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 +

Monday, February 16, 2009

Creative students in the classroom.

Are creative students valued in the classroom? Do teachers like creative students or do they move against them, at every opportunity?

From my own personal observations, I would say that it depends on the teacher. Some are open to creative students and others are positively hostile to them. However, that is just a personal sampling of the situation - what does the research say?

Well, I found an abstract of a most interesting article in the Creativity Research Journal, from the January 1995 issue (Volume 8, Issue 1). It was entitled: "Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?" by Dr. Erik L. Westby and Dr. V. L. Dawson. It is, basically, a direct answer to my question.

These two researchers used prior research that described the characteristics of a creative person. They then got the students in a school to rate each other on these characteristics, so as to identify those that fit the model of what a creative student was like. The teachers were asked if they liked working with creative students: they said "yes". Then, not taking their word for it, they got the teachers to reveal which students they liked and which they did not. Rather worryingly, there was a negative correlation between creativity and being liked by the teachers. There was also a positive correlation between being creative and being disliked by the teachers.

Something strange was going on. The teachers SAID they liked creative students, but the ones who had been identified as creative were actually the ones that they DISLIKED. A closer examination of the situation revealed that the teachers thought of creative students in a different way. The ones teachers thought of as creative had a different set of characteristics to the ones research had identified as being associated with creativity. So, it seems, that teachers don't know who the creative students are.

Erik Westby and V. L. Dawson reexamined the situation in the light of the new understanding of the teachers' view on creative students. It was found that there was a nonsignificant correlation between being a favourite student and fitting the teachers' idea of what a creative student was. The favourite students tended to be more like the teachers' stereotype of what a creative student was. (Though, of course, this was unlike what a creative student actually is.)

This paper struck me as deserving of more attention. People really should know that it has been shown that teachers tend to dislike creative students (even though they think they like them). This finding rather accords with my own observations of school life.

This situation presents a problem. If creative students are actively disliked by their teachers, then school will be, for them, an unpleasant experience. They might experience active hostility from their teachers (as I did sometimes, myself). Their ideas might be attacked, simply because they are ideas. (Just like my essays meeting a hugely hostile response from some Cambridge University staff). Indeed, it may be that the creative student would not benefit from school in the way that non-creative students do.

Teachers should be professional. They should not allow their personal likes and dislikes to influence their behaviour in the classroom. So, the remedy to this situation comes down not only to instilling an understanding of what a creative student is, in the teachers - but in training them not to respond negatively to ANY student, no matter what they do or how they are. It is not the teacher's role to be partial. They should be fair to all and unkind to none. That should be a basic tenet of any teaching life.

The schools of the world are a long way from coping effectively with the challenge ( I won't call it a "problem") of teaching gifted children. Many gifted children are under-challenged in school. This paper, however, points out a different problem: the creatively gifted child might not just be ignored by the school (as many gifted children are) - but experience active hostility from it. This particular minority, therefore, deserves greater attention and protection. For, is it not so that it is the creatively gifted who ultimately have the most to offer our societies? They are also the ones who may be least well served by the educational systems that presently exist.

A good step forward would be simply to teach teachers to identify such creative children - and treat them well and welcome them. That, alone, would cure most of the ills that the creative put up with, in school.

(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 @ 8:25 PM 


Blogger Erik said...

I appreciate someone finding value in the research I did Dr. Dawson. I thought it was strange when I was young when my teachers would tell us they loved creative kids, and then they had us all do the same things. -Erik

5:44 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for taking the time to comment Erik.

Yes. Your research is is a pity it is not better known in the wider educational world. For I think what you observed is important to know. Perhaps my blog has done something to make more people aware of the result. I hope so.

Yes. The requirements of school are doubtless unhelpful for creative children. Will education systems ever learn to accept such kids?

Best wishes Erik.

10:34 AM  

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