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 31, 2008

Unexpected entrepreneurialism in the young.

I have posted before about the lack of entrepreneurialism shown by Singaporeans in general - as evidenced by the lack of them in situations where one would expect them to be present. Once, however, I found myself surprised by an unexpected entrepreneur.

I was in a school where I had been teaching. After the class had finished I waited with one of the school's teachers, for the other teachers to convene. While I waited, a student approached the teacher and presented a catalogue to her. He then began to talk quietly to her, about a product he wanted her to buy. I studied the catalogue more closely and noted the presence of one word on the outside cover: "Amway". Ah...our young student was promoting a network marketing opportunity.

I was immediately struck by the oddness of the moment. Here was a student pitching his own teacher into a business opportunity. Somehow he had managed to reverse the roles. Though she was his teacher, he was teaching her - in this case, of the ways she would benefit in buying products through him. She listened carefully to his words. She nodded on occasions as if she either understood what he said - or agreed with him. In the end, it was clear that he had made some kind of sale, because she asked questions about the product, and indicated that she wanted some of it. It was amazing to watch, in its own way.

Then, as she left, he approached me and enquired as to my name, introduced himself and offered a card, saying: "I have my own business."

His card was coy. It didn't mention network marketing at all - and it gave the impression of being global. I did note something that explained something to me: this boy wasn't Singaporean at all - he was Malaysian, for such was the address given. He was, to be more specific, a Malaysian Chinese boy. I was struck by the entrepreneurialism he showed. I was also struck by a feeling that it was inappropriate of him to be engaging in business, on the school grounds: it seemed to transgress the sanctity of education.

I didn't comment. It wasn't my place to do so - for I was just an external consultant. His teacher hadn't seemed to mind, though.

Yet, his actions did show a certain resourcefulness. He was turning the school grounds into one big business opportunity. While others were studying - he was turning his teachers into customers - and trying to do so with any guest teachers, too.

There is, however, a danger in this boy's nascent entrepreneurial career. His attention is likely not to be so much on his academic work, but on how to persuade Teacher X to either buy his wares, or become a member of his network. This means that for him the school is no longer a place of education, but has become a marketplace. It is likely, therefore, that what he gains in personal income, he might lose in academic growth. He might swap an education, for an income, in a way that might curtail his overall potential.

It is true, however, that the kind of opportunism he is showing reveals a character likely to succeed in life, in the commercial sense, if in no other.

So, this one incident is a hint that, although Singapore might be lacking in its own entrepreneurs, some, among the imported student "talent" might very well be instinctive entrepreneurs.

This is the only time in my life that I have been given a business card, by a secondary school student. He hadn't even taken his O levels yet. It feels quite odd, in a way - for the last thing one expects in a student is for them to attempt to sell one something.

The love and pursuit of money really do seem to begin a little too early in this part of the world.

I am left to wonder one thing: does this young boy's sponsor in the Amway business know he is still in school? Does his sponsor realize the effect this distraction from the true purpose of school might have on his education? Is it the sponsor's policy and strategy to seek out schoolchildren to join his network? There is the making of a scandal here, a moral one, at the least. I wonder what is Amway's official stand on this kind of thing?

(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 @ 12:03 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed you used the tag 'dubious practices' which I agree. The whole thing stinks. Its a glorified pyramid scheme and is bad for Malaysians(and Singaporeans).

I'll bet the boy was used by some money faced individual as a way to expand the network so to speak. This is an example of 21st century consumerism colluding with the disreputable Asian tradition of scamming the 'outsider'.


2:24 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Yes, AA, the situation is a pity. He is being distracted from his most important duty in his O level year: to study. If his business doesn't work out, he could be left in a very awkward position indeed if it impairs his academic work.

Kind regards

10:09 PM  
Anonymous averral said...

My first shot at entreprenuerism in school when i was 6, at primary 1, i sold sticker cards to my classmates at 50 cents each and i brought 10 in a packet for only $1.

The teachers gradually found out and told the class that selling things in school is not allowed.

Pursuing business opportunities and excelling in academics are two different things that can be done simultaneously together.

I have a corporate website, online shop and i make marketing materials for my partner's business. My academics are not affected, in fact, they are better than the average business student's in my class.

I hope he continues to excel in both aspects, he does not need a good qualification to be a top salesman... which he most likely be.

1:16 AM  

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