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 +

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: 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 


Blogger Eaststopper said...

Hi Valentine,

I was a product of the Singapore education system and went through the same ordeal as Ainan, waking up very early in the morning to catch the bus to school. I remembered it was always a struggle to get out of bed.
But waking up early taught me resilience and discipline (no more television after 9pm) and gave me the opportunity to catch the glorious sunrise every morning.
Ainan is still young, and I believe he will adapt very quickly to the new routine. Question is, are the parents adaptable to the new routine?

11:31 PM  
Blogger Chooy said...

As I'm new to your blog I'm curious on 2 things:
1) what school is Ainan attending
this year?
2) re:the blog NUS High School
responds [Jul'07]. Was he testing out the classes?

3:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Eaststopper,

Yes. It might be more difficult for the parents to adapt to such a change in routine (since the family will have to awaken to see to the child...). However, it might not be as easy for many children as you think.

You see, some naturally are naturally late sleepers, others are early risers. Ainan is a natural late sleeper. He comes awake at night. It is, therefore, most difficult for such children to asked to wake before dawn every school morning. It is against their basic biological programming. Even if an "adjustment" is made, it won't be optimal and the body will still long for a later schedule. It is probably rather bad for the children.

Yes, it might instil discipline of a kind...but there are costs, too.

Best wishes

11:51 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Chooy,

It is not good security to give Ainan's I won't mention his school here.

He went to NUS High School in the hope that the classes would meet his needs. They did not. The classes were too simplistic and had no practical element (which is what he needed).

We asked NUS High for practical classes and were denied point blank - both by NUS High and the Gifted Education Branch. They were only offering a class covering material he already knew (early A level stuff). We asked for advancement to a more suitable class and provision of more hours. They denied this request on both counts, without reason.

We then pulled him out of NUS High because it was clear that they were not willing to adapt to his needs. All they had to do was give him access to the right classes. They would not. On the issue of the practical class they said: "We have 25 students in a class and we can't take one more." I asked an NUS High student - and he told me that quite frequently they have more than 25 students in a class and it wasn't a problem for other people. This comment on the unavailability of practical classes was made by Suresh the Vice-Principal.

Clearly, NUS High are too inflexible to meet the demands of one unusual child. Any other developed country in the world would have no difficulty with providing for a single child like Ainan. Hong Kong did so, recently. We cannot understand why Singapore is unable to make provision.

So, the short story is we refused to send him to NUS High any longer, as long as they refused to provide the classes he needs.

I hope that makes things clear.


12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe your nightingale could switch to the afternoon session? We have two sessions of Kindergarten at my son's school. They do their best to honor parent requests for one session or the other...

4:18 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You know that is a good suggestion. Except for one thing: I am not sure if the year is done by halves or done by that I mean, I don't know if there is a complementary half to this particular year or whether the whole year is on this timetable. I will have to ask.

Thank you for the good idea.

5:39 PM  

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