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, July 03, 2008

The decline in general knowledge

Perhaps I am imagining it, but it seems to me that people of my generation (and earlier) had greater general knowledge than many of the young people of today. Quite simply world culture, history, events, significant people, science, art and all kinds of sundry knowledge seem to have passed young people by - or become rather confused.

Today, provides a good - and true - example.

Teacher, to class: "Can anyone name a famous artist?"

One eager Mongolian foreign student raises her hand: "Leonardo..."

Excellent, thinks the teacher.

"...Dicaprio." continues the confident, young student.

It is quite galling to think that Mr. Dicaprio, a man whom one person I know, who once met him, at a film gala opening, described as a "complete meathead", is credited, in this Mongolian student's mind, with creating the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.

It is not in this girl's mind, alone, that Da Vinci has been eclipsed by Dicaprio. If you type "Leonardo" into the Yahoo search engine, the first suggestion that comes up is Leonardo Dicaprio. Leonardo Da Vinci is second. Most of the remaining suggestions are related to Leonardo Dicaprio.

It is sad that even the world's search engines - and not just the world's Mongolian students - categorize Dicaprio above Da Vinci. The former is a hearthrob actor who will be completely forgotten, in all probability, in fifty years time. The latter is arguably the greatest, most universal creative genius that Mankind has ever produced. Yet, he is eclipsed by a mere heartthrob.

Modern minds are filled with nonsense which pushes out material of any real significance. I would feel far more comfortable if a typical student was familiar with Leonardo Da Vinci's works, inventions and ideas, rather than an actor from the film Titanic. The former made an enduring, timeless contribution to the development of human culture - the other made a passing entertainment. Yet, in the modern mind, Dicaprio eclipses Da Vinci.

So, not only do the youngsters of today seem to know less, of fewer things - but what they do know is preponderantly trivial and not worth knowing in the first place. I fear for the future when minds imbued with such trivialities come of an age to be in charge of the world around them. One day, they will be the backbone of their society. I only hope they deepen their general knowledge of the world around them, before that time comes - and come to learn the difference between Dicaprio and Da Vinci.

By the way, Da Vinci was the better looking of the two (he was famous for his looks, too). So much for heartthrobs.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight 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.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:19 PM 


Blogger Just Jen said...

on the news the other day, there was a student that swore all over his exam paper and still child left's no wonder this younger generation doesn't have the broader education...where's the motivation?
Maybe she meant Picasso
dicaprio-picasso-slight memory lost that Leonardo doesn't go with picasso anyway...but it started with a D..

2:33 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

The decline of general knowledge certainly has a comedic element. Oh my. . .

8:15 AM  
Blogger Miao said...

I had a laugh when the girl finished her answer with the word 'DiCaprio'.

You are right in observing that most young people these days are deficient in general knowledge - my friend once conducted a survey for a newspaper article he was writing, and he found that quite a significant number of teenagers did not know who was Jane Austen, or whether the United States of America was part of the European Union (!!), and most said they'd never heard of the Yasukuni Shrine or Kofi Annan. One of my junior college classmates even thought that Colombia was a first-world European country.

It is all really depressing, but general knowledge is something that cannot be taught in the classroom - you cannot possibly design a subject titled "General Knowledge" and cram every single existing well-known fact that should be known about the world into the syllabus. (Or maybe you can... Just that it defeats the purpose totally, because then general knowledge would become 'specialised' knowledge taught in a specific subject.) To gain more general knowledge, it is important that these youngsters have a sense of curiousity for the world around them, as well as a desire to learn and keep themselves up-to-date. Unfortunately our local education system has placed too much emphasis on rote learning and not enough on genuine learning in everyday life.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I thought so too, Shannon!

11:02 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Curiosity, Miao, is precisely what is extinguished by the Singaporean style of education. If it is not "in the exam" most kids here are not interested for, to them, it then has no value at all. Such a shame.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

What was most funny about this is that the student was most confident in their if, "I KNOW that one!", was her underlying thought.

11:05 PM  

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