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 02, 2009

The World's Cleverest Child and Me, Channel 4.

"The World's Cleverest Child and Me", on Channel 4, in the UK, is a British TV documentary featuring London-Irish presenter Mark Dolan. It is also a show in which Ainan appeared. (Adora Svitak and Adi Putra are also featured).

Now, documentary TV shows are funny things. They purport to capture the truth of their subjects but, what is not known to the general public, is that the tv crew have very little time in which to do this. In both the documentaries in which Ainan has appeared: "Superhuman Genius" on ITV1, in the UK (featuring Kim Peek and Akiane, as well as Ainan among others) and "The World's Cleverest Child and Me", the documentary team only had TWO days of filming to capture the essence of the story and their subject.

Think about that. The TV crew are supposed to be able to capture the essence of a life in just two days. In these two cases, they are also dealing with young children - which makes for another difficulty: that of getting their subjects to relax on camera in the short time that they have.

I haven't seen "The World's Cleverest Child and Me", yet. I don't have firsthand experience of how Mark Dolan, who is billed in other places as a comedian, has approached the matter. Have they shown respect? I don't know. Have they shown insight, into their subjects? I don't know. I will have to wait and see the film. I do know this, though: two days is too short a time to go anywhere near capturing the fullness of the life story of a gifted child of any kind. There is always a lot more to such children than a handful of hours with a tv crew can record. The viewing public doesn't know this, of course. So, I rather think that the impressions we get of documentary subjects are only thin slices of who they are. Most of the nature and character of such subjects will be missed. That is, of course, unless the documentary team have not had to travel far, and their budget can be used on time filming the subject rather than hotel bills and airplane fares (as was the case with Ainan, of course - and all the subjects in "The World's Cleverest Child and Me.")

People I know in England have seen the documentary, however. One of them remarked that, at one point Mark Dolan says that I sent him lots of emails. I find this a strange thing to say, considering that I don't even have an email address for him, at all. On parting, he referred us to his myspace page, which we haven't joined and so can't use to contact him. I will wait to see the documentary, however, before I comment further on the correspondence that never was.

Another comment, which I have actually seen, in an outtake, which I wish to counter, is Mark Dolan's statement that Ainan was rehearsing "for weeks" before they arrived in Singapore, to do the Pi memorization record. Again, this is a strange comment, since Ainan's total time to learn it consisted of brief sessions on most, but not all the days, in a two week period. When I say "brief", I mean that each session was measured in minutes, not hours - and not a lot of minutes at that. Mark Dolan's comment is puzzling because the production team have the video of Ainan's rehearsal period (which they requested that we make). So, he knows exactly how long it took to learn. There should be no need, therefore, to exaggerate the timescale, using an open-ended phrase like "for weeks".

Ainan very much enjoyed the filming, however, even though he is innately quite shy in such a situation. I do feel that more time would have been required, to get a fuller sense of him, though. Again, I will await the documentary to see the end result.

Should anyone wonder how such documentaries come about: well, we get asked to do them. We have had a lot of offers to do documentaries and other tv shows in the past couple of years. It might surprise you to learn that we have actually turned down about eight tv shows in the past twelve months or so. These are shows based all over the world and of various different kinds. We turned them down for many different reasons. I think a project has to seem like a good fit, for us, and for Ainan. So, despite what some people might think, by accepting only two projects out of ten offered, we are being rather moderate in our response to the situation. We are trying to be wise in what we accept - but we are still learning. Perhaps some that we turned down, would have been better than what we accepted. We cannot know. All we can do is make a judgement on whether to participate on the information available to us at the time. Sometimes, we might get it wrong...but we can only do our best.

"The World's Cleverest Child and Me." also featured Adora Svitak, now 11, who is a young writer of fictional stories, from Seattle, and Adi Putra, a mathematically gifted boy, now 10, from Malaysia.

Ainan is shown doing a Pi memorization recitation record. He achieves 518 digits on camera - though subsequently, off camera, when the crew had gone back to England, he did 1102 digits! Nevertheless, 518 digits of Pi is, according the Pi World Ranking List, a World Age Record for Pi recitation (no other child under 16 has achieved such a feat). It took him 4 minutes to recite them. Ainan is also shown, briefly, at work in the Chemistry lab at Singapore Polytechnic alongside young adults. There is also some more general footage of his life, here, in Singapore.

If you get to see any of the shows, feel free to let us know your thoughts. Did they manage to capture anything of Ainan? How did the rest of the family come across? Did you enjoy it?

Thanks in advance, for your comments, thoughts and feelings.

(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 @ 6:11 PM 


Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Here is one average kind of review of the show, from the Times of London:

"Ainan, in Singapore, was apparently (then 7) the youngest person ever to have got a chemistry O level. Now he’s 8 and seemed more interested in playing computer games than in talking to Dolan about the wellspring of his intelligence. There was a wonderful moment when Dolan presented him with a Rubik’s Cube (a very modern, complicated version) and Ainan called it a “permutation toy”.

His father Valentine was a constant presence and Dolan wondered how much of all these children’s exceptional skills were down to parental hot-housing rather than innate talent. He didn’t really reach a conclusion, although one had to agree with Valentine’s contention that a special talent should be celebrated rather than the child be taught to conform.

The real issue was could a child balance having a regular childhood while possessing their special talent; how did they feel about marketing their talents? Dolan was too gentle an inquisitor to investigate that. Perhaps he was just feeling inadequate, faced with this onslaught of money- generating pre-teen brilliance. Chung, Ainan’s 19-year-old lab partner at the polytechnic he attends, said the young lad was better than all of his fellow students."

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, there are channel 4 on you tube bout your son. 'child genius 13'

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi valentine hi have just made a post off topic and now that i have found the topic i just want to know how come ainan isnt on the pi world ranking list??? i have checked both near 500 and 1000 and he isnt there at all

6:20 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi. You raise a good point. It is because the administration required for an entry was never fully completed by the production company that filmed the event: they simply never got around to it. I shall have to press them about it.

Thank you for reminding me.

9:45 AM  

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