times he seems an automatic translator. Given a word in one language, he will immediately give you the corresponding word in the other language. He is right everytime in his matching. What is revealing here, is that he has clearly developed a preference for Malay - and insists on defending his favoured language from the incursion of English (which he also speaks and understands anyway).

It might come down to the fact that his mother is Malay Singaporean and spends more time with him, than I am able to. Maybe he is, therefore, standing up for his mother. Sweet boy.

(If you would like to read more of Tiarnan, eighteen months, or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and eight months, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 5:30 PM  3 comments

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Of bondage and educational servitude

Sometimes, when living in a country different to the one of one's birth, it can be surprising to read the newspapers. So it was, today, for me.

I stumbled upon a story of a new initiative between Duke University and National University Hospital (NUH), to found a graduate school in medicine. The Duke-NUH Graduate Medical School is to provide medical training for would-be Doctors, with a four year degree in Clinical Research (as far as I could gather, from a quick lunch time glance).

Now that is all well and good: a new course to allow new people to become Doctors. Fine. What was surprising - even to one who had seen other examples of this phenonomen in Singapore - is the financial handcuffs, locally called a "bond", involved in this course. The would-be Doctor would have to sign a contract with NUH agreeing to serve a certain number of years work in Singaporean Government Hospitals, if they took the course. If they broke the bond - and did not complete the course - or did not serve the requisite (unstated) number of years working in Singapore's hospitals, they would have to pay a penalty of $800,000.

I will state that number in words lest you think it is a mistake: EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS. That is the penalty for withdrawing from the arrangement. Now, that sum shocked me. It is an awful lot of money. I am a father of three and I look at that number and think: "That would go a long way to raising my children." It is a far from insignificant sum. It is, as it is intended to be, a PENAL sum.

Why is the bond there at all? Well, it is intended to ensure that Singapore does not lose out, in any way from the arrangement. Should a Doctor be trained in Singapore they will either have to work there for a certain number of years (I don't know the number, but all examples I have seen before have been measured in years) - or they will have to compensate Singapore for their early departure to the tune of $800,000. As far as I am aware, this bond is not graduated. By that, I mean that technically, if you leave one day short of the period of servitude - that you will be liable for the WHOLE amount. I used the word the servitude deliberately for this style of contract is a hang-over from the early days of bonded servitude in times past. It is still very common practice here in Singapore.

When I first came to Singapore, discovering the "bond" was my biggest culture shock. Early job interviews I went to, often ended abruptly, from my point of view, when I learnt that the employer wanted me to sign a contract that meant that I WOULD HAVE TO PAY HIM A LARGE PENALTY EQUAL TO SAY SIX MONTHS SALARY, if I left before two years. In all such cases, I never agreed to sign - because I have no idea what working for such a man would be like. It could be two years of hell: after all - what incentive has he to be a reasonable employer, if unreasonable behaviour, which forced me to leave, would be rewarded by a lump sum for him?

Here is the essential problem of bondage: a bond rewards bad behaviour on the part of employers (or, educationalists, for that matter) - with a large lump sum. In such circumstances, one can expect a less than ideal environment. The employer - or the educational institution - has no incentive to provide a good environment for their staff - because THE STAFF CANNOT LEAVE VOLUNTARILY. This can only lead to a situation of neglect at best - and active abuse at worst. It is very, very telling that in many organizations I am aware of that use bonding - ALMOST ALL THE STAFF LEAVE WHEN THE BOND IS UP. If they had been happy there, they would not leave the moment they are free of their bond. If a staff member is bonded and leaves the moment the bond is over, it proves that there is something wrong with that organization.

So, I have a principle which I have abided by since I came to Singapore: if there is a bond, don't sign it and don't work for them. A good workplace would have no need for a bond, because a good employer would naturally retain its staff. It is the mark of a bad employer, that they should have a bond.

Back to the Duke-NUH GMS (Graduate Medical School). Should a student be unhappy there, there is nothing they can do. If they leave, they will be burdened with an almost million dollar debt. There are many reasons why someone might be unhappy in an institution - and I think it is unfair and unkind - to punish the unhappy person further by impoverishing them, too.

Before starting the program and before coming to Singapore, there is no way that a foreign student can know what it would be like to study in NUH or subsequently work there. Yet, if all does not work out, there will be a huge price to pay. A Singaporean might have a better idea of the environment - but even they will not truly know until they do it. What both locals and foreigners would have in common, is the bond. Should anyone of any nationality break the bond, they have to pay the penalty. Note that this bond is in addition to any fees that are paid. Education is not free here. The student will pay six-figure fees - and then, should they leave before the contract period is up - pay an almost seven figure fee for the privilege.

What effect will this have on recruitment? Well, it may scare off many good candidates. Many forethinking prospective students will think: if I study in any other country in the world, I will not have to sign a bond - so why shouldn't I study elsewhere? Many will make that decision. Many will decide not to study in Singapore. So, by having this policy Singapore loses out on many potentially good Doctors.

It is also very bad PR for Singapore. What do you think will happen if someone is really unhappy at Duke-NUH and really does have to leave? They will be saddled with a massive debt. That person will spend the rest of their lives badmouthing Singapore for what happened. They may go to the press with their story. Overseas newspapers are very likely to cover such a story because, from an international perspective it really, really does look like bad practice. There would be no end to the negative PR effect of such an incident. Yet, there could be many such incidents - and much such negative PR.

Why do Singaporean educational institutions have such policies? Well, it is because they say that they subsidize the costs of education - and that they cannot risk not getting a return on that subsidy. Thus, anyone who accepts a place at a subsidized institution must repay the subsidy by serving some time in a Government institution, in return. That is the logic. One can see their point. Yet, is it reasonable? Other countries achieve the same ends not by coercive, penal contracts/bonds - but by being good employers that everyone wants to work for. In such situations, enough people voluntarily decide to work in the country of their education, to make it worthwhile.

So, there are two ways to achieve the desired end for NUH. They can have a penal bond, that is truly of fearsome magnitude - or they could be such a great place to work at, that no-one would ever think of upping and leaving after their course is over.

I know which approach everyone, the world over, would prefer. I also know which one NUH will always prefer: the one that takes no financial risk for them.

I have a suggestion which might help both camps: why not have an unsubsidized option, so that some students could choose NOT to be subsidized - and also not to have a bond. Then they could be educated in Singapore, without the risk to them, that all would not work out - and, to be fair, who knows what will happen? - and they would then have to pay a huge penalty. It might prove to be a very popular option.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children, and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:47 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Does Singapore value diversity?

Singapore considers itself a multiracial society - and, to a degree, this is true. There are Chinese, Malay and Indian Singaporeans - and a smidgeon of others. So small is that smidgeon that the first three groups account for almost everyone. Therefore, although multiracial in the sense of being of more than one race, it is not as diverse as many Western cities - indeed, by the standards of, say, London, it is not diverse at all.

Yet, it considers itself multiracial. It also considers itself well "integrated" - with the three races co-existing relatively harmoniously. However, there is something which is very clear when one reads the local newspapers: the word, "foreigner" appears an awful lot. There is a common concern here about the presence of foreigners. The underlying worry appears to be about competition: that the "foreigners" will somehow take their jobs, or even partners away from them. It is very strange, in a way, for without these "foreigners" that are written of, so often, Singapore would not be the successful city-state that it is. Many of these foreigners are of a high-calibre and occupy senior positions in many organizations. They are brought in precisely because they can add to the local economy in a very real sense. From the way the articles are written, however, it is clear that not everyone appreciates their presence.

A recent series of articles is a case in point. The issue of how many foreign students were admitted annually into Singapore's Universities was raised in Parliament, here. The motive for raising it seemed to be backed by the view that there are far too many of them - and that it should be controlled. One got the impression that those who raised the issue would rather that there weren't any foreign students at all.

The ostensible grounds for putting the question to Parliament, was a concern that the foreign students were depriving Singaporeans of University places and would crowd out the locals from achieving a tertiary education.

It transpired that over 4,000 foreign students a year, were admitted to Singaporean Universities, set against the over 20,000 places, per year, in those Universities (as far as I can recall). Thus, foreigners made up one in five student places, here.

Apparently, many Singaporeans thought this was rather too many. When they consider the situation, they see 4,000 places that could have gone to Singaporeans. What they don't see is 4,000 diverse individuals from all the world, bringing an intellectual freshness and vitality to Singaporean Universities that they would otherwise lack.

Many people here simply don't understand the richness that arrives on their shores, in the shape of foreign visitors, whether they be workers, students or tourists. It is these visitors who bring new perpectives and understandings to Singapore. Without them, this city would be much the lesser. Without the freshness they bring, this island would not be the prosperous place it is.

The common man, here, frequently does not see or understand this issue. They don't realize that without diversity and the influx of ideas and understandings that it brings, Singapore would be much the lesser, in every way.

I look at the statistic of one in five University students being from elsewhere - and think: too few. Many here see the same number and think: too many.

Foreigners can read newspapers, too. No doubt many of those 4,000 foreign University students are now aware that they are not truly welcomed by many here. I wonder how many fewer will subsequently choose to settle here, and make Singapore their home?

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, and his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 12:16 AM  2 comments

Monday, July 30, 2007

Genius and long-term relationships

Do geniuses find long-term relationships difficult to maintain? Is the state of possessing rare powers of the mind, that allow the bearer to think thoughts no-one else has thought, and create works no-one else could have created, something which permanently separates the genius from others?

I ask, as usual, for a reason. Leonardo da Vinci was a striking man in many ways. It was said, that he was physically so impressive that, when he walked through the streets in the morning, on the way to work, that people would line the streets to watch him pass. Everywhere he went he made a vast impression on others. Yet, there is a caveat. You see in all his relatively long life (given the time), Leonardo da Vinci maintained NO long-term relationships, barring that with his adopted son (who was 10 years old at the beginning of their acquaintance).

Why was it that a man of Leonardo's legendary fame - which he achieved in his own lifetime - could not cultivate a range of long-term friendships? Everyone in his life was temporary - they passed on and through, leaving him alone.

Leonardo is known in name, by all alive, in the developed world - yet, in his lifetime, he had few who knew him well - and none who knew him long.

Was this some peculiarity of Leonardo da Vinci himself - or is it the common burden of all men and women of genius?

I have considered this question and believe that the answer is that, for many men and women of genius, the gulf that exists between them, and their more ordinary fellows, is too wide to cross readily and often. They are thus divorced from society. Many of them will, therefore, succumb to solitude, rather than revel in The Other. Yet, all is not lost. People of genius usually find greatest pleasure in their creative work - which, of course, for most disciplines, best proceeds in solitude.

Thus, though sad from a human standpoint, that Leonardo so lacked long-term human contact, from the point of view of his work, and the creative abundance he gave rise to, it is undoubtedly a great blessing on the rest of Mankind, that his mind was turned, so necessarily, towards his work, than towards social interaction. It is certain that Leonardo owed a significant proportion of his creative output, to the solitude that he would have so often found himself in.

So, from a wider perspective, it is for the greater good that geniuses are not so socially engaged, as others are - even if, from a more normal perspective, one would think that they are missing one of the greatest pleasures of human life: friends and love relationships.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and eight months, a scientific child prodigy, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 8:41 PM  0 comments

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fintan's school report

The other day, we made our way to Fintan's school to hear how he was doing.

The teachers were pleased with him. They told us that: "He really concentrates on everything that he is doing...he is very focussed."

That, in itself, was good news, for many young children are not able to focus on anything for long. Fintan, four, however, was.

"He really loves reading...and he even teaches the other children how to read!" There was marvel on her tongue at, I surmised, the sweetness of this. I could imagine Fintan teaching his fellow kids, just as he had taught his grandmother.

This was nice to hear - for it shows that he is supportive of others and wants to reach out to help them.

However, it was the last observation that really struck me: "He is very loving and kind."

That for me, was the best news - better than any academic promise was the fact that he was a loving and kind boy. It turns out that he shows great love, kindness and concern to all his fellows - and nurtures them as best he might. What a sweetie.

(If you would like to read more of Fintan, four years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and eight months, a scientific child prodigy, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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 @ 11:45 AM  0 comments

Welcome visitors from Finland

I note an upsurge of visitors from Finland. Welcome.

There are over 450 posts on this site - so please take your time and look around. There is everything here you could ever want to know about giftedness, genius, child prodigy and educational matters relating to them - seen through the eyes of one family.

Thank you for taking an interest in my site.

By the way: has someone in Finland written an article about Ainan? If so, please let me know.

Thanks.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:41 AM  0 comments

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