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 +

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Deep thinkers or sheep thinkers?

Karl Albrecht, the writer on psychology, divides people into "deep thinkers" and "sheep thinkers". I thought this division was applicable to the situation in Singapore.

A deep thinker is one who thinks for themselves and is independent in their thoughts and conclusions from the mainstream of the society around them. They see things as they are. They understand what others do not.

A sheep thinker is one whose thoughts are acquired from the surrounding society: what they read in the media or hear from others. They don't realize that their thinking is determined by others and believe that they are thinking for themselves. However, they never think for themselves and, in fact, don't really think independently at all.

Now, Singapore's leadership has, in recent years, begun to urge its populace to "be creative". The aim is to create some kind of intellectual hub. However, there is a problem. For too long, Singapore has encouraged its people to be sheep thinkers. The way children are educated does not instill deep thinking, but produces sheep thinkers. There is a great pressure at all levels of society to conform - and so almost everyone does.

Karl Albrecht observes that all totalitarian societies have sought first to eliminate the deep thinkers, or control them, so that they would not awaken the rest of the society of sheep thinkers to reappraise their situation and come to understand it. Thus, these types of societies will try to create sheep thinking masses - just as Singapore has done. The problem for these societies however is that without deep thinkers, certain kinds of technological, scientific and cultural development will not occur: for sheep thinkers are thought followers, not thought leaders and will not create anything new.

If Singapore is to become a creative hub, it will have to start encouraging deep thinkers in its midst. This is something with which the system is unfamiliar. I wonder whether the system can really take the presence of true deep thinkers in its midst? Would the powers-that-be not be instinctively uncomfortable with such people and try to muffle them?

Singapore's education system is still creating sheep thinkers. I am curious as to whether this will change and deep thinkers will start to be fostered. We are at a cusp, in some ways. If Singapore wishes to have a creative culture, it will need deep thinkers. However, having deep thinkers makes the population less sheep like - and yet, sheep like is exactly what the government has tried to instill in its people for the last five decades. Basically Singapore can't have it both ways. They can either choose to be a creative hub and have deep thinkers...or remain as easily controllable sheep.

The question is: which will Singapore's government choose: the deep thinkers they know they need...or the sheep thinkers they know how to lead?

(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 @ 8:05 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Valentine,

Here's a question for you: to which group of thinkers do you belong and why?


11:10 PM  
Anonymous Etch said...

Good post, I actually do believe that the numerous changes in the education system/syllabus has not done much to encourage creative thinking in schools and thus students.

Students are still judged largely on their examination results as a whole and textbooks and ten year series continue to sell very well as a result of students being drilled in exam questions.

Maybe you are right, that the government prefers sheep to deep.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Anon.

It should be obvious to which group I belong. Therefore, I am not going to answer the question. To do so would only annoy certain people anyway.

Thanks for the question, though.

Kind regards

12:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Etch, thank you for your comment.

Yes, I think this government has always preferred sheep to deep - for sheep are very easy to control...sorry, "lead". Deep thinkers bring challenges that this style of government never really wants to deal with: like people able to answer back with mental authority. That makes them uncomfortable.

The pity of it is that Singapore will never realize its fullest potential unless they encourage deep over sheep.

Kind regards

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Valentine

In any society, the sheep (fodder) will form the majority. Thats the law of nature. See ur Yankee cousins voting for Bush. Twice. Stupidity is universal and color-blind.

For the 1000th time, the local scholar system is of course to remove all threats (potential deep thinkers) before they actually become one.

Are you actually living in Singapore? We want creative workers. "Creative" as in "create value for the economy".

No we dun need a "creative population" (the liberal defintion). We import them (people like you) and throw them out (like a certain Capt Ryan) when they threaten to infect the local population.

PS: I am being sarcastic. I realise you dun have a sense of humour. Are you really Irish? Irish are usually fun.


1:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi No Name,

I am Irish - and I do have a sense of humour. Perhaps you have missed my funnier posts in the 1,050 ones I have posted...though generally I focus on more serious issues.

Yes, I had wondered about the scholar programmes - because they don't seem to be producing deep thinkers, do they? Now, if they are deliberately destroying deep thinkers that would seem to be a suicidal state at work - for without such people much will not happen.

Mind you, the GEP (Gifted Education Programme) doesn't seem very interested in doing the best for its gifted children, from what I have observed. So you may have a good point.

I do live in Singapore, yes.


1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Cawley

I used to be from the GEP in ACS, class of 2004 and even though the teachers tried their best to cultivate opportunities for us to think independently, however, we could still see that they were too constrained by the time limitations imposed upon them by the GEB to "teach the syllabus" so as to "prepare" us for examinations. Of course, having an overambitious, callous gifted department head didn't really help too.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your confirmation of the problems at the Gifted Branch. It is sad to see them squander the gifts of those in their charge, by deploying a system that fails to understand the true needs of such young minds.

I wish you all the best.

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the gep has been an unofficial failure for many years now. notice the ST never mentions the topic anymore.

in my opinion, part of the decline can be attributed to the increased intake, beginning about 1995, from the top 0.5% of every cohort (about 300/year) to the top 1%.

god knows why they did it, but my opinion is that this was done to allow children of certain privileged individuals to qualify for the program.

the differences are glaring when you compare personal qualities, convictions etc of the class of the early 90s to ones a decade later.

another longstanding rumour is that a small number of academically-average kids were allowed into the program to act as a control group. from my personal experience this is probably true.

these days the program is merely a through-train for the top jcs and scholarships that follow. when you start perverting such a program for political ends, expect true giftedness and creativity to wither.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

these days the GEB merely pays lip service. they cannot be allowed to admit they have failed, because then the careers of their superiors, and subsequently their own careers would be at stake.

therefore gifted education in sg will continue to stagnate. think about it.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Our own experience of GEP was very strange. They seemed much more interested in studying Ainan (like a lab rat) than in helping him. Their demonstrated behaviours didn't accord with their publicly stated motivations. It was odd. In the end, we gave up on them as absolutely useless for the purpose of obtaining a suitable education for Ainan.

Thank you for your insights as to why the GEP is failing. They add to our own experiences.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

"Stagnate" is too mild a word to describe the sheer uselessness we observed in action at the Gifted Education Branch. They are doing harm to the nation, by not doing the best to foster the best of the best. If you know what I mean.

You are right: politics prevents the access of truth, in this society and in this case. It is not going to change.

Thanks for your comment.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous onlooker said...

I think this word can best summarize the current GEP.



PAPer Generals who are not exposed to other form of process/resource development esp industrial and economical model.And basically any competition they face is reduce to scoring points with their superior while denying access to resource for their peer(ahem competitor).

Esprit de corps is just another term for Sheep thinking to them, I guess. :)

And when sheep think they are deep. There will be disconnection.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Onlooker.

Regimentation is the OPPOSITE of what the gifted require. If regimentation is what the GEP offer then people would be better off NOT becoming involved with them.

Yes. I would agree that the sheep of the GEP think they are deep. They also think they know what gifted children are...and they haven't got a clue. They don't have the first idea of what they should be doing to support them.

Thanks for your comment.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as you have noted, control and command is how military system is run. It is not surpised that Singapore's GLCs are filled with ex-military personal like retired colonel, secret intelligence officiers etc because their purpose is to control and command the populace into obedience using whatever methods including creating culture of fear, creating law ambiguity, mass propaganda using education means etc while earning supernormal profit at expense of citizen.

Why did gov doesn't want SME to succeed, the answer is subtle. The gov want control. The gov understand from LKY times, how SME can become profitable and powerful to fund activities against the gov or supporting opp party.

If you ever notice that those who openly oppose the gov run their own business etc Mr Brown, opp party members...

Everything is linked to politics indirectly and that is why gov decision is entrenched in secrecy, and when ask for more accountability, the only answer a million-dollars minister can give is "Singapore is unique and different"

10:43 AM  

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