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 +

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lee Kuan Yew on Assortative Mating.

Lee Kuan Yew is fond of graduates. For him, a graduate is a superior being to be courted. Recently, he expressed his views on the assortative mating of graduates, in a televised interview.

Lee Kuan Yew said that graduates should only marry graduates and that one should not form a graduate, non-graduate partnership. For him, such a partnership would jeopardize the chances of giving rise to "graduate children".

It seems clear that Lee Kuan Yew thinks that the state of being a graduate is somehow inherited. I feel that this comes from a misunderstanding of what, exactly, is inherited. Being a graduate is an ACQUIRED characteristic. One is not born a graduate. To become a graduate one must interact with the educational bureaucracy for a certain number of years, suppress one's individuality to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the system), conform to the rules and generally do what is expected of one, for a set number of years. At the end of this period, if you have been a good (conformist) boy or girl, you will be awarded a piece of paper that has social meaning: that is you are a "graduate" - and non-graduates can thereafter look up to you in awe of your greatness.

Now, that is all very well, but the fact that being a graduate is an acquired characteristic, based on many factors - money for educational fees, not being dyslexic (it is more difficult to be a graduate if you are one), being motivated by examinations, finding the courses interesting enough to study, hard work for some, talent for others etc. etc. - means that being a graduate is not a very good marker for intelligence, which is, I assume, Lee Kuan Yew's real concern.

Lee Kuan Yew wishes graduates to marry only graduates to create a super class of smart people. However, there is a problem with this. University degrees are not directly inheritable - that is Lamarckian inheritance (that of inheriting acquired characteristics) does not apply. Just because your mum and dad are graduates of Cambridge University, that does not mean that you, too, will be a graduate of Cambridge University. It is not something that can be inherited. If LKY believes that it is inheritable directly, then he is making a Lamarckian error (belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics). What can be inherited, however, to a great degree is intelligence and various aspects of character. These inheritances can predispose one to become a degree holder one day - but there is no guarantee that this will be so - since it depends on many factors that have nothing to do with intelligence. There are some very smart non-graduates (I know plenty) and there are some VERY stupid graduates (I know plenty). Being a graduate doesn't mean you are smart, it means that someone else is stupid enough to give you a degree.

At the heart of LKY's contention is that people should marry their own kind. This is, actually, an age-old trend in humans. People naturally tend to seek out others with whom they have many things in common. So, in urging this, LKY is just stating what people tend to do anyway.

I think, however, that he is making a fundamental error in categorizing graduates as superior to non-graduates. That is simply not so. A graduate is just someone who has conformed to an education system long enough to actually be given a piece of paper by it. It does not mean that they are more special than someone who decided NOT to conform to the education system long enough to receive a piece of paper. In fact, the NON-conformist could be SUPERIOR to the conformist graduate. Education in Singapore is a case in point. I have worked within the system and it is strongly conformist. I think that it is likely, in such a system, that many who conform to it are inferior to those who escape from it. Truly smart people do not conform readily in their thinking - they escape to make their own territory.

People are better judges of whom they should marry than LKY is. Lee Kuan Yew is using the short-hand of "graduate" to decide that people are of sufficient merit to marry. Well, many graduates are dull people. A man or woman seeking a partner can see that. They can decide for themselves that "dull graduate A" is not as marriage worthy as "interesting non-graduate B" - and they can select B. What they may actually be selecting FOR is the quality of genuine intelligence that LKY seeks anyway. A person who looks at another carefully will see more about them, in terms of intelligence and character, than any piece of paper could tell them. Sometimes, the non-graduate will be smarter and more interesting - and better in many ways - than all available graduates. In such circumstances, it would make sense to REJECT the graduates and marry the non-graduate.

I find it funny, in a way, that LKY should be so concerned to create brighter people in Singapore. You see, from our own experience, we have learnt that Singapore doesn't do all that is necessary to look after the bright citizens it DOES have. We had to struggle very hard to get the right educational provisions for our son, Ainan. It took a year and a half of wasted time to get him a Chemistry lab, for instance. There is NO POINT AT ALL in bringing more bright children into the world of Singapore, if the ones it already has, have to struggle to get the resources they need to optimize their talents. I think Lee Kuan Yew is not fully aware of how his nation actually behaves towards its brightest children. We had to talk to many, many, institutions before we got any positive response. Generally speaking, institutions here will do nothing out of the ordinary, for an extraordinary child. No-one wants to make any exception. Furthermore the Gifted Education Programme is mis-named, for they do very little to help the gifted child in any real way (they talk a lot, study the child like a lab animal - then do little).

So, I would advise LKY: first ensure that your country actually welcomes bright children, before you worry about how many of them you have.

Note: I graduated from Cambridge University in Natural Sciences. I don't consider it a fruitful time. Nor did I meet anyone at Cambridge that I considered marriage material: they weren't up to my standard, at all. (They were too conformist). So much for the "marry a graduate" theory.

(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 @ 5:12 PM 


Blogger Indiana said...

However studies have proven that the most contributing factor in a students desire to pursue tertiary education is having educated parents. So while LKY's words were probably not the wisest and many examples can be found to contradict his stance, studies do bare out his suggestions.

Educated parents do encourage education more than non-educated parents and this does encourage children in turn to become graduates.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Indiana,

You, like LKY, have missed the point, somewhat: being a graduate does not mean you are smart - far from it. Some of the graduates I have met are of definitely unimpressive intellect. On the other hand, being a non-graduate doesn't mean you are stupid - I have met many very smart non-graduates. Non-graduates...let me see: Leonardo Da Vinci, get my drift.

As for your studies: please could you name a study that shows what you say. I do not know of any such studies, so it would help the discussion if you could actually point the way to them.

Even if having graduate parents does it make more likely that one's children will pursue education, I don't think that makes them better in any way. It doesn't make them smarter (contrary to what many people think). It doesn't show that they are intelligent (which is what LKY thinks). Thus, it doesn't actually fulfil his purpose.

Anyway, it would only take ONE graduate parent to fulfil the interest in education side of things - and that is specifically what LKY is arguing AGAINST. He says no graduate should marry a non-graduate - so he is not thinking in terms of interest in education. He is thinking in terms of genetic inheritance. He thinks being a graduate is inherited (which it can't be since it is an acquired characteristic) - but intelligence IS inherited - though like I have pointed out, it is only one of many factors involved in whether someone becomes a graduate.

I doubt your studies for more than one reason. Firstly, they are not named, so we can't refer to them ourselves. Secondly, the most motivated people I know who tried to get a tertiary education were THOSE WHOSE PARENTS WERE UNEDUCATED. This is the OPPOSITE of what you are saying. So, I don't believe your studies. My experience is the opposite of your information.

Those whose parents are educated may actually not value it as much - because of them will have seen that it a bit of a sham, in many ways. At least, the smart ones will have done so.

I don't think University is worth many people's time. It wasn't worth mine, that is for sure.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

based on my experiences, majority of singaporeans tend to do what their parents ask them to do or what the society requires them to do. Maybe in LKY words, he is saying something like a graduate parent have the sufficient needs to provide the right kind of conformist attitude and needs in their children.

Graduate parents have stable jobs and therefore able to afford their children to good schools and tuition. Clearly not all children are as gifted as yours, and not all non conformists can be successful in life.
All i can think of is Singapore wants to be establish itself as a working country, with high level of services provided in the highly productive industries namely engineering, finance , science. The govt doesnt want to risk the general population education standards/working level for something that is rather risky, because as i said not everyone is a genius.
and i happen to be a someone that goes against the grind most of the time.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It seems like, from what you say, that LKY seeks a middle of the road existence for Singapore. That is, nothing different is allowed, nothing unusual. Perhaps it is all about the safe bet. However, as anyone with a bit of impartiality will note, this can be a bit dull...

Best wishes,

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In singapore (circa 2008), you can be Einstein but if your parents cannot afford pre-school, you will be labelled as stupid and consigned to the worst classes. Vicious cycle. ITE.

So LKY is right. He is all-knowing in Singapore afterall.

Btw, you should check out what he thinks of blacks. It would be interesting to see him kiss President Obama's arse.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Anonymous of 1.29 pm for your comment.

Actually, your observation proves that LKY is WRONG. You see the phenomenon you have noted shows that money is an important influence on educational success in Singapore. You have shown that a bright child could be labelled as "stupid" owing to a lack of educational access in pre-school. This is perpetuated and they end up in ITE.

This shows that LKY's implicit idea that the graduates are the only intelligent ones is false. There can be plenty intelligent people in Singapore who do not end up as graduates.

Then, again, as I have noted, there will be plenty of quite dull people who manage to become graduates - perhaps through a combination of hard work and good preparation/tutoring etc. These people screw up his eugenics plan totally because their children will be dull too.

Kind regards

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Actually, your observation proves that LKY is WRONG."

Might I point out that anon 1.29 was just being sarcastic? It was not an observational statement, merely a satirical remark.

From my POV, LKY seems to be mistaking correlation and causation.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Singaporeans, in general (and this may be changing ever so slightly in recent years), equate intelligence with the ability to obtain certain qualifications (like a degree). LKY is just reinforcing the idea he started many years ago, ie, one is intelligent if one acquires (please note I did not use achieves) a degree. All the ministers have a pre-requisite degree. Most executive level government and government linked jobs require a first class honours. It just feeds into the believe that these qualifications mean these people are intelligent. The Singapore government would never have hired Bill Gates, because he was a drop out.
As you have noted and I complete concur, I know many non-degree holders who are intelligent and on the other side of the coin, many (and there are many live examples sitting in the parliament) graduates who are NOT intelligent. In fact, they are not even close to intelligent. But that doesn't matter to the old man because he (and he has brainwashed the rest of the land) believes that higher education equals intelligence.
I think the point that most people missed in this speech was the point that you brought up about conforming. It was almost subliminal. The only way the government can continue to assert control over it's citizens (without looking like a communist country) is through the citizens conforming and education provides that opportunity.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Averal Lim said...

I love this article you written!

"Being a graduate doesn't mean you are smart, it means that someone else is stupid enough to give you a degree."

That is totally so right! It resonates with what I think. In fact, I am contemplating about dropping out of college but i am held back by family pressure. sigh.

2:46 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. sarcasm: it is difficult to read emotion into written text: that is the basic problem with online communication.

Thank you for your view on that.

Yes: LKY may not understand the distinction between correlation and causation, in this case.


7:27 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Government positions.

If they are selected largely on the basis of pieces of paper, rather than evaluations of the person, then mistakes will be made, because the reasons for acquiring the degree do not just include intelligence. Indeed, it is possible to acquire a decent degree without much intelligence at all (hard work will make up for it, for instance...or good tutoring, will bolster a dodgy brain...or take an easy subject).

Other countries, which are not so concerned with paper qualifications do seem to choose smart politicians (look at Europe).

Thanks for your comment.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am glad you like it, Averal.

If you are contemplating "dropping out" you should have a plan of what you are going to do instead. Michael Dell and Bill Gates are both "drop outs" - however they both had a plan of an alternative path: do you?

Good luck.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Averal Lim said...

I am thinking of doing freelance marketing for small medium businesses and becoming a published author? lol, but i think its too risky at the moment...

8:44 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


If it is writing you enjoy, then find a job that involves it, while pursuing your other writing projects in your own time: that way you have an income, but also you are involved with playing with words and developing your skill.

Best of luck.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just look how smart and intelligent LHL, the son of LKY, is !

When LHL is finance minister while as a PM, he approved the GST increment with the reason that Singapore will face a budget deficit. It turned out that there are great surplus generated due to lack of foresight and ill-judgement. But then LHL quickly pass the baton to Tharman before the announcement so all blame shift to Tharman. That is smart and intelligent.

PM also approved the lax-regulation market discipline and Caveat emptor of financial services when he was the chairman of MAS back in 2002. So the scam exposed now but barton already passed to GCT. GCT now become sotong (blur). That is smart and intelligent of LHL.

Now perhaps this is the kind of smartness and intelligence LKY is talking about where his own son is the fruit of LKY and his graduated wife. Smart and intelligence at the expense of others by passing one's own created mess to whoever is unlucky.

No wonder LKY so proud of his son, and so proud of himself marrying a graduated wife.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Jean Haines said...

Hi Valentine,

I am a living validation of LKY's eugenics aspirations, though LKY's proposed execution is far from rigorous. As also with law, the stated rule simply cannot cover all grounds, cannot replace human execution (judges, lawyers, etc).

I learn any language within months, accents within weeks. For English accents, I pick them up within hours. I am able to blend perfectly into China or Taiwan (both having very different Mandarin accents). I speak perfect USA English, despite having never gone to USA. Everyone I met says I'm lying about not having stayed overseas for 10-30 years. My linguistic and observational abilities (ala Sherlock Holmes) allow me to infiltrate any culture given just 2-3 months of preparation. My real job is standing at a counter as a receptionist.

From a young age, I had Mozart's or Beethoven's ears. I could write music on the piano. That also meant I could play anything I heard, both hands, 10 fingers, 3-5 strands of melody combined. Every music going into my ears get taken apart into individual strands, all in real time. I had no formal/informal music training. My dad gave away my first music books (theory and such) away to a friend, according to my mom. (Perhaps he meant to raise his friends' kids? Perhaps my mom viciously separated me from the world via lies? I'll never know which.)

Now, the "what ifs".

If my parents were kind, humble and wise folks, I'd have developed to my full potential. I would easily ace every exam (did some, when my parents weren't acting up), scholarship my way into LKY's peripheral vision, pledged my allegiance to kin and country, and contributed tons to national and global development. I'm sure I would've catapulted Singapore into international prominence way earlier and more strongly than history wrote it. Even now, my ability to quickly infiltrate any society puts every non-Singaporean I meet to shame.

So, LKY was right to give a shorthand ("graduates") for a rather complex eugenics plan. A person who didn't even know that kindness disarms hostility and obstacles would only teach his/her son to rail against paranormals and delusions. If only my parents had studied basic pyschology in college.

My only option nowadays is to go underground, to the highest bidders. I change the world in a less-than-positive way, because I do need some money to live on. It's the only way I can find space to exercise my abilities. Technology and maths is also my forte, equal in strength to the arts side of me.

If only my parents were graduates, either graduates of college or of life, but graduates nonetheless.

If I have a next life, I will meet up with LKY, and we will discuss eugenics.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Jean for your summary of your gifts and the issues you have faced.

I understand from what you have written that your parents are NOT graduates. Thus, you do not fit LKY's vision. In his system, you would have been overlooked and thought unpromising, because LKY does not believe that gifted people can emerge from parents who were not college educated. He doesn't understand genetics or society very well (not the real world, anyway...maybe just the artificial world he created).

I wish you luck in finding an outlet for your talents and the means to flourish.

1:07 PM  

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