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 +

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: 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 


Anonymous Paul said...



yay, speech material! just a bit late, though. speech was last year.

What "punishment" is there for not being in uniform?

I'm lucky enough to avoid any fight with the system. **party**

Would there be any legal implications for referring to classmates in the manner of "clone number 1," "clone number q," etc.?

At what point do you think the teachers start to fall apart in that system? No, wait. First, do teachers have to wear the uniform?


10:52 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am glad you like it, Paul.

No, teachers don't have to wear school uniform. However, you are right to wonder how long it is before teachers fall apart in the system. Many do. The majority are only teaching because they are "bonded" to their jobs. This means they signed a contract when they were teenagers, to go to College on a "Scholarship" (something which in many other Western countries would be free), to allow them to study. In exchange, they are committed and legally bound to work in a government school for a fixed number of years. They cannot leave their jobs, no matter how much they dislike them, until their bond is up. Many young teachers, however, leave as soon as their bonds are up.

The teachers get tired. They have to be at school before 7.30 to get ready for the kids. They stay until after the kids are gone (after second session). They have marking to do, lesson plans to prepare - it is all too much. As a result, many of them give what can only be described as a lacklustre performance in the classroom. It is bad for everyone. Certainly, it doesn't help the cause of the children's education. The teachers are just too tired.

One School I worked at once, St.Francis Methodist School, had such a high turnover of teachers (it was a non-government school and so they weren't bonded) that in one year the A level English class had SIX different teachers. (This is their final year in school). That is the average length of time a teacher worked in that department before giving up and leaving was only two months. That is how many teachers feel about their jobs.

I only worked there for a few months, but in that time about half the school's teachers left. Teacher loss was running at about 10% a month, although it hit about 20 to 25% at Christmas. It must have been very disorientating for the pupils. That, by the way, was a fee-paying school - a private fee-paying school. It really astonished me. I have never seen such high turnover in any educational system. When I was at school, some of the teachers had only ever had one job, in their 40 year careers: my school.

I don't know what punishment there is for not wearing a uniform: I have never heard of anyone not doing it. However, they are very serious about uniformity. They made a very big issue of Ainan's haircut: they wanted him to be the same as everyone else. It never occurs to them that where everyone is the same, no-one is interesting.

Best wishes, Paul. Thanks for posting.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...


I can't even begin to contemplate how to approach that issue, especially if I were a "homeowner". If I were able to fund a school on my own, the government would probably shut me down, right? How do you protest against conservatives? I know the classic rebel image well enough, but the issue of education does not, entirely, seem like a civil rights issue to me.

. . .And I thought the administration here was stupid. . . I never thought people would bring haircut discrimination past the boundaries of the workplace. They don't operate it like a jail with metal detectors and constant surveillance, right? Seriously, do we need to monitor people that are still not yet in high school?

And teachers! O_o I'd likely give up on paperwork altogether. Labs for the win!

I have to keep reminding myself to stop typing so much to you! Persuasive person, trying to steal my. . uhh, I'll figure it out later.


1:49 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

As far as I know, every school here, Paul, needs permission to exist. Permission must be given - though it can be taken away.

Setting up a school here is quite expensive. There are many requirements and much bureaucracy. There is also a lot of competition so many schools don't last long. They come and go, with the hopes of their founders.

The fees can also be rather high compared to salaries here.

Yes. Haircuts are enforced from the first year in primary school onwards. Appearance is strictly regulated in every way. No deviation is permitted. It is not just haircuts that are subject to regulation, it is the entire appearance of the schoolchildren.

I think you are not familiar with the way things are done here. There is no rebellion. There is no talk of civil rights. There is no political discussion. These things are not allowed. Singapore doesn't do things the way America does.

There are a lot of people complaining in cyberspace though. However, these people probably wouldn't say a word in their real lives.

Like I said. It is different here.

Best wishes to you.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Eaststopper said...

Dear Valentine,

Was there any reason given as to why Ainan was singled out for his haircut?
I agree with you that there is a certain level of conformity required from students in singapore schools. If I can recall, during my school days, cleanliness checks are mandatory every week as there were frequent outbreaks of diseases especially during the late 70s and early 80s. This may not have been lost on the schools and could be a reason why they are so particular about appearances (cleanliness).

I agree with you that everyone is different, and should have every right to exercise their individuality, but I question if the public school is the space for students to exercise their individuality through their attire and appearances. There are ample opportunities outside school for one to exercise one's individuality.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...



So you're saying it's none of my business. ;')

Well, I hope it improves anyhow.


7:42 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Eaststopper,

Ainan was singled out, I think, because his hair is not straight and black like almost everyone else's. His hair is dark brown with a wave in it. Basically, it has more volume and less order than is usual for Singapore. I think they found this "disorderly" rather than appreciating that his hair is just different from typical Asian hair.

They insisted that he cut it very short so that it lost that wavy appearance and clung close to his head. It was quite ugly by the time it had been done. It was rather a shock actually. His natural looking hair gave him a very human appearance. The hair they inflicted on him was much more robotic and conformist.

Eaststopper, you haven't had the chance of an education in a school in a different country. In many countries there is less regulation of appearance of the children and much more individuality. Indeed, international schools here, in Singapore, tend to allow more individuality among their children (even if there is a uniform, other aspects of appearance have more flexibility).

In some schools in the West, there is no uniform. In such places, individuality is given central place. Thus there are other ways of doing things. Even where there is a uniform, the tendency is not to regulate any other aspect of appearance.

Singapore emphasizes conformity too much, across all ages, groups and social niches, compared to many other countries.

You would see that more clearly if you lived in a few other countries (Western ones), for a time.

Thanks for your comment.

Best wishes

11:58 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Paul,

I am afraid I don't understand what you are getting at. I haven't said that something is none of your business...I am trying to understand your comments and reply fully to them. If I have failed to do so, through not understanding something I apologize.

Thanks for your comments.

Best wishes

12:09 PM  
Blogger Paul said...


Sorry, then.

I wasn't being completely serious; I just took note overall that you were saying its an issue within the people of Singapore, and I shouldn't concern myself with an affair that will proceed on its own.

Erm, please take note: if I start using smilies (i.e. ";')" or "XD") I'm most likely not in a heavy mood. I rarely am.

That is an interesting comment eaststopper made, though. About being about to be an individual elsewhere. I'll have to think on it, but, my first thought (probably my ignorant side) is that school consumes 1/3 of the day. 1/3 goes to sleep. (unless you uberman) That last 1/3 remains as downtime and homework. My thoughts are rather disorganized past here.


1:22 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Paul,

After sleep and school and homework, bathing and eating, a child has little time leftover to be themselves, in this system.

Then there is another little matter that Eaststopper has overlooked. How much is individuality encouraged or discouraged in the society as a whole? In general, Singapore is not famous for encouraging individuality. It is, however, famous for encouraging a group mentality, in which all are urged to conform.

So, is there really any room left to be a unique person, after all that?

Most here, succumb to conformism.

Best wishes

2:02 PM  
Blogger Eaststopper said...

Dear Valentine,

Indeed, I do have the good fortune of living and working in London and Paris and do have some knowledge of how the educational system works in both cities.
I do agree to a large extend that in both cities, there was clearly a lesser need to conform to a strict attire code and I see students in all shapes, sizes, colours and haircuts.
It is also not lost on me that when comparing to the Singaporean system, the latter does seem stifled and conformist and if given a chance, I would want to bring up my kids in the U.K at least in his/her founding years.
When comparing kids of Singaporean couples brought up in U.K and those in Singapore, I have to admit that kids brought up in U.K are more confident and more outspoken.
I do agree with your observations about the lack of individuality and I guess my previous comments stem more from the fact that I do get defensive when I hear criticisms on the education system in Singapore. I was a product of it and I am grateful for it, for allowing me the opportunity to leave Singapore shores to seek better opportunites for myself and my family.
From your last few posts, it appears that the Singapore schools may not possess the most appropriate setting for him to exericse his individuality or to allow him to attain his fullest potential. Other schools in the West may be more suitable. Have you the intention of sending him there?

3:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your considered comment, Eaststopper.

You are right to wonder about Ainan's future. So do we. If we cannot get the provision we need for him, here and if the system continues to resist providing that for him, we would have to go elsewhere of course. In that regard the coming year is make or break. Either Singapore affords him the opportunities he needs or it doesn't. In that sense, therefore, it is up to them whether or not we are forced to seek other opportunities for him.

I wish you luck in your new life on other shores.

All the best.

5:37 PM  

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