I thought the TV show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” was pretty intimidating. Who remembers the year Paul Revere rode his horse waving a lantern, anyway? But watching a season of “Child Genius” made me want to buy a one-way ticket to Stupidsville.
Based on a British show, dubbed by one reviewer as “the cruelest reality tv show ever”, twenty uber-smart kidlets, aged 8-12 came to So.Cal to compete in a contest to be crowned kid-genius and win 100K towards their college fund (one 12 year old was already in college on a scholarship—but he didn’t win anyway–and no, he wasn’t my grandson).
For eight weeks, these little Einsteins crammed their brains with everything from the Human Body and U.S. Presidents to, Zoology, Astronomy and Logic. It was fascinating.
I gave up trying to play along early in the first episode. This wasn’t Jeopardy and I’m no Mensa member. Heck, I’m proud when I pass the first level of Brain Games on my Kindle.
However, it did surprise me to see the types of questions that threw them for a loop. For instance, in the spelling challenge, one genius misspelled the word accumulate, yet breezed through a word like dehydroepiandrosterone (it’s a type of human hormone…just in case you were wondering). For one fleeting moment, I felt there was a chance I actually was a wee bit smarter than a 5th grader. It didn’t last long—next came the math segment.
They threw out questions like “multiply 124 by 14, subtract 86 and multiply by 8, and finally divide by 2”. Of course, the kids had to figure out the answer, in their head, in a nano-second. I could put the show on pause, get out paper, pencil, calculator, set a timer for thirty minutes and still be lucky to get within a foot of the answer. Math has never been my strong suit—especially story problems. To this day, Garth, my former math teacher hubby, still can’t get me to understand how many revolutions a car’s tires will make if it travels at 63 miles per hour as it passes through Poughkeepsie. Seriously, do I really care? Does anyone?
Watching the kids study was almost as much fun as watching the parents trying to help (and sometimes hinder) their progress. One little charmer quipped, "My daddy is not as smart as I am, because he has a 135 IQ, and I have a 146." My kids would have felt the wrath of Mommy Dearest with a smart-alecky remark like that. Little Charmer’s dad just shrugged in resignation. Wimp.
Some online reviews tagged the parents “Tiger Moms, Eagle Dads and Lunatics”. Teeth bared and ready for battle, growling grown-ups cajoled, insulted and even argued with the judges to help their darlings grab the coveted title. Interestingly, Child Genius was broadcast immediately following Dance Moms. Now those are some real lunatic Tiger Moms. They could have passed along some tips.
I think I’m glad my kids weren’t geniuses. Helping with their homework would have been a joke and I would have missed out on offering motherly pearls of wisdom when they were having an adolescent crisis. Still, knowing how many revolutions my car tires needed to make before I got to the supermarket when the milk ran out in the middle of cooking breakfast might have made my life a bit easier.