If I was producing Child Genius (Channel 4, Tuesdays, 9pm), I’d do it differently. The format is clever kids answering questions that would fox Einstein. “What’s the square root of Piccadilly Circus?” Etc. Now, what I’d do is enter one less academically gifted – and ask them absurdly easy questions. “How many fingers am I holding up?” etc. Imagine the fury of the other parents as Gary McCarthy gets through to the final after being asked to hum the theme tune to Postman Pat. I have a low opinion of children’s talent trials after being made to perform in umpteen piano contests as a nipper. I lost about 90 per cent of them. I think I might have won a Bach fugue marathon because the piano lid fell on a girl’s fingers.
The problem is that a child’s intelligence simply isn’t as interesting as an adult’s. It’s a novel performance, not a display of intellect – no different to a sheepdog trial. The children in said programme are smart and endearing. But they are just children. Some of the parents understand that distinction and treat it like a nice hobby. Others turn weird.
Take the Italian dad whose tough-love parenting could be construed as bullying. At one point he even urged his son to put other contestants off by making loud noises. As education methods go, I’m as conservative as the next man called Michael Gove. But teachers should always ask themselves this: “Will this child look back on this moment with joy and pride?” If they look back on it from a padded cell – rocking back and forth, muttering the Periodic Table – then you’ve failed them.
What is the real difference between Child Genius and a kid’s beauty pageant? Little, I’d wager. Both are about acting like adults for the pleasure of adults. Some kids are, of course, wise beyond their years. I just hope that when they’ve won their trophy, they get to be children for a bit. Go wild. Rebel. Disappoint mum and dad. It’s all part of growing up.
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