by PAULA DAVIES
WE are all used to children asking embarrassing questions at the wrong moment and in the wrong company. What would be your reaction!, however, if your six-year-old, seeing some Indians on the bus. asked you whether India was better off independent or as part of the British Empire?
"One day on another bus when he was five he asked in a loud voice why Hitler persecuted the Jews," added his mother. These are not the usual questions asked by small children but then Mark. now 10, is not a very usual child.
The sitting-room of his parents' small suburban house was crammed with his latest enthusiasms. No footballs or cricket bats here, no cop and robber outfits either, just hooks and more books. Eight hooks on music and musical instruments piled on one shelf testified to his newly-acquired skills as a violinist — his teacher is amazed at his progress. Other shelves held such choice offerings as "Teach Yourself Russian," Ditto German, Ditto Greek, even "Teach Yourself Electronic Computers."
"He doesn't like French at school," said his impressed but bewildered mother, "so he refused to borrow a book on that.
"We never realised that there was anything unusual about Mark," she continued. "He was the first child and we didn't know much about children anyway. I suppose it should have re[ lstered with me that it was a trifle strange for a one-year-old baby to concentrate on one toy for hours.
"At two he could operate the record player, and remember the words and tunes of popular songs. Later on, betwcen the ages of three and four, I knew he must he bright because he could read the small print in newspapers and. again at tour, he knew more about our solar system than I did. Beiere he went to school he used to watch the schools programmes on television— Junior Maths, Science and History—and it wasn't until he started school that problems began to crop up."
Mark went to the local primary school at five only to find out that he was expected to play. He thought he would find a school situation similar to the television schools pro-, grammes, not understanding that what he had been watching was deemed suitable only for much older children.
"He was bitterly disappointed," said his mother. "but I didn't realise it for some time. He had terrible stomach cramps and would pass out from the pain. He obviously hated school and he became a rebel and a real problem child, paying no attention to his teacher and not bothering with the other children.
"Quite honestly." she added sadly. "Mark doesn't like children. He much prefers the company of adults or even books. He won't even conic for a drive in the car without bringing a hook."
Given a copy of Pears Encyclopedia at six. Mark took it to school with him every day and just sat or stood around absorbed in it.
"Whenever I tried to get the teachers to help me with his problems they merely said that he was an odd child and how strange it was that he preferred to read than play. I'm no teacher," she said, but would have thought it was worth finding out why a child preferred to read a factual book with tiny print instead of just dismissing him as odd."
The second school she sent him to—another primary but this time a Catholic school run by nuns. because she thought they might be more sympathetic to his problemswas just as ineffective. "The headmistress told me he was anti-social—which 1 knew already—but then she said that they could not help him until he had learned to get on with other children and played with them properly.
"I didn't know what to do. My husband is a very practical man and he agreed with the schools. I puzzled over the problem. thinking at first that perhaps it was only due to shyness. until I remembered that he had never cared for the company of other children, never wanted to have a party or go to someone else's party, and I recalled all those other examples of his very early intelligence.
"But the teachers would never accept that Mark might he over-intelligent. He couldn't draw or paint well. Even now he cannot draw a straight line with a ruler. His writing is shocking and he is very clumsy with his hands. He used to be told how stupid he was be cause he could not do up his buttons."
Mark is at a third school now, a Catholic prep school, which has turned out to be more successful than the others. but only by a small margin. "He doesn't shine at school," said his mother. "He is very diffident and hardly even opens his mouth." Perhaps he is better off keeping quiet? His mother told me of the incident in an algebra class when Mark found that the problem shown on the blackboard had a simpler. quicker and more logical solu
tion which he. had worked out in his head. The teacher was angry and told him to write the problem in his book and work it out according to the formula on the blackboard.
"It is the same with geography," his mother added, wearily. "At school he won't he bothered with India and its capital. trading, climate and so on because he is bored by it. Instead he comes home. gets out a hook on the subject and delves into it thoroughly, finding out about the origins of India, its religions, its people and customs before bothering with what he obviously regards as factual trimmings.
"Although he is happier than he was, he will still opt out if a subject bores him and he still won't be bothered to write properly. I think the headmaster thought he was getting a pocket genius in Mark, but he won't and he can't unless Mark is stimulated and interested."
Pocket genius or no, Mark has an I.Q. of 151 and is one of those problem children for whom the National Association of Gifted Children was founded to help. "It wasn't until I saw a-television programme about these children," said Mark's mother, "that I realised other parents had problems similar to our own.
"I got in touch with the association, who arranged for Mark to have an I.Q. test and then helped us in all sorts of ways. It's strange that at school Mark can still be described as weak in maths and yet a scientist at one of the activities days run by the association told me that he had never met a child so young with such a facility for numbers.
"As a result one doesn't know what his school future will be. It worries me very much. In some ways Mark is very rewarding, but in other ways I would rather we just had an ordinary, intelligent boy. not a head-in-the-clouds intellectual."
'Catholic artists' exhibition
APHOTOGRAPHIC exhibition of work by members of the Society of Catholic Artists opened on Tuesday at St. Oswald's Studios, Sedlescombe Road, London, S.W.6
Exhibiting artists include Dunstan Pruden (silversmith),
Michael Clark, Michael Noakes and Francis Pollen. Membership of the society is open to professional and non professional artists, including architects, stained glass artists, silversmiths, weavers, sculptors, glass engravers and pot
, ters, as well as painters and graphic designers.