The supposed drawbacks of being a child prodigy

The supposed drawbacks of being a child prodigy

Recently there was an article in the Daily Mail about a 14 year-old violinist named Chloe Hanslip.  (People despise the Daily Mail but I find it more informative about the modern ideology than the more pretentious papers.)  The article is headed ‘The Price of Being a Genius – the story of Chloe Hanslip is one of enormous sacrifice by her family  - and herself.’  It is difficult to see what is sacrificial about it.  The price being paid is certainly far less than the price of being prevented from being a genius, if you are one, as paid by me and my parents. 

Chloe’s musical education is being paid for by her parents, thus keeping her out of the clutches of the British educational system and sparing everyone the suffering and conflict which arose, in my case, from contact with the local educational establishment.  Nobody is suffering emotionally at all.  Chloe says, ‘I love my life’, something I would never had said at her age, having just been prevented from taking the School Certificate exam and viewing my future with the gravest misgivings.  A year or so later I might have said I was suffering the torments of the damned, and meant it, because the only equivalent I could find to the depth of my unhappiness was in a short story about someone who had sold his soul to the devil and was awaiting the hour when the completion of the contract would fall due.  But, I reflected, the difference was that I had not consented to the sale and had received nothing in exchange.

So what are the sacrifices exactly?  She is getting a suitable education for someone of her outstanding ability, and is unlikely to be debarred from the sort of career to which is suited.  It is rather a strain on her parent’s finances.  Her father has to do some shopping when she and her mother are abroad, and their television is rather old, so it could be said that they are paying a certain price in money.

But my parents and I all paid in money much more highly for the socially engineered ruin of my prospects in life.  When my father’s health broke down he had to retire early without even a proper pension, and I had no tolerable way of earning money at all, since I had no way of making an academic career which was the only sort of career I could have.  So I was most bitterly caught between my need for money to purchase the conditions of  an acceptable intellectual life (which are provided free of charge by colleges for resident Fellows) and the fact that I had no way of making money at all.  The only jobs open to me were so damaging that I had to give them up as soon as possible (as someone with claustrophobia might have to, if the only job for which society considered him eligible was coalmining).  Investment might be a possible way of making money, but as yet I had no capital.  

Contrast between paying something in money for a positive and possibly lucrative future, and paying in both money and suffering for ruined lives devoid of opportunity.