From the UK, we have an interesting story this week about a 7-year-old boy with an intense interest in chemistry. Little Ainan walked and talked early (as many highly gifted children do) and then taught himself chemistry on the internet. Now his parents want him to go to university to study chemistry on that level. They are searching for a place that will take him, and are warning that the child will become very frustrated if he is denied the chance to do such advanced work. You can read the story here.
I don't know about the particular merits of this case. I know little Ainan needs a lot of challenge. I also know that universities are most wary of having him participate in labs (even a brilliant 7-year-old can have the coordination and concentration of a 7-year-old).
After reading enough of these stories, though, you start to notice certain throwaway comments that are in fact quite profound. For instance, the reporter feels the need to note that "Experts believe that the lack of a normal childhood can do irreparable long-term psychological damage."
Do they? What is a normal childhood anyway? I'm not sure I know anyone who feels they had one. Children who move around a lot because their parents are in the military, or are missionaries, don't have a normal childhood. Likewise, children who go to university at age 7 probably don't have a normal childhood either. But unless one believes that anyone who doesn't go to normal, local schools for grades K-12, has a perfectly normal family and normal activities, is suffering irreparable long term damage, it's hard to argue that a normal childhood is so important. Or else we're all damaged, which may be the case too.
(As a side note, I particularly enjoyed the list of child prodigies on the bottom who met a variety of fates. These two are right next to each other:
*Ruth Lawrence graduated from Oxford at the age of 13 with a first-class mathematics degree in 1985. She is now a maths professor in Israel, married with two children
*Terence Judd made his first appearance as a classical pianist at the age of 12, playing at the Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. At 22 he threw himself off Beachy Head, just before Christmas 1979.)