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 +

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Children at play in the modern world.

When I was a child, we played "Cowboys and Indians". This was because of the cultural background of the time, in which Western films were regularly on TV. The Cowboys were, of course, always the good guys (though I don't think many Indians would have thought so, then or now). We would chase each other around the house, toting cap guns (which I have never seen in Singapore, by the way...are they banned these days?) We would take pot shots at each other, though it did seem awfully hard to convince our opponents (brother "Indians" or brother "Cowboys"), to "die". The bullets seemed to miss a lot - but boy did it create a sulphurous smell around the house.

The other day I had pause to consider how much the world had changed and how much the culture children saw was now so different. No longer are Western films on TV regularly - indeed they are rarely seen, these days, particularly in Singapore (I don't think I have even seen one in the last nine years). However, other things are on TV - like talk of terrorism, Iraq and the Middle East situation. It seems my children have noted this.

A few days ago, I saw Ainan, eight, Fintan, five and Tiarnan, two, at play. My attention was drawn by Ainan's words concerning an "IED" he was setting. IED stands for Improvised Explosive Device and is a term that has become familiar since the war in Iraq. I didn't expect to hear talk of it on Ainan's lips. The game seemed very complex and had impenetrable rules that only children could ever understand. I did see, however, that there were good guys and bad guys. No-one wanted to be a bad guy - so Tiarnan ended up being elected the bad guy. He set up camp upstairs and would mount raids from there. The other two plotted down below.

It seemed, after a while, that Tiarnan had been labelled a terrorist and the other two were special forces - though the term wasn't used. Tiarnan made some good moves and had great fun throwing "explosive" devices downstairs - actually anything he could find to hand, some of them unsuitable objects for such a task. To my eyes, he was giving the other two something to worry about, though he was alone in the task. His big mistake came when he took the raid downstairs. Half-way down the stairs, hiding behind some lego, Ainan had set up a surprise for Tiarnan, an "IED" - actually the voicebox from a talking teddy bear. It duly "exploded" taking Tiarnan down. The two "special forces" were duly declared the winners. Tiarnan didn't seem to mind. He had had fun.

Now, what struck me by all of this was that it was a game that could never have occurred in my own era. Children didn't play at terrorists and special forces when I was growing up. The idea of terrorists and special forces had not been implanted in their minds. They were not the stereotypical good guys and bad guys of the era. It is a game, therefore, that could only have occurred in the post 9-11 era. It is a game exclusively of the modern world.

It is sad, in a way, to see two year olds, five year olds and eight year olds, drawn into a game that basically imagines and enacts terrible events that simply should not be. Childhood should be more innocent than to be consumed with enacting the wars of adulthood. However, it isn't. Children have eyes and ears and imbibe the concerns of the adult world. The child's world becomes a little echo of the adult one that is going on, in the "real world" beyond their reach. To see what is really a concern in the world, one need only watch children play - for they will show you the true issues of the modern world. In their play, will the concerns of the time, echo on.

I hope to see a time when children don't play in this way, for then we would be in a time of greater peace, one hopes.

Another strange thought: two of my children were not even born when 9-11 occurred - yet still their games echo the effects of that day. Odd isn't it? Their world has become a reflection of a change they never directly observed. But then, it is not a world I would have liked them to have observed directly.

It is for children to play. It is for us to give them a world in which their play is innocent, because the world is (otherwise it won't be).

(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 @ 11:18 PM 


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