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, August 03, 2009

The New Paper and the order of events.

The New Paper today carried an article about Ainan and ourselves, in it. In fact, it had two articles. One article concerned his achievement in passing the O level Physics younger than anyone else has done...two years after he passed O level Chemistry younger than anyone has ever passed an O level. My concern, though, is the second article, for I fear it has quite a few errors of information in it.

I shall explain. When telling a story, the time order of events is very important for understanding the truth of the story. However, the New Paper article muddles up the order of events, to make things look more favourable for the MOE. I find this an interesting failing...

In the article, it says that the MOE offered us workshops at the Science Centre, which we declined, and then it says we walked out of a meeting with the MOE and said we didn't want any more offers of support from them. This is not true. It makes it look like the MOE were trying to be supportive. They were not. The truth is, in fact, very different.

What happened was that we had a meeting in 2007, towards the end of the summer (I think of the summer as the middle months of the year, since I come from Europe), at which two officers from GEP were gatecrashing: they had not been invited by us, but turned up anyway. This is typical inconsiderate behaviour of GEP officers. The relationship was already pretty sour by then, so I am pretty sure they knew we wouldn't want them around - yet they turned up anyway. The Principal of Ainan's school hadn't told us they would be there, either, which is rather off, I think. Anyway, at this meeting, the GEP officers (including our case officer, who was a truly difficult person to deal with), refused everything we asked for. We made SO many different suggestions of ways in which they could help Ainan - and they refused them all. Finally, I asked if Ainan could have practical classes at NUS High (where he had been studying, though to no use, since the class was below the level of his then knowledge and ability - but they didn't respond to that). She said: "No." very firmly. She then went on to say: "If you want practical classes, why don't you find a private school and PAY for them YOURSELF!"

I thought she was a little too aggressive to be a government officer, but there you are, I didn't hire her.

I told her that Ainan has a very practical learning style and needs to do Chemistry, not just read about it.

She said: "Oh we at the Gifted branch think learning style is very important..."

"Well, I have just told you he has a practical learning style, so can he have practical classes?"

She snapped at me: "Oh that is not good enough for us!"

I couldn't take it anymore from this silly woman. She was telling me that the view of the parents, who know the child best of all people in the world, was no good for the GEP: it was to be dismissed.

I rose then and said: "We will never speak again!", though I did say one more thing: "Your problem is that you don't listen!"

Then I left - and we never did speak again, despite what the MOE says in its article in the New Paper (they claim we did some months later).

Now, what I find interesting about the article is that it moves the walk out event above to being AFTER the offer from the MOE regarding the Science Centre. This is so not true it makes me want to vomit. I walked out on the GEP, in the late summer 2007. The offer of the Science Centre arrived in February 2008 - with a bill attached: we would have to PAY for the GEP's "support". I know of no country on Earth that would ask a gifted student to pay for an intervention supposed to help them...except for Singapore of course. Anyway, we declined them, for two reasons: one was that they never actually bothered to explain to us what the workshops were about - and secondly, they wanted us to pay for them and that we just couldn't really do, at that time. The offer of a few workshops at the Science centre came via Ainan's Principal. When I saw that our GEP case officer's name was mentioned in the correspondence, I was not happy - because she had been such a pain to deal with. I said to the Principal that we wanted nothing to do with the GEP. That is all I said. I did not contact the GEP, nor the MOE. I had kept my promise and I never spoke to them directly again, after the walk out. Yet, they state in the article that we told them in February 2008 that we didn't want any more "help" from the MOE. I find that very strange, since we didn't actually speak to them at all - and what we said to his Principal referred only to the interference of the GEP and, more specifically, the officer that we just could not stand having to deal with. So, in a very real sense, the article is not true to events. The order is wrong - and some things just did not happen in the way they say.

We gave up on the GEP because they were refusing to help in anyway: they were turning down all our suggestions. The article has changed the course of events to make it look like we were turning down an offer from the GEP. This is just not true. There was NO offer on the table when we walked away from them. The Science centre "offer" (it is not an offer actually because we would have had to pay for it) came about 6 months after we had had our walk out with the GEP. Thus, changing the order of events, COMPLETELY CHANGES THE MEANING OF WHAT HAPPENED. It makes it look like we were being difficult - when in fact it was our GEP case officer who was being difficult.

Also, the person they interviewed at NUS High was someone who has been caught out in the past in what seems like a lie - because his students contradicted what he said to us. Yet, this was the man they quote with reference to Ainan. All in all, I am not happy with the way the article has distorted events.

Perhaps the distortions of events are unintentional and due to the assumptions of the writer about what must have happened. Perhaps they are deliberate distortions. I do not know - but I know this: all the changes in events make the MOE look better than it should. That all changes were in favour of the MOE does make one wonder why the events were depicted that way. The fact is the MOE was very difficult to deal with with respect to Ainan. The GEP officers were completely deaf to all information that came from us and completely ignored all requests. They did their own thing - and their own thing was always, in our view, inappropriate, insufficient, or just unnecessary. The article did not capture that at all. It created a very different impression - one that tried to make us look as if we were turning away support, when in fact, the MOE/GEP were the ones refusing to support adequately and in a timely fashion.

Another thing the article missed: the offer of the Science centre came a full THIRTEEN months after his O level in Chemistry. Well, excuse me, I think that any gifted intervention programme that takes more than a YEAR to find somewhere to support a kid's interest, should be fired at once...all of them. Then again, the offer was very little. It was just a few workshops in somewhat irrelevant Chemistry. It was also at a price (not free).Furthermore, it was not what we required - ongoing practical experience. The MOE failed to support Ainan. The New Paper failed to report this accurately, but instead tried to diminish one parent's quest for a suitable education for his gifted son.

I must say, though: I am not surprised. In Singapore, the little guy...that is me...has no say or power at all. The big guy will always manage to drown out the little voice and put their version of history across. I am getting to understand that the news here, in Singapore, is often not what it should be: it doesn't accurately reflect what really goes on and will always be slanted to make the system shine in a glossy, blameless fashion. The truth, however, can be very different. The only problem, of course, is that, in Singapore, that is something the readers will never get the chance to evaluate.

(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 @ 7:25 PM 


Blogger Indiana said...

Not just the papers, but all media here is designed to help the masses keep their heads in the sand. The reports of Int's events and happenings as reported by news wires are fine, but local journalists quickly sacrifice any integrity they have in order to be part of the Singapore dream, that is to have more stuff.

As for TNP have you written to the editor asking for them to either print a letter of correction or at least your story as truth not as the PAP would want?

9:59 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I haven't thought about going to the TNP and asking them to print a correction, mainly because I very much doubt that they will. This is a nation that never admits fault...especially if deliberate! I might, however, drop them a line and see what happens.

Thanks for your comment.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the first place, who or what gave them permission to carry news on someone else family? Did you ask for such a coverage?

9:52 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The article in question (the erroneous one referred to above) was not asked for, no. It was the idea of the newspaper to look into the background of the history of the "support" for our son. It was not something I wanted to do. However, I didn't know what they had in mind to do with it. They asked questions relating to the history of Ainan's support. They then took a few quotes out of context and built the article around it. In doing so, they lost all the essential truths of the actual situation.

The only kind of article we WERE interested in was a simple, brief statement that he had added Physics O level to his accomplishments. Nothing more - or else. However, the whole thing turned into a completely different kind of article. Looking back on it, I do have to wonder whether we were being "set up", for this kind of thing. There was really no need to go digging for quotes on how things had been with the MOE, GEP and other people. I wasn't interested in getting into that territory at all.

I did say to them that I didn't want this to turn into a public argument with the educational authorities - since that would most certainly not be to our benefit. However, a public argument with the educational authorities is exactly what we got!

The article would have been less harmful had they actually got the order of events correct. As it is, it does give the wrong impression. Again, one has to wonder if giving the wrong impression was exactly what was intended.

Sadly, my correction of the events will be read only by a tiny number of people...against the half a million who would have read the original article in the New Paper - thus it is that their version of events will stand, in people's minds.

10:27 PM  

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