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 +

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Egotist.

I once had the displeasure of teaching a student from China, whose ego outmatched all others I can recall meeting. It was not, note, that he had anything special to feel special about - but that he found it in himself to so highly rate his own thoughts and worth, that no-one else's bore consideration.

He had some contributing factors to his egotism: he was the only child of a rich Chinese family and had lived a spoiled life. Yet, I felt, that did not excuse the irksome behaviour he manifested.

Teaching him was an irritating experience. If, for instance, I had marked his essay and corrected it (which usually meant about three to four corrections per line of text because, like I said, his ego was not matched by any commensurate talent) and had gone on to work with another student, he would shout across the room, soon enough: "HEY, TEACHER!". He would then ask me a question about what I had written on his essay.

I would lift up my head and say: "I am busy right now."

He would look put out that I had dared not come running the moment he demanded it and would look at me stiffly.

He would let me finish with the student I was working with - but then, when I had moved onto another, he would shout again: "Hey, what about this? What does THIS mean?"

This process would go on and would not stop, until I dropped what I was doing, with another student, and came over to attend to his question. It was always something silly - something apparent and obvious if he had just paused to think about it, rather than just demand that his teacher come running.

Then there was another habit of his. If I had corrected something of his, that was wrong, he would quite often argue with me over it. He would try to force me to back down from my view that his understanding of grammar was incorrect and that mine was right. To understand quite how galling this was, you should recognize that he was from the People's Republic of China, and spoke English as a second language and that not well. I, however, am a native speaker of English and it is my first language - and I work with the language professionally. His ego was so inflated that he thought that he understood his second language (one which he was still yet learning) better than I understood my first.

The arguments over language points would go on until I insisted strongly enough that he was wrong and had explained carefully why...then he would fall silent in a resentful sort of way.

Finally, there was another ploy which he would get up to. When he was writing his essays, he would sometimes insert what he thought were mistakes, to see if I picked up on them. I remember one time in particular when he said: "Ah HAH! You didn't see that one! That's wrong!", of his own work.

I looked at it for a moment and then said, quietly, realizing that he had tried to make a deliberate error - and failed: "No, actually, it is right. You can say it that way."

That flummoxed him. He had been accidentally right - having intended to be wrong as a test of my competence. It was bizarre.

I can say, without any doubt at all, that this particular mainland Chinese student was the most annoying student I have ever taught.

(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 @ 11:01 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha. These students exist all over the world. Good luck teaching them. Some actually mature and grow out of it. It helps too when they are put through a tough regimental life- China has one such "army" school, which was featured on cable some time back.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that's extremely annoying. I wonder how his parents deal with him.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think this particular student needs to learn that there are other people in the world and that he is not the most important being in the Universe.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think his parents have created indulging him rather too much. China is the land of the "little Emperors" after all...

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Valentine,

I am wondering why you were thinking about your teaching experience with regards to this student. Did something happen to remind you or did you just mentally jump back to it without any particular reason?

Kind regards,

P.S. The problem with a blog like this is that I don't receive a notification if you have posted an answer to a comment I made. In instances where I have commented on more than one post, I have to remember each post, find it again and read your answer.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Maria,

Thanks for your question. I was just thinking about what teachers go through, that non-teachers have no idea about and this case came quite readily to mind, being, as it is, the most irksome one I have come across.

You are right about non-notification. I think it doesn't help communication at all. However, for all their faults, I think blogs are a very useful medium and afford the ability, to anyone with the inclination, to communicate their thoughts to that part of the world, however small, that might want to read them.

Kind regards

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard of teachers that will threaten to regrade other questions if they are asked to regrade a certain question.

Perhaps you could put some price on being wrong, so only if a student was very confident they had a case would they bring it to you, plus it would force them to think it through carefully on their own rather than just asking.

It doesn't seem like anything this simple would help in this particular case, however.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the imaginative suggestion. It is a good idea to bring consequences into it: it is, after all, rather like life, itself, in which everything has consequences - so there is a lesson in the suggested procedure itself.

However, you are right. With a young man like him, nothing is going to really work. The problem is that he regards simple feedback on his work as a challenge to his ego, to be fought over. In such a psychologically damaged situation there is little to be done, except battle through it.

Thanks for the comment.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Miao said...

Hi Maria,

Actually you can sign up for a blogger account yourself and choose the option 'Email follow-up comments' - you'll be notified whenever a new comment on a particular entry is posted. :)

12:26 AM  

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