Sometimes, the world thinks strange things
about the parents of gifted children, particularly prodigious children. I would
like you to imagine what you would think, if you were a University
administrator, and someone you didn't know wrote to you about their child – say
8 to 12 years old – and asked about whether the University would accept them,
on a degree course – and pointed out that they were already on a degree program
elsewhere. What would you think? Be honest.
I have had this experience. I have written
to Universities enquiring about whether they would accept my child prodigy son
onto their courses, giving them some detail of his achievements. Indeed, I once
wrote to the American University of Beirut, Lebanon and asked them that very
question. The reason I did so, is I was looking for somewhere for Ainan to
continue his studies, at tertiary level. At the time, he was already doing
tertiary studies somewhere, but we were considering where he might go for his
next step after that. The reason I looked at AUB is because it is the only
place I found that offers a full range of American style education, outside of
the United States. Not only that, but we know people in that city – and the
University states, on its website, that it “supports gifted students”...whatever
Can you guess how their admissions office
responded to this attempt at contact? Give it your best shot.
The answer is they didn’t reply at all –
despite me writing to them twice, over a five or six week period. Given their
long silence after the first attempt to contact them, I assumed they thought I
was joking, and so, in my second email, I gave them more details about Ainan’s achievements
and needs – and actually said, “This is not a joke. It is a serious admissions
enquiry”. Again, no reply was ever received.
Now, I talked this over with my wife and
from their silence to what should be a very interesting enquiry, we concluded
that the American University of Beirut admissions staff believed one of two
things: either that we were joking, or that we were mad. If they at all
believed that we were in any way serious or truthful, they would have replied,
probably quite quickly.
This kind of situation is a definite
problem for the parents of prodigious children. The difficulty is that
prodigious children are rare enough such that many academic administrators and
professors, have never met one in their field, in the course of their careers.
Being unacquainted with prodigies and unfamiliar with what they are able to do,
it is quite easy for them, therefore, to doubt the parents, when they are contacted
by them. We had that problem, too, long ago, in Singapore, when we first tried to
alert the education system to Ainan’s particular gifts, when he was six years
old. Their response was not to take our word for it, but to subject Ainan to a
several months long assessment and testing period. The Vice-Principal of his
school actually SCOFFED at us, when we told him about our son’s gifts, saying,
in reference to the tests to come, “We’ll
soon see about his so-called giftedness.” I thought their response was bizarre.
Rather than give the parents the benefit of the doubt, they assumed, immediately,
that the parents were wrong – and set about not to prove them right, but to try
to prove them wrong. It was a very unsettling response to witness.
So, again, with the American University of
Beirut, I saw this strangeness in their non-response. If they gave us any
credit at all, they would have replied, but they didn’t. Thus, it seems they
assumed that we were either lying, joking, or just plain bonkers. This, of
course, tells me a lot about them. It says that the American University of
Beirut had probably never had a child prodigy, in living memory, certainly not
one as young and accomplished as Ainan is, for his age. They just didn’t believe
This is all very telling and may explain
something that I have observed, in the lives of the child prodigies I have
become personally acquainted with either directly, or via correspondence. All
the ones we have been in contact with, have eventually ended up in the United
States for their education. That is right: they all follow the pattern of
trying to find local solutions to the problem of educating their child, but ultimately,
they end up in the United States. Why do they do this, you might wonder? Well,
the American University of Beirut provides an answer: they do this, because
they get stonewalled elsewhere. They are either ignored by Universities, or “given
the run around”, in their own countries and others they try, nearby, so
eventually they give up trying to find a local education – and they try the
United States. The USA, on the other hand, usually says “yes, please”, to such
children – and so the families relocate for the education of their children.
We, personally, know three cases of Asian prodigious children, who have
emigrated to the United States, for a tertiary education. We don’t, personally,
know of any others who have stayed in their home countries, for such an
education. (As you probably know, we left Singapore for Malaysia, at the behest
of a University place for our son, here.)
The United States is very familiar with
coping with prodigious children. It is a highly populated country, so there are
quite a few prodigious children across the nation. The Universities there are
accustomed to accepting the occasional child onto their programs. In fact, some
American Universities seem specifically prepared to do so. The USA is open to
prodigious children in a way that many countries are not.
We have also contacted American
Universities about Ainan, over the years. Every single American University
replied to us, with positive interest – and usually quite quickly. Even
prestigious Universities responded with prompt interest. This is in sharp
contrast to the silence of the American University of Beirut, and some
Universities in Asia (tactfully unnamed, for reasons of discretion – since we
are still in Asia).
So, should you be the parent of a
prodigiously gifted child, or know such a parent, I would urge you (or them) to
be aware that not everyone will greet your requests on the behalf of your
child, with interest or enthusiasm. In quite a few countries, you will be
greeted with puzzlement, or disbelief – or even worse. That being said, there
are establishments that will take on such children – though you may have to
move countries or even continents to find them...after all, we did. Good luck.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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Labels: child genius, child prodigies are for real, comparative culture, Comparative Education, early admission to University, Perception, public awareness of prodigies