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 +

Monday, June 02, 2008

Of girls and boys in academia.

There are certain stereotypes regarding boys and girls in school. The boys are reputedly good at maths and science, which the girls tend to be weak at. So, too, the girls are good at languages, which the boys tend to be weak at. Thus, girls grow to be literate and boys mathematical/scientific. At least, that is what we are led to believe: but is it true?
As with most commonly believed "facts", there is some truth to it. At a particular age, a boy may indeed be good at maths, and a girl of the same age not so. So, too, the girl may be good with languages and the boy not so. Yet, all is not as it seems.
Researchers at Virginia Tech decided to have a look at the question. They used brain imaging techniques to actually look at the brain development of 508 normal children aged from 2 months to 16 years. There were 224 girls and 284 boys. What they found is very telling.
The areas of the girls' brains involved in language and fine motor skills (for handwriting etc). developed six years earlier in girls than boys. The areas of the boys' brains involved in maths and geometry matured four years earlier than in girls. Thus, the famed separation of boys into scientists and girls into linguists is actually an artifact of the way we educate children - and not of the children themselves. Girls are set up to think of themselves as "non-scientific" simply because scientific things are expected of them before they are ready. So, too, boys are set up to think of themselves as "non-linguistic" for the very same reason. The truth is, of course, that both boys are girls can be scientific and linguistic - at the right time.
Boys and girls take different developmental paths - but that doesn't mean that they can't end up at the same destination. A girl can be a nuclear physicist - and a boy can be linguist or a writer. The stereotypes are wrong - for they are based on a misunderstanding of how boys and girls develop.
So the advice is simple. If you are a parent, don't expect your daughter to excel in science early on - because that part of the brain is not ready yet - but don't forget that they will be able to do it someday. The same goes for sons: don't expect great use of words, early on - but don't be surprised if they become a writer someday.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and five months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and ten months, and Tiarnan, twenty-seven months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind, niño, gênio criança, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:54 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is quite interesting-where'd you get all this interesting information/research/science from? I'm one of those few ppl who is interested in these things. Anyway, I want to say that maybe it's true that there are different developmental timelines for both boys and girls, but in my own experience(17-18 yrs on earth) I think boys have a greater variance than girls, and that sometimes girls just aren't able to catch up with boys no matter how old then grow. I'll see if I dig up more info later.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, boys do seem to have a greater range of ability than girls - at both ends. However, many girls would catch up if the education system recognized that they take longer to develop maths/science skills - unfortunately it doesn't - so they get left out. The same goes for boys re. language.

I keep an eye out for interesting research at all times: books, magazines, newspapers, journals and the internet.


1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting study. I suspect my daughter may be a future math prodigy which is how I came across this blog. At three years she was reading encyclopedias and doing triple digit multiplication. I hope she will continue to be interested in math despite any gender issue. Her uncle was also a math prodigy, and although she is showing similarities, I wonder if gender will make a difference.

I also notice that many girls loose interest in math in middle school. Although some studies theorize that hormonal changes cause these differences, I suspect that the problem is a bit more complicated. In Japan, for example, girls and boys have equal achievement scores in math. This leads me to believe that gender and societal expectations may be be more influential than brain organization and body chemistry.

I enjoy reading your blog. You certainly have a wonderful way with words. Best of luck to you and your family.

3:08 PM  

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