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 +

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reevaluating the past.

Educating Ainan has taught me much about my own education. I have come to see where it lacked and where it was good. For me, the most telling revelation has been about my own maths education.

I went to a supposedly good school in the UK. Yet, now that I have gathered new experiences that allow me to make comparisons I can see problems with its education that I couldn't see at the time. As a kid, of course, I was too busy blaming myself for any deficiencies in the school, rather than realizing that the school was at fault. Now, however, I see differently.

In recent months I have taken to working with Ainan on his maths. In so doing, I have realized that maths is a lot simpler a subject than my school made it out to be. Matters which seemed a little tricky all those years ago, are now immediately clear. Now, it is not that I have been working on my maths, since: I haven't. Indeed, for the material I have been looking at, I haven't touched it in twenty-five years. No, the difference this time is that, instead of listening to the teachers' "explanations", I have been reading from the book. To my surprise, the books are a lot clearer than my teachers ever were. In fact, it seems to me that I would have been better off sitting at home with a book, than in going to school at all (with respect to maths).

I see clearly, now, what my maths teachers were not doing: firstly, they were not explaining anything, at all. They presented maths as something that was to be memorized and not something to be understood. Nothing was ever explained, derived or proved: it was just a case of "Here, memorize this!". As a consequence, their students proceeded to do maths mechanically and without true understanding - for they had never been given the chance to understand the meaning of what they did.

I realize, now, that it is most likely that my maths teachers did not, themselves, understand what the maths was actually doing. They gave no indication of such insight. Indeed, some of the teachers I had were truly execrable. One in particular comes to mind, a "Bob Hiller". He was a former Captain of England for Rugby and Rugby was basically all he knew well. He was the kind of man who had lived for his sport but didn't show much evidence of depth outside of it. It was a mystery to me, even as a boy, why a Rugby player had been assigned as my maths teacher - but there he was, occasionally, at the front of the class. I say occasionally, because he had the habit of being late to his own classes or sometimes just leaving us there to get on with it, ourselves, whatever it happened to be, since often he had not given us anything to do.

Bob Hiller's maths teaching technique consisted entirely of handing out printed notes. These were handwritten notes, perhaps to give the impression that Bob knew something about maths (though I never saw any convincing evidence that he did). That is it. That is all he did: handed out printed notes. I don't remember him explaining anything much. I don't remember him being able to explain anything much. I remember primarily his lateness to class and his overwhelming self-love.

The most memorable thing Bob Hiller ever did was to give me a punishment, a "Penal drill", for no reason whatsoever. He approached me once, at the beginning of a class, for which he had been late and just handed it to me. He had this great big vicious grin on his face, making it clear that he knew very well that there was no justification for what he was doing and that it was morally wrong - but he was filled with sheer vindictive enjoyment at doing so. Bob wasn't what you call a truly nice guy...though, inexplicably, he managed to love himself for it.

Now, I never did find out why he punished me. I had never been punished in the school before, in all my school career - primarily because I never did anything wrong. I just wasn't interested in doing so. I lived without impinging on others. Perhaps, I think, Bob Hiller had discovered that my "record" was blemish free and so wanted to make damn sure it didn't remain so. Perhaps it was something to do with preventing my selection as a Prefect (not that I wanted to be one: I had been Head of House in the Junior School, so I had already had that experience). I don't know the reason why he did it: but I know this - I hadn't done anything to deserve it.

So, rather than teaching me maths, Bob managed to teach me this: schools don't vet their teachers very well for character. Nor do they vet them for skill in their subject. Bob was neither a mathematician, nor a nice guy - yet, there he was, supposedly teaching me maths. The only lesson he actually taught me was one in injustice and the abuse of power.

For those who are curious, a "penal drill" involved running around the school fields after school, for what seems like an interminable time. My every step that day was filled with the injustice of serving an undeserved punishment. Yet, it was a good lesson, for me. You see, I had been a very good rugby player, up until two years before I left school. It was truly a revelation to see how Bob Hiller repaid those who had put in so much effort on his behalf in prior years. What a wonderful, grateful man he was. I saw him, thereafter, as he was. Many people didn't. You see he was one of these people focussed on being popular with others: he had all the patter and all the social skill in the world - but at the core was a man who could do what he did to me that day - whilst wearing a very big vindictive grin. It is a pity that not everyone saw him as I did, that day. I don't think he would have been so popular were it so.

Bob Hiller wasn't the only dreadful maths teacher at my school. There was another called Sinclair. He was an impossibly pompous man who spoke as if he had grown up in a Palace and thought himself deserving of Royal status. His every word seemed to be "looking down" on the person he spoke to. However, that was not what bothered me about him. It was his habit of not being in the class when he was supposed to be. This "teacher" would show up late, at class, then order us to do exercise so and so in the book - without, note, him doing any teaching of the material, or explanation of it, in any way - then he would WALK OUT OF THE CLASS AND NOT RETURN. He was always doing that. He spent more time out of our class than in it, during our lessons. I don't recall learning anything from him, all year.

There is more I could say on the subject of the maths "teaching" in my school, but it can easily be summed up with two words: incompetent and negligent. Yet, this was supposedly a good school. God knows, then, what the bad ones are like.

In working with Ainan I realize that none of my maths teachers actually taught maths. Not a one of them. Maths is straightforward, once explained properly. It is actually a much simpler subject than the sciences, in my opinion. Yet, in my school we had rubbish maths teachers and good science teachers (well, some of them). This made sciences much the easier subjects, when I don't think that this is naturally so.

I will write more on these matters in other posts, another time.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at:
Ainan's IMDB listing is at
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:36 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Valentine,

Here's something to reflect on.


11:22 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for the link. It is rather shocking...because the future of the UK is going to be built on these children, one day. I suggest that everyone should read the link.

Well, at least I can say my science teachers were generally good. I think that most of them were in teaching for the right reasons: because they really wanted to be. So, I suppose I was lucky in that sense (despite the shortcomings among my maths teachers).

Thanks for the link. Actually it ties in nicely with research at KING'S COLLEGE LONDON, showing a roughly a quarter decline in the average intellectual function of eleven/twelve year olds over the last fifteen years (I referenced it elsewhere on my blog). Basically, Britain is getting dumber...

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what kind and level of maths is ainan studying now?

1:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

its funny how you say maths is straightforward and much more simpler than science considering almost all of science is maths.. which brings me to this funny but true comic ..

1:36 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Ainan is doing the kind of maths involved in his degree courses. He is also covering the A level maths material, too. His maths was not as developed as his physical sciences, so we are doing some background work.


8:19 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Re. science is maths.

No. It is not. There is so much to science than just maths, which is why some mathematicians don't have the same flair for science that they have for maths (and vice versa).

Science uses maths as a tool. Nothing more.

Thanks for your comment.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what are your thoughts on physics trained professors teaching finance?
(at the university level)

4:56 PM  
Blogger Terra Shamil said...

I agree that math isn't taught properly, and that generally most math teachers don't know what they're doing. My grandfather taught math years ago as a high school math teacher, and he said basically the same thing. He was one of the very few people I knew that could help me with math and explain it to me, since he didn't simply memorize.

Also, here in the US most kids I know say they hate math, when I'm pretty sure that it simply isn't taught well enough to be understood, let alone to be liked. Even I sometimes don't see the use of math when I know there is one. Who knows if that'll change soon...

6:36 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Terra,

I rather wish every maths teacher took the trouble your grandfather did.

I would agree that it is just the poor teaching of the subject that puts people off. Taught well, maths is not only not difficult, but would be enjoyable too.

Thanks for your comment.

8:26 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape