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 +

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Julia Gabriel Centre and age discrimination.

A few months ago, we enquired at the Julia Gabriel centre, here in Kuala Lumpur, as to whether our son, Tiarnan, four, could join a drama class. Now, those of who have read much of this blog, will know that Tiarnan is rather partial, instinctively, to the ways of an actor: he is a boy of much imagination, given to constructing alternate realities to play in. He has also been on TV, in a reality show, so he is comfortable before a camera. We thought, therefore, that he would benefit from a drama class. However, it was not to be.

The teacher at the Julia Gabriel centre was teaching a class of five year olds, supposedly introducing them to drama. Guess what she said on hearing that four year old Tiarnan was set to join the class? We had told them that he was bright, verbal and given to acting and that he had been on TV. So, just have a guess at what her response was.

Well, she refused to allow him to join the class, saying: “I wouldn’t know how to teach a four year old.”

Err…how dumb, for a teacher to say that, I thought. The only differences between Tiarnan at four and most children at five, is that Tiarnan is brighter, more verbal, more imaginative, more attentive and EASIER to teach. Apparently, this “teacher” didn’t know that there is a lot of individual variability between children and that age is not an effective guide as to behaviour or ability.

This response of the teacher, however, taught us something. It taught us that she would not be a suitable teacher for our son, anyway. No-one who knew so little about children as to dismiss a four year old, because they were not five, is just not suited to teaching our children anyway – or anyone’s children for that matter. Thus, when Tiarnan turns five, we would be unlikely to seek drama classes for him at the Julia Gabriel centre because he would probably end up in a class taught by just this particular dumb teacher. That would, most probably, be a waste of time.

This incident brought home to me, however, just how common the stereotyping of children by age is – and just how little understanding there is among, even teachers, about the intellectual variability of children. Age lockstep education is ALWAYS a bad idea, since it ALWAYS leads to underchallenged – or overchallenged children. The only type of education that makes sense, is education by ability, not by age. Sadly, the whole world’s education is done by age stereotyping, with very few exceptions.

Anyone who knew Tiarnan would know how dumb that teacher was to turn him down, without even meeting him, when he was more than capable of doing her class. Just this type of educational injustice is occurring all over the world, to millions of children, even as I write.

Let education be by ability and interest – and let age be nothing more than what it is: a number that increases in proportion to our time on this Earth – and nothing more.

Rather ridiculously, we were unable to find a drama class for Tiarnan, at four, anywhere in KL, that we knew of. Does the education system think that he learns more by NOT attending a class to match his interest? That is the effect of age discrimination. Perhaps, there would be wisdom in a law to ban age discrimination in education, just like there are laws in many parts of the world, to ban age discrimination in the work place. We would then see a world in which children ended up classes suited to their abilities, and not their ages and social stereotypes. I hope, one day, to see such a world. Tiarnan would be happier in such a world too.

We may have some time to wait…

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:49 PM 


Blogger Louis said...

I hope you don't let a dumb teacher deter you from finding creative ways to let Tiarnan continue exploring his drama interests. I'm sure there are resources online like videos or other helpful hints.

10:26 AM  

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