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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, January 25, 2008

Superhuman: Eleazar, giant of the Jews.

I am intrigued by the extremes of Mankind. The limits of the human and what rare humans are capable of, strike me as inherently interesting. Sometimes, the possibilities within the human gene pool are quite staggering. One such possibility - in fact, actuality, for once he lived - was Eleazar (or Elazar, as it is sometimes written), a giant of the Jews.

Before I go on, I would like it made clear that Eleazar is an historical figure. He is not a myth or a legend. He was written of by Josephus, the historian (who wrote specifically of his height) and was in a social position in the latter part of his life, in which there could be no hiding his true nature: too many people would have known who he was.

Now, the Guiness Book of World Records has Robert Pershing Wadlow as the tallest man on "record" at 8' 11 inches or 2 metres 72 centimetres. The question is, whose records? History has many taller examples recorded in one form or another. Some of those historical records look pretty solid. During his lifetime, Robert Pershing Wadlow was hailed as the "tallest man in medical history" - and perhaps that is true. He was probably the tallest man to encounter relatively modern medicine and be recorded, for posterity, by doctors. Yet, there are other types of record - such as historical records.

In the "Antiquities of the Jews", by Josephus, is the story of Eleazar, High Priest. Josephus was a Jew and son of a priest who became a noted historian and Roman Citizen. He went by various names: Yosef Ben Matityahu, as a Jew, Titus Flavius Josephus as a Roman, or simply Josephus, as an historian. His works recorded issues of importance in Jewish history and have given great insight to the period, particularly the Destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (which he, of course, survived to write about).

So, who does Josephus tell us Eleazar was? Well, he was the son of Aaron, who was brother of Moses (yes, that Moses). Aaron was a Levite and High Priest. Eleazar, rose through the ranks of the religion and, in time, he too was appointed High Priest (the story has it that Moses himself appointed him High Priest by taking the holy vestments off of Aaron and passing them to Eleazar. My question is, then, how tall was Aaron, that his vestments should fit Eleazar?)

So, being High Priest, it is clear that Eleazar would have been well known. His height would have been known to all of the Jews of his time. I would like you now to guess how tall he was stated to have been.

Guess again. He was reputed to have been 10 ft 6 inches tall.

That is a full nineteen inches taller than Robert Pershing Wadlow "tallest man on record".

Eleazar fathered a son, Phinehas, by his wife (a daughter of Putiel) and he, in turn, features in many tales that appear in the historical records. So, this figure of Eleazar has many links to documented lives.

It is said that he was buried at Gibeah, on lands given to his son, Phinehas, in the hill country of Ephraim.

To this day, this true giant is commemorated by the Eastern Orthodox Church, annually, on September 2nd. He is also remembered by the Armenian Apostolic Church, who hold him to be a Holy Forefather in their Calendar of Saints. They celebrate him on July 30.

I have been thinking about his height. At 10 foot 6 inches he is about twice the height of a Singaporean woman. He is a full four and a half feet above the height of what modern people call a tall man. How must life have been for such a giant man, when even tall people came up to the height of his navel?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:00 PM  6 comments

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is Singapore an uncaring society?

A society reveals itself by the way it communicates to its people. So, it is with Singapore.

Yesterday, I stepped into a lift and I saw a notice on the wall. It was from the Housing Development Board and it had been widely distributed to communicate a safety message. The message was a simple one and explained in detail: windows, on high rise flats, have inherent dangers and must be protected against. A set of detailed precautions were given, advising on the maintenance and upkeep of windows to prevent a mishap.

This was "all well and good". However, there was something else which I noticed about the poster, which really perturbed me. You see, at the bottom of the notice, in large letters there was the slogan: "Your loved ones could be hurt". It was the only message on the poster that said, directly, that windows could hurt people. Think about it for a minute. What does it imply about the society to which it is addressed? For me it says something really, really, dark about Singapore. It says that, in the Government's opinion - for it is a notice from a branch of Government - that the people of Singapore will ONLY care about personal injury to their immediate relatives and loved ones. Stated, most clearly, by that slogan was the fact that an appeal to a Singaporean's general concern for their fellow man, would be ineffective. They had to make the poster personal. By saying: "Your loved ones could be hurt", they were saying that you, personally, could be affected by failing to maintain your windows. Clearly, it was thought that something more general like: "Someone could be killed", would have no effect on people's behaviour. Seeing those words, therefore, appalled me - for it told me most clearly, what the Government must know and think about its own people. It says that they JUST DON'T CARE.

Is there any evidence of this lack of care in daily life, here? Well, there is: plenty of it. Most relevantly, is that one not infrequently hears of things falling from windows, and sometimes people are hurt. Occasionally, such things are even reported - so it is not something which does not happen - it is a danger of life in a high-rise city. Yet, should such things happen? It should be a simple matter to ensure that there is nothing able to fall from a window - just don't put anything there. It is also a simple matter to ensure that the windows are safe: get them repaired if they start to look precarious. Yet, the Government here, knows that people don't take such precautions - that people don't think of the strangers down below who might be hurt or killed, by their negligence regarding windows. Hence, the notice that brings the danger closer to home - it is not strangers that might be hurt, but your own family.

It is true of course. One's own family could be hurt by ill-fitting, badly secured windows. Yet, in most countries, I feel it would have been sufficient to say: "Someone could be killed - take care of your windows." Something like that would work in any society in which people value all life, in which people care whether or not others come to harm by their actions or inactions. Clearly, Singapore is not such a place. If it was, the communication would have been different. It would have felt no need to bring it down to the level of the individual's loved ones.

In all, I found the poster rather chilling therefore. Do people really care so little for their fellow human beings, here?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:10 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger, actor, dead in NYC

Very recently, Heath Ledger starred in The Brothers Grimm, on TV, here in Singapore. He came across as a skilful and interesting actor. Today, he is dead at just 28 years old.

Whatever the cause of death is eventually established to be: suicide, or accidental overdose of sleeping pills, look the most likely - the true cause of death is his fame.

Let me explain. In an interview in November, Heath Ledger complained about being "stressed out a little too much", he noted that he had trouble sleeping (for which he was using Ambien sleeping pills, which barely worked, for an hour at a time). Indeed, at times, he was only sleeping two hours a night, for extended periods. Here was a man coming apart, unable to do the most natural of things - get a good night's sleep.

It is clear from this that he was unable to cope with the pressures of fame, or the responsibilities of his job. It was obviously too much for him. Fame killed him as assuredly as if it had shot him. Why? Well, if he had not been in the "stressful" position he was in, he would, presumably, not be unable to sleep. He would not be taking sleeping pills. He would not have taken an accidental overdose of them - or felt pressured enough to kill himself with them. In short, that which made him, also unmade him. His fame which led him to great success, also assured his end.

If someone is going to tread the path to fame, I think they should be of resilient stuff. They should be the type of person who does NOT feel the pressure; who does NOT get "stressed out". They should be calm individuals unbothered by the great responsibility of ensuring that 100 million dollar pictures succeed. Heath Ledger, it seems, was not one of those centred individuals. It would, therefore, have been a longer life, for him, had he chosen a less pressured and public life. Such a life is for the hardy - not those sensitive enough to find it impossible to sleep simply because they have a major role in a film. There are, in fact, those who would sleep easier for having such a role. It all depends on how you react to the situation.

It is a pity. He was a decent actor who brought life to each role. He had only just begun. He was, it seems, however, not strong enough a person to walk the film actor path, for long.

In his short life, he appeared in diverse roles, from his most famous role in Brokeback Mountain, to the forthcoming role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight", as Bob Dylan in "I'm not there" (during the filming of which, he couldn't sleep), Lasse Hallstrom's "Casanova", "10 things I hate about you", "The Knight's Tale" and, of course, Terry Gilliam's "The Brother's Grimm".

Unlike many young people who die before their time, Heath Ledger will be remembered for the filmed work he left behind. That, however, does not diminish the inherent tragedy in a life cut short, a promise unfulfilled.

What he should have done is do what he had tended to do early in his career: turn down roles. He evidently needed a break from the stress. He should have retreated to somewhere quiet away from the hubbub of the film star's tumultuous world and calmed himself, and learned to do what all of us find so natural: get some sleep.

When "Dark Knight" comes out, I am going to make a point of seeing his last performance.

Good night, Heath Ledger: sleep well.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:57 PM  2 comments

The strangest toy in the world.

Children play with the strangest things: to them, a toy may be anything.

A week or two ago, I found Fintan and Tiarnan playing at sword fighting with a long, blue object. They were not being particularly rough, and were using the side of it to nudge each other. However, lest it be sharp I took a closer look.

It was part of a car. In fact, from its colour, it looked to be a piece of a taxi. It wasn't sharp, however, so I let them continue to play with it.

Fintan had found this relic of a car crash by the side of the road, and judged it worthy toy material and so had taken it home.

Thus, Singapore's road safety issues have the unusual side effect of creating free and abundant toys for children, and leaving them scattered by the side of the road for them to find. How enlightened of the car owners to be so generous to the children of Singapore. Or, how thoughtful of those whose duty it is to clear up after car crashes, to be sufficiently derelict in their duties to ensure that plentiful roadside toys are there to be found by young children.

Now, I know why the detritus of crashed cars is never cleared properly from the roads. They are just thinking of the children and their toys. How thoughtful of them. They are the unsung Santa Clauses of Singapore.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:06 AM  0 comments

Monday, January 21, 2008

The imaginative world of a child.

There are many things about fatherhood that fascinate - but one of the greatest is the opportunity to observe - and enter - the imaginative world of a child.

Tiarnan has just had his 2nd birthday (it was yesterday). A week ago, we were visiting a friend's house. The daughter of the house is Fintan's friend.

One of the toys present was a blow up, life-size crocodile. It was green, of course, with white teeth and bulging eyes. It was not life-like to an adult eye.

The larger kids, Fintan and his friend approached the crocodile and sat on it and began to sing: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream...if you see a crocodile, don't forget to scream". (They duly screamed).

Tiarnan, seeing that they were quite happy on the crocodile, joined them on its capacious back - and tried to sing along.

A while later, I noted that the crocodile had been moved into the adjacent children's bedroom, where all three kids were now playing. All was well until the elder two left. Tiarnan played happily for a moment or two before he realized that he was alone - well, almost. He started to cry out somewhat nervously, alerting us to his predicament. He was staring at the crocodile blocking the doorway, quite obviously distressed by it. I knew then what had not been clear until that moment: for Tiarnan, the crocodile did not just represent a crocodile - it was a crocodile - with all the dangerous possibilties that one presented.

Syahidah went into the room and rescued him.

Later on, just before we were set to leave, the crocodile had made its way into the living room. Tiarnan was busy drinking a bottle of milk. He noted the crocodile by the tv - and the watchful presence of others - and smiled at it. He approached slowly, holding the bottle of milk out towards it and placed the teat against its teeth, his head nodding in encouragement, urging it to drink. Tiarnan had, it seemed, decided to make friends, with the crocodile. It was very touching to watch. Once he had let the crocodile "drink" for a while, he was much more relaxed around it. No doubt, in his estimation, he had now befriended the two metre beast.

When one reaches a certain age, few adults seem to think in interesting ways. It is probably because their ways are too familiar and too predictable. Children, on the other hand, live in the same world, but see it differently. It is refreshing, therefore, to observe them do, think and feel things, adults simply never would.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:24 PM  0 comments

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bad students - or a bad school?

In the news recently was the shameful case of a Principal of a mission school, who went out of her way to discourage her students. Singaporeans will know of the case, but for my international readers, I shall explain.

The 27 girls in Secondary 5, were beginning their O level year. They had set their minds upon the task ahead of them. Their Principal called them together for a talk. You will never guess what she said: she basically told them to leave the school and go to ITE (a technical college, aimed at lower ability students). She flashed their N level grades on the screen (N level is the examination below O level, in difficulty) and said that they wouldn't do well in their O levels, and wouldn't go on to Polytechnic, so they might as well just go straight to ITE. Her justification for this advice was just classic: because she wanted 100 % passes in her school!

Singapore is a country in which the schools don't think of their students, they think of their reputations (and their year end bonuses). The Principals concern themselves not with how they can help students to achieve their potential, but how they can bolster their passing rates to make the schools look good, on the league tables. They have completely forgotten - or more likely never knew - what education should be about: the child.

Let us look at her advice to the students more closely. She is advising that they should leave and go to ITE. Students who graduate from ITE, rather than the Polytechnic, have a much less respected qualification. They have more restricted options. They will end up in lower status jobs. They will earn less money. Their whole lives, in a Singaporean, educational qualification obsessed society, are likely to be diminished in comparison to going on, instead to Polytechnic (or University, for that matter). So, the Principal is basically advising these students to sacrifice their futures and the quality of their education and working lives - just so the school can look good. This Principal had not given one thought to the well-being of her students.

Even more remarkably, this attitude is not rare in Singapore. It is the norm. Principals would rather get rid of "weaker" students, than actually teach them.

This brings me to my most important point: is it the students who are bad, or the school? You see, if a student does not do well, there can be one of two reasons: either the student is unable to learn, or their teachers are unable to teach (or in this case, unwilling). It is very easy for a school not to look at itself and instead blame the students for their poor grades - but could it not be that it is the school that has failed the students?

The role of a school should be to teach whomever comes their way – not to redirect those who are not stars, elsewhere. It is an unconscious criticism of the school, itself, by the Principal, to declare that these students won’t do well in their exams. Whether she knows it or not, what the Principal is effectively saying is: “We are not competent enough to teach you to do well…we prefer brighter students who don’t need to be taught to do well, because frankly we are not up to the job. The ITE have better teachers than we do.”

As Mr. Wang has pointed out on his blog, if past performance is anything to go by, 60% of these students can be expected to go to Polytechnic, after all, having done well enough in their O levels, to do so. 40% will have to look elsewhere.

Consider those numbers. They mean that 60% of the students the Principal is addressing would actually do well enough to attain their goals in life. Perhaps not well enough to make her school's mean grades glisten - but well enough for them to attain their goals. This "Principal" has decided to sacrifice the careers and ambitions of 60% times 27 girls = 16 girls. Sixteen girls, who would otherwise have succeeded in their aims, would, if the Principal had her way, be slung out of the school and off their career paths, to ensure the glowing exam record of the school.

What is the proper reaction to this? The Principal should be fired and replaced with a real teacher (if there are any to be found).

However, the Education Minister Lui Tuck Yew, a man of no teaching experience at all, endorsed her approach and supported her actions. He basically said that it was the right thing to do.

I must declare that I have worked as a teacher in various roles in my life. Therefore I do know something whereof I speak. What a real teacher would do is work with these children so that they can be the best that they can be. A real teacher would reach out to them and help them grow. A real teacher would help them overcome their weaknesses and misunderstandings. However, our state approved Principal is not a real teacher. She is a seeker of awards. She is a lover of end of year bonuses. She is a career woman, whose sole concern is herself and her reputation.

Singapore seeks to be an Education Hub. It seeks to entice students from all over the world (primarily the Asian world) to be educated here - and pay for it, of course. Yet, the priorities seem to be all wrong. If you want to have a really good education system, you should focus on the students - not on the league tables. The Principals of Singapore have yet to learn that. Perhaps it is time for them to go back to school - for, from my perspective, they look like very weak students indeed. I would fail them. I just have.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:49 PM  5 comments

Height and Intelligence (IQ), a correlation.

There is a correlation between height and intelligence, as measured by IQ. The correlation is 0.2. Although this is a weak correlation, it is statistically significant and accounts for about 4% of the variation in IQ between people.

Now, before I go on, I should add that this correlation is not strong enough to bar the idea of a short, smart person. They exist, no doubt, in plenty. What it is saying, however, is that there is a tendency for intelligent people to also be taller.

Studies suggest that there are common genetic factors involved in both height and intelligence. So, it is no coincidence that they correlate, positively.

All this leads me to look at my own children. Ainan, for instance is notably tall for his age and race. He is about 1 metre 36 centimetres, as of a month or two ago (maybe taller now) - and growing fast. He is the tallest person in his class (barring another child of similar height). I understand there are about 40 people in his class. His shortest classmate is a full head shorter than Ainan. That is, his friend's head sits under Ainan's chin.

Ainan is not the tallest person in his year. That accolade goes to a friend of his. However, according to a chart of heights of American boys from 2000, he is now at least the average height of an American nine and a half year old boy. So, he is tall for his age.

I look at Fintan, too. In another post, I pointed out that Fintan was of the weight of a six year old Caucasian (actually, the weight of a six and a half year old, Caucasian American boy.) What I failed to point out, however, is that he is also of the HEIGHT of a six year old Caucasian boy (though he is only four years old). So, he, too, is rather tall for his age.

This impression of their heights is a little distorted (underestimated) by the fact that I am comparing them to a Caucasian population, when both are, of course, Eurasian (who tend to be slighter, and not so tall, as full Caucasians).

Looking at them, now, I can't help but wonder how tall they might be, one day. Will they be taller than their Daddy?

We will see. I wouldn't be surprised if both of them make it.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html 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, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:11 AM  9 comments

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