Child genius or just pushed a lot?


Channel 4’s series Child Genius gives an interesting behind the scenes look at how parents prepare their children for the Child Genius competition.

Taken as read is that all the children involved have above average ability or at least if you didn’t see the behind the scenes work you would assume that was the case. However, it’s far from clear cut given the sheer quantity of work that some of their parents put into their children. With the level of work that some of the parents have been putting in, even an average child could be expected to perform quite well.

For example, take the spelling tests. Yes, it will certainly help to have a great memory, but in reality a lot of the spelling of the words comes down to rote learning of the “big words” in the dictionary. Moreover, you can concentrate on those words with irregular spellings as those following the rules are easy to spell. Granted, it would be quite a boring task to learn those words in isolation but it doesn’t require a genius to do it nor is it necessarily a test of genius to do it.

The maths tests surely require genius, don’t they? Well, if they were maths, they might do but they aren’t maths – they are purely arithmetical tests. Therefore, genius isn’t required. What is required, in some cases, is an ability to calculate quickly in one’s head which is a combination of practice and knowledge of the various tricks to simplify calculations.

Surely it’s clear that, say, the pianist is a genius? Well, no, that’s not clear either. What is clear is that he’s put an awful lot of time into practising his music but it’s not clear that an average child couldn’t do the same if they devoted a similar amount of time to the task.

However, the craziest parents are the two psychologists who seem to be devoting their lives to two to one extremely intensive tutoring. On the assumption that the psychological methods they are using actually work, then applying them at that intensity to pretty much any child would easily get them into the competition. Their tutoring appears to be so intense that it raises the question as to whether their daughter would be able to cope in a normal teaching environment.

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