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 +

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The value of self-esteem.

My time as a teacher taught me much. That seems a funny thing to say, but I think that a teacher learns much about people if they are observant and reflective.

I have noticed something about Chinese mainland students. Quite a few of them don't think much of themselves. This strikes me as different to the Western students I grew up with, most of whom thought rather too much of themselves.

I once asked a class of mixed Asian students what they thought was most interesting about themselves. The answers were very revealing. A significant percentage of the Chinese PRC students said: "There is nothing interesting about me." None of the other Asians in the class (Vietnamese, Mongolian, Korean, and Uzbek) said this about themselves.

I thought it sad that they thought so little of themselves. If a Western student thought in that way, we would be concerned about their self-image and esteem issues. Yet, it seems fairly normal in the population of Chinese students I have taught.

I went further and asked them what they most liked. One of the ones who had said that he was not interesting, said that he liked Gundam Seed (a manga type cartoon). I asked him why he liked it: "No reason." He was unable to articulate what it was that he liked about it.

I put the two responses together. He seemed to have no insight into himself. He could not look at himself and see what was interesting: he lacked the ability to reflect. Thus, when asked why he liked something, he was unable to examine his reasons. To me, this indicates a paucity in the ability to think, in general. Students brought up in the Chinese tradition often seem to emphasise the recall of information learnt by rote - but when asked to engage in analytical or creative thinking, they fall silent. So lacking is this ability that they are not even able to think about themselves with any real coherence.

China is growing apace. Yet, if China is ever to fulfil its potential, I think its people need to be educated in a different way. They need to be taught not only to remember, but to think. They also need to come to value themselves as people. Perhaps the two are linked. They don't see themselves as significant individuals - therefore their thoughts have no value - and so they don't think. They just await input to be recalled later and suspend the faculty of reflection upon it: after all, they think, "I am nothing", "I am not any thought would have no value." At least, this is how quite a few of these students seem to me. There is a very real sense in which their cognitive development is incomplete: they have got to the stage of recall of knowledge, but not gone beyond it, to use of that knowledge, in new ways, or understanding of that knowledge. They are stuck, in a very real sense, halfway through what we would regard as an educative process. China has a long way to go, I think, before it can hope to challenge the developed world, at the highest intellectual levels: to do so, they have to change the very nature of the people they are producing - and that takes time, effort and resolve. That's assuming, of course, that it is possible at all, in the first place.

The first step is, I feel, that Chinese students start to believe in themselves and their value, that they start to see themselves as interesting and worthy. Only then will China truly mature, as a nation.

(Please note: the above analysis assumes that the Chinese language students I met in Singapore are typical of China as a whole - it is possible that they may not be, for various reasons.)

(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 @ 10:57 PM 


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