Tuesday, November 20, 2007

University at Age 7, or a "Normal Childhood"

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.)


Anonymous said...

Actually the boy lives in Singapore...

Joyce said...

I find the bloggers' comments to the article more interesting than the article. 7 yr. old prodigies are "common" maybe one in 50,000 births (depending on your definition). What is interesting to me is not their existence (the article), but making a means to educate them available (the bloggers controversy). The poor parents have a lifetime ahead of them of fighting for a reasonable environment in which to educate their child. Every parent of such a child knows the seemingly individual battle they face throughout their child's life trying to find appropriate mentors, schools, friends, and activities for their child. It is not easy in our world for such parents. Society is not set up for such kids. THe parents are forced to create an environment they think is appropriate for their child. It is not easy. Their parents have to be as creative and exceptional as their child, in order to do it properly and well. Those who blithely say, "let the kid be a child" clearly have no clue. Children cannot be children in world which does not understand or appreciate their abilities. Childhood for them can be like being an alien in an alien world. The parents have to be smart, tough, and diligent. The survival of their child depends on it. THE common factor between all these prodigies? Not many. But one is: unusually dedicated parents. A prodigy ignored is a prodigy wasted. The world has no place for a prodigy, no path for him/her to follow. A parent must forge his own individual path for his child.

Anonymous said...

I think that people who say that attending University means trowing away the chilhood of a child prodigy, have the picture of a typical child in their minds.

Sending your average 12-year-old to University would indeed be saying goodbye to their childhood.

You see a picture of a child who needs to study 18 hours a day to keep up with the older students, and your first, reaction is: that's a cruel thingh to do to a child!

But prodigies don't need 18 hours to study to keep up with their college course.. i think.

Anonymous said...

Most universities like to see objective proof that an individual will succeed. If they are looking at schools in the United States it would make sense to have the child take the SAT. This will carry more weight than parental reports of test performance.

Anonymous said...

Joyce's comments, truthful as they are, made my heart swell. My daughter is only in Grade 2 so the road is a very long one for us yet.

Maybe that's a reason why more and more parents of gifted children choose home-schooling, so as to avoid having to overcome all those barriers erected by people who don't even care to understand, and to save the time, energy and resources for reallly assisting our children's pursuits of a meaningful education.

Anonymous said...

little ainan has more than parental reports to verify his prodigy status. His country's government has granted him chemistry prodigy status and his parents have exhausted the resources for gifted children in ainan's own country. He is getting ready to take his a-levels which is used like the sat in many countries in europe and is in fact acceptable for international student to universities in the US. It is in fact far more rigorous.