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 22, 2009

The end of Great Britain.

Britain is officially not "Great" anymore. At least, that is the implicit conclusion of a Unicef report on Child well-being in rich countries. Its message is clear: in short, the children of the UK be far from well.

Unenviably, Britain came LAST in the report which compared the well-being of children throughout the qualifying rich OECD countries. Not all such countries were included (for instance Australia was excluded) because there was insufficient data to come to a judgement about them. Out of the 21 countries examined, Great Britain (I use the adjective deliberately to emphasize its absurdity) came on average in position 18.2, in the six dimensions of child well-being researched.

The dimensions of well-being were: material well-being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks, subjective well-being. The UK beat out all other competition across the OECD, to come bottom in behaviours and risks, family and peer relationships and second from bottom in subjective well-being. They were 18th out of 21 countries in material well-being, 12th in health and safety, and 17th in educational well-being. All in all, Britain's kids are a sorry lot.

Now, have a guess which other high profile rich country did badly? Yes. You guessed it: the United States came second to last, above Great Britain. This is below such countries as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Predictably, I suppose, given America's love of guns and using them, the USA came bottom of the pile for health and safety, at 21st position. They were second from bottom for family and peer relationships and behaviours and risks. Educationally, they did better than I expected, at 12th (way below Canada in second position, by the way). Surprisingly, given the mythology that America is a rich country, of loud and brash millionaires, the USA came in 17th position for material well-being. The Czech Republic was 11th in the material well-being stakes.

This survey confirms for me what has long been clear. The UK and the US, while once enviable nations that anyone would love to call their home, have rather lost their way. These are no longer ideal places in which to live, or grow up. Indeed, I am somewhat thankful that, by chance circumstance, I have ended up thousands of miles away in Asia - for it seems a better lot, for my children, in certain ways, than what they would face in the UK, at this time.

The UK apes the US. So it is unsurprising that both should show the same failings. The primary failing, I hazard, here, is that both nations in the past couple of decades, became too obsessed with work and material accumulation and forgot the simpler, more important things of family life, rearing children and creating a livable environment. All that was swallowed up by the drive for a bigger car, a bigger house and a "promotion" (for which read "gift" of less time for more money). In the end, what both societies have been doing is trading away the quality of life, for a whole society, in exchange for material goods. As any rational person could have told them, that is not a fair trade. Quality of life is far more important than wealth. Knowing your children and having your children know you, is worth far more than a larger house, by the beach. Giving your children the love and support they need, when they need it, has a lasting effect, for generations to come. A nice new Mercedes Benz doesn't have quite the same long-term effect on anyone's life.

The most interesting part about the survey is not that the UK and US were bottom of the list - but that poorer nations were much higher up. A child is MUCH better off in the Czech Republic, of all places, than in either of the great powers. I say this, even though the Czech Republic was only 15th on the list. It trounced the US and UK.

I fear for the future of the UK and the US. I fear for them because if their children are officially bottom of the heap, of the world's OECD nations...then might not their future adults be bottom of the heap in some way, too? Surely, unhappy children (for "well-being" is code for happiness), lead to unhappy adults? Is not a nation of unhappy adults likely to be one that somehow fails to thrive?

Though I am but halfway through an average lifespan, I fear that I may already have seen the greatest heights of the US and the UK that I am ever going to see. To come bottom on a survey of children's well-being is not such a "Great" achievement. Britain would do well to act now, to ensure that only one generation of children so suffers. The same applies to the US, as well. They could start by melting down all their guns...(to get them off the bottom of the health and safety rankings...)

(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 @ 8:11 PM 


Anonymous Onlooker said...

The relation between EU, UK and US is Symbiotic.

Asian economy is also facing a challenge too.This is because too much emphasis have been place on 2 Nation due to the availability of cheap labour there.

The problem with the western power now, is the rich there have been too reliant on the cheap labour that they cannot cope when their competition begn to show.

The best example will be the Car industry in China and India.
With China's Industry being the most obvious.

It is like those rich investors in western world is addicted to the opium of cheap labour.

And that why Obama new Tax is fair.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Without cheap labour a great shift of economic organization is necessary...but may not be possible, or if it is, will not be easy. We will see how this plays out.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It did not surprise me, sadly. Many young people in the UK are not from families that are loving and caring.

There is also the fear of crime, the resession (fear parents losing jobs) and other things.

My younger siblings aren't too bad, but they have their own struggles too as life carries them along.

I noticed "none" of the UK's problems in Singapore. Young people in general were very well behaved, pleasant, friendly and respected their elders.

The education system and good family bonds can surely take a lot of credit for this :)

11:05 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is true that Singapore doesn't have the same trouble with its young, that the UK/US have. I think it has to do with many more things than just the education. There is an indefinable quality of society here in that EVERYTHING seems under control. Whatever it is, it prevents much social ills, I suppose.

I can't fathom how much the UK has changed since I left in '99.

Thanks for your comment.

5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All great nations will eventually crumble and fall. That is no secret. In the end, it is just a matter of how fast it takes a nation to decline.
The power will eventually shift towards the East from the West, just like how it shifted to the West hundreds of years ago.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Well, in some ways, Britain seems to have declined since I was a that is a few short decades for such a swift decline. At this rate of decline, I don't see Britain holding its own in mid-century.

However, to say that the East will be preeminent seems premature...there are many areas of Eastern society that are less effective, still, than the West. Perhaps, however, the East will catch up and overtake the West, but that is not a sure thing, yet.

Not all Western countries are showing the decline that Britain has shown. There are many healthy nations in Europe, for instance, in the sense of culturally, scientifically and technologically. It would take a big change to bring them low in relation to the East.

We will just have to watch how this unfolds. It should be clear in two or three decades, I think.

10:59 PM  

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