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 +

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: 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 


Blogger Just Jen said...

This last week, my Hubby (gifted) came to me quite upset. He is in school at the moment (long story on why a man in his late 30's is going to school) anyway, here in Canada the passing grade for college is 60%. The class averages are so low and graduating classes so small, they are lowering that passing grade to 50%. Instead of raising the quality of education and helping students achieve their full potential (gifted or otherwise) they are lowering the bar. Talk about dumbing down! I am by no means gifted, I am still learning the intricacies of my Hubby and son but I was still able to get well over 60% in my classes. If my average was low, I raised it. These students are getting their diplomas handed to them on silver's appalling. How much will gifted be shuned as the average of comparison is lowered? how many more will they be pushed back to comply with class average? What will our future be like with nobody pushing to their full potential?
It truly is the cheetah theory:
You describe it in your post without the imagery, almost the same concept. Unless I'm not grasping something which is quite a possibility with me!
apology for my poor grammar and spelling, I have APD :D but I try to get my meaning through anyway.
I'm adding you to my blog so I can come back, hope you don't mind. I've been reading everything on here for the last hour and I need to get up and get other things done!

2:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dumbing down is the great nemesis of all educational effort. There is the tendency to make sure that everyone gets through...and so standards decline.

Throughout this, of course, the gifted are neglected, bored and unchallenged. As you note, without people aspiring to be their best, what, oh what, is going to happen to the future of mankind?

Not as much as would otherwise happen, I feel.

A message for your hubby and son: just because the school lowers its standards, don't, just don't, lower your own. Keep going.

Best wishes.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to cite an example of an unnamed school that dropped the 'accelerated or gifted class' because although the class benefited the children selected to be in it a great deal,

it makes the remaining mixed ability classes suffered due to 'lower average' in these remianing classes.

A dilemma?

10:46 PM  

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