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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, January 05, 2008

The mystery of the Singaporean numbers game

Numbers are strange things. Especially in Singapore. You look away for a second and they change. Yes: here, numbers have a life of their own.

What numbers am I referring to? Well, these particular changing numbers are the costs of taxis, as declared in newspapers. Now, you would have thought that it would be a simple matter to be straightforward as to the true state of affairs when it comes to the real cost of taxis. However, apparently not.

My thoughts have turned to this on seeing a mysterious change in headlines in Singapore's leading national daily. Today The Straits Times has an article in which the headlines refer to the "5% to 35%" increase in taxi fares. Now, that is strange, I thought to myself on seeing that, for I remembered some very different headlines of only a few weeks ago. Those were also in The Straits Times and spoke of a "10% to 49%" price increase. Have the taxi fares been changed again? No, they have not. What has changed is what the headlines are saying about the fares, the fares themselves remain the same, overpriced charges.

Now, what is the truth, here? Is it "5% to 35%" or "10% to 49%". Well, I would suggest that the truth is that both sets of figures are not true. Both are misleading.

Why do I say this? Well, let us look at one simple fact in isolation. Let us forget the forest of new and wonderful whizzbang surcharges that delight the world with their awful magnitude and mystifying complexity. Let us just look at one small change among the many changes. The flag down rate has gone up from $250 - oops, I mean, $2.50 - to $2.80. Is that a change of 5%? Nope. Is that a change of 10%? Nope. It is a change of 12%. So, if you take a cab at a time and place that has no extra surcharges and you get out of the cab immediately (after all it is too expensive to actually travel anywhere in one of them), you would pay an increase of 12% over the former fares. So, that makes it a real mystery how the 5% (or the 10%) was calculated because the smallest possible change - one that ignored all other charges and surcharges is, in itself, 12% for a journey of no distance.

What happens when one actually, foolishly (or naively) actually takes a cab these days? Well, horrible things, usually, things like extra mortgages and lifelong debts to loan sharks.

What happens is that you end up virtually paying for the taxi, itself. A recent case in point. Someone I know of, recently returned from a well-timed holiday in Indonesia (where taxis are very cheap indeed), which meant that he left when taxis were affordable and returned when they had become insanely overpriced. Rather innocently, therefore, he took a cab from the airport to his home. Can you guess how much this journey cost, in an island a little bigger than the average American shopping mall (well, approximately)? It cost him well over 60 (yes, over SIXTY) dollars to get home. Consider that figure for a moment. Is that a reasonable amount for a single journey in what is a really, really small island? Now, how much was he used to paying for this journey? Have a guess. Well, he expected a figure in the 20s. Yes. That is right, he expected to pay somewhere over 20 and under 30 dollars. He didn't. He paid over 60 dollars. Now, I ask you is more than a doubling in fare, equal to "35%" or "49%". No it isn't. The true figure for these changes can be over a 100% increase in fare.

I have my own experience. My wife and I took a cab to town one evening. Just once, mind. We learnt our lesson pretty quickly. The journey would normally have cost around $9.50 to $10. The metered fare came out to $20.50. That, again, is more than a 100% increase.

Apparently, the journalists who wrote those articles have never actually taken a cab, for any distance, in the new fare regime. Perhaps they just write what the PR for the taxi firms tells them to write. Because one thing is for sure: the headline price rises in the newspapers do NOT reflect the reality of the price changes on the ground, in the cabs of Singapore today.

So, it is a mystery to me why the numbers change in these articles. It is also a mystery to me why those numbers do not accurately reflect the actual experience of people who take the cabs. Perhaps they are using best case only estimates, based on taxi rides that would avoid most of the surcharges. These are not real world estimates therefore. They are a PR person's statements.

All across Singapore, there are now empty cabs waiting for passengers, at all times of day. The only circumstance under which the fares would ever fall, is if those cabs stay empty. It is said, by Comfort PRs, that taxi drivers now earn 10% more. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don't. Perhaps it is just PR. It doesn't matter. For even if it is true, it tells us one thing: a lot fewer people are taking cabs. You see, they should be earning a lot more than 10% more, since the true rise in prices is actually rather high. But they are not. Therefore, people are avoiding taxis. Fewer people take them. Most people are having to go to the inconvenience of finding less, well, convenient ways to travel.

It seems to me that if even fewer people took cabs, that eventually prices would fall back down again. We will see what people do.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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, 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 @ 5:41 PM  4 comments

Friday, January 04, 2008

Of larks and nightingales

Can a nightingale become a lark?

I ask because this is the task set by the Singaporean educational system for our son, Ainan.

Larks awaken with the sunrise and greet its first light with their song. Nightingales are reputed to do the same for the moon. They stir at opposite ends of the day. One is a creature of the early morning, the other of the night.

Ainan is naturally inclined to rise late and go to bed late. He is energized by the evening and the night. Indeed, so much is this so is that I have never seen him tired of an evening.

Until now.

On Ainan's first day back at school, he had to rise at 5.30 am for his 6.20 am bus to school. It wasn't easy. The unnatural hour was most difficult for him to adjust to. Waking was a struggle.
Sleeping, however, was much easier. Early that evening, when Ainan would normally be as alert as ever - perhaps more so, by the passing hours - Ainan fell asleep, in the midst of a quiet conversation with me. He just lolled off.

I found this rather surprising, for I have never seen him do this before. Never before, in all his life, had I seen him tired in the evening - certainly not tired enough to actually fall asleep. Ainan is, in fact, one of those for whom sleep is not easily achieved. He would rather be awake thinking, than asleep dreaming.

This new regime is not easy for him, therefore. So, too, it would not be easy for many thousands of other children who are naturally alert later in the day, and tend to sleep late.

Is this really necessary? Could not the nation build enough schools so that there would be no need to have two sessions per school? With a one session system, no child would have to rise at 5.30 am to get ready for school. It really is too early for a young body and mind to have to endure. Unless, of course, they are naturally "larks" and rise at that time anyway. Yet, most children are not (at least the sample that I have known). Few children like to wake at dawn.

Ainan has already mentioned his unease at the new hours, to me. It is not at all comfortable for him. Ainan, the nightingale, is required to be a lark, by a school system that doesn't consider the child.

I suggest that they try an experiment. Ask a nightingale to rise at dawn. If it cannot - then why ask a child to do the same?

A nightingale is a nightingale, a lark, a lark: their nature should be respected and taken into account. The same applies to children.

As for Ainan: I just suppose that he will continue to be unnaturally tired of an evening.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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, 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 @ 9:52 PM  6 comments

Thursday, January 03, 2008

School uniforms: a toddler's view.

Today, Tiarnan, twenty-three months, accompanied his mother to Ainan's school. While there, they looked around.

Now, Tiarnan has only ever seen Ainan wearing his school uniform, five days a week. He is accustomed to seeing Ainan returning home wearing it. Until this week, this meant returning in the evening, after school. Now, it means returning in the early afternoon, since school now begins early in the morning (too early).

What Tiarnan saw at Ainan's school astonished him. Everywhere he looked there were people who, from a distance, looked just like his eldest brother, (Abang), Ainan. They were all wearing the same distinctive uniform.

Tiarnan turned his head from one school boy to another, saying: "Abang! Abang! Abang!" as he fixed his stare on each one. It was very clear that he thought this identity of uniform most peculiar. Everyone was a "clone" of his eldest brother.

This was Tiarnan's first experience of uniformity of dress. It was clear that he thought it very strange. There was something unnatural about it.

The funny thing is, that adults are accustomed to think of uniforms as "normal" and normalizing. Yet, clearly, the instinctive reaction of toddler Tiarnan was to think of it as odd. Everyone was naturally different - but here they were, all dressed like his Abang.

I rather feel that Tiarnan's reaction is more authentic and more informative. He is telling us that it shouldn't be normal for all children (or adults) to appear the same. Uniqueness has value. Until that moment, in Tiarnan's young life, all people had dressed as individuals. Everyone had been unique. Today, everyone was the same. I think it was a matter of some startlement for him.

So should it be for all of us. Let us be ourselves. Let us be unique.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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, 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 @ 11:38 PM  12 comments

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Does Singapore have enough schools?

As everyone knows Singapore's population is growing. It is growing by policy. Each year more and more foreigners are enticed to come to work here. Some settle down. Some take Permanent Residency (PR status), others become citizens, but most, however, do not and are content just to work (then leave when they find somewhere else to go to, that offers more).

Perhaps this is part of the answer to a problem I have noted. You see, Singapore doesn't seem to have enough schools for the children it has. This can't be because Singaporeans are having too many children - for, in the main, Singaporeans are reluctant to have any children at all, with the Total Fertility Rate floating around 1.2 or so. This is one of the lowest in the world (exact figures available, but not to me, today, at this minute). So, perhaps, many of the children here are imported, with the foreign talent who come here to work.

Now, why do I say that Singapore doesn't seem to have enough schools? Well, it is a simple deduction from a local practice that has puzzled me from the moment I first heard of it. Many schools here operate two sessions. That is a morning session starting at some ungodly hour (7.30 am, for instance) and an afternoon session at 1 pm or so. I was startled when I first encountered this phenomenon, because I have never heard of another country doing this. When I grew up in London, everyone went to a school that had only a single session - starting at about 9 am (or 9.15/9.30 depending on school). There was no such thing as a two session school.

Why would a school need two sessions? Well, logic leads us to conclude that it can only be because there are not enough schools or school classrooms and attendant teachers, to teach all of the students in one session. If there were enough schools, there would be no need for two sessions. So, the existence of two sessions is proof that the number of schools is insufficient.

As always, I have a reason for addressing an issue. The existence of two sessions presents a problem that I have never seen before, in any other country. Quite simply, the morning session starts far too early for the children who have to endure it. This morning, my son Ainan, started back to school. To get there, he had to get up at about 5.30 am in time for a bus at around 6.20 am. This strikes me as much too early for a young boy to be going to school. There is such a thing as sleep and I rather think that it is more important than breaking world championships in "Earliest School Day", events.

All nations have to provide the educational infrastructure for their youngest citizens. Yet, there are various ways to achieve this. Singapore had a choice between building enough schools - or building insufficient schools and using them twice, in the same day, to make up for it. Singapore has clearly chosen the latter option. No doubt, this must have seemed an eminently efficient use of resources, since then they can build half the number of schools, yet still find space (at different times) for all the students.

This may seem to work just fine. However, it has one important consequence: grotesquely early school starts for half the nation's kids. I find this worrisome. There are likely to be health impacts of waking up half a nation's children so early, for school. Then, of course, there are also the social effects on the family, of having to prepare a child for school while even the sun has yet to rise.

Ever am I reminded that Singapore is not as the nation of my birth was. Things are done differently here. While I understand that the decision to have insufficient schools would have been made for economic reasons, so as to save on investment in infrastructure, this does have serious consequences for the nation's children. Which is more valuable: saving money, or saving the health and happiness of the children?

I know which I would choose.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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, 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 @ 7:31 PM  2 comments

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

How some view the Gifted.

I stumbled upon a cartoon today that spoke, deeply, to me of how some people view the gifted.

The cartoon is a "Frank and Ernest" piece by Thaves. It features three Stone Age men. One of them is drawing what look like hieroglyphs on a slab of stone. The other two, clubs in hand, are watching him, mouths open.

The one at work on the stone turns to the others and says: "Look! I have just invented writing!"

One of the others replies rather sullenly: "Thanks a lot!...You just made everybody else in the world illiterate!"

I found this cartoon profound in its implications for how the gifted are often viewed.

In many cultures and nations of the world, the gifted are not welcomed, as one might hope. They are misunderstood, neglected, overlooked or even shunned. The motivations for doing this are various but, with the genius of great comedy, this cartoon has pinpointed one attitude, which underlies much of this response to giftedness. Instead of welcoming the creator of writing for the wonders it would do for humanity, they bemoan how bad, in comparison, it makes everyone else look. The same applies to the way the gifted are often treated.

A gifted person is someone who has the potential to make a significant contribution, in some way, in some field, for the greater good of all. Instead of seeing this, however, many people look on a gifted person and see only one thing: how bad it makes them look by comparison. This is a truly ungiving attitude that undermines the whole of society. In viewing gifted people in this way, such people tend to do what they can to oppose the gifted person, to stand in their way, or bring them down. Ultimately, they can reduce the chances of the gifted person ever reaching their potential. This is not theoretical speculation, for opposition to the gifted has happened, as far as I am aware, in all eras and in all nations, to some degree.

On seeing someone invent writing, the proper reaction is jubilation and congratulation. The proper reaction is to celebrate the advancement of mankind - and to do whatever one can to enable this step forward to succeed. So it is with the gifted. The proper reaction is to do whatever one can to ensure that the gifted person lives up to their promise. The proper reaction is to help them in whatever way one can.

That cartoon was written as a joke. Yet, how true it is, of the real world. I am left to wonder: how much better would the world be, if the reaction I advise, were predominant - rather than the reaction that the cartoon makes fun of? I rather think we would be living in a better world for all - and not just for the gifted. For a world in which the gifted flourish, is a world that is better for every human being. For there is one thing a gifted person will do, if permitted to flourish: make the world better, at least in some little way, by their contribution. Now, isn't that to the benefit of all?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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, 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 @ 2:58 PM  3 comments

Happy New Year, 2008, everyone.

I would like to wish everyone, everywhere, a Happy New Year for 2008.

I wish you all well, in whatever you hope to achieve in the coming year.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:16 AM  0 comments

Simplicity, Beauty and Fatherhood

Today, I shared an unexpected moment with my toddler son, Tiarnan, 23 months.

I was watching Terminator 3, on the television, when he wandered into the room. It was nearing the end of the film. The combat between the "baddie" and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator was in progress. He looked at this with some amazement. He didn't say what he thought, but something he did spoke most clearly of his feelings. His little right hand reached out to me and curled about two of my fingers (of course his hand is not big enough to curl about my entire hand). He has never done this before, in quite that way.

He stood there, eyes wide, taking in what must have seemed miraculous: a "man" who was a machine, protecting two humans. From his expression it was clear that he found it astonishing.

As Schwarzenegger's Terminator sacrificed its "life" for the humans his hand tightened on my fingers. There was a tension in him, as he witnessed this noble act.

Then it was soon over.

He didn't say anything, but he let go of my hand, the need for that companionate presence having passed.

There was a sweetness to the moment that perhaps I have failed to convey. His silent presence, hand on mine, as he watched what must have seemed a little scarey touched me. It was his way of saying: "with Daddy here, I can watch this without fear". When the moment had passed, on TV, there was no need for contact anymore, no need for protection and he quietly released my hand.

I felt, then, what a comfort I am to him. There was no need for words, or outward assurance: just my touch was enough to reassure him.

As for me, I felt what it means to be "Daddy". What a good feeling it is.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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, 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 @ 1:01 AM  0 comments

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Nature of American Education on TV

A few days ago, I chanced upon a TV programme that made me wonder about the nature of American education.

Now, I should point out that I have never studied in America. I have not been to school, there, nor University (although I worked in one, once). I have not personally, therefore, gone through the process of an American education. I am left, therefore, with the evidence that comes my way through other sources. One of them was a TV programme shown in Singapore this week, entitled: "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?".

This TV programme was a quiz show. It challenged participants, who were adults, to pit their wits against the knowledge base of an American elementary school fifth grader. I should rephrase that: it is not their wits that were being pitted, but their memories, for no wits were actually required. I should explain. I noted, with some puzzlement, that all of the questions consisted of a simple exercise in recall. They were all factually based questions that required a quantum of knowledge as an answer. There were no questions in which actual thinking, or any kind of rational process, was required to produce an answer. This puzzled me. Does this accurately reflect the true nature of American elementary school education, or does it simply reflect the choices of the quiz show producers?

I would like comment, therefore, from Americans, if possible. Is American education based too much on simple rote learning of facts, or is there actually thinking involved? Is elementary education largely an exercise in factual recall?

I would be interested to find out.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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, 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 @ 3:04 PM  9 comments

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