With one new reality game show, gifted awareness has been set back as all the prevalent myths and stereotypes come to the forefront with Lifetime’s “Child Genius.”
Our anti-intellectual society will pat themselves on the back for believing that giftedness or worse, parenting gifted children, looks anything like what is portrayed on the show. The naysayers will rest assured that gifted kids are a manufactured product of nurture vs. nature and any parent can create a fact generating performer if they are willing to put in a little heavy lifting.
As a mom to a profoundly gifted prodigy and a gifted advocate, I am acutely aware of what giftedness is, and how many of us endowed with this incredible responsibility, parent our intellectually accelerated children utilizing a loving non-coercive peaceful approach.
As is the case with all reality shows, it is scripted, staged and edited to make certain people look like idiotic buffoons. In this case it is the parents that are spliced out of context to emulate helicopter tiger parents who are pushing their kids to the brink of performance perfection through overbearing, aggressive, controlling motivation. Or, maybe the production company scoured the U.S. in search of just such pushy, ridiculous, clueless parents as the families that are truly living with profoundly gifted children and intellectual prodigies wouldn’t partake in such a farce.
One parent on the show, who is not a Tiger Mom, likes to tell her well performing child, “You need to work harder. Practice, practice, practice.“
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect but, practice doesn’t make a genius. Creative thinking that pushes the envelope fueled by unrelenting self-directed motivation, drive and perfectionism just might.
While it is true that the parents knew what they were getting into on some level, and they were possibly guided by a combination of fame, bragging rights and money, their children may not have realized the magnitude of what this experience would be like. It is painful to witness these children under such pressure and then watch those that cannot perform on demand suffer the disapproval of their parents while they experience tearful damage to their self-esteem. But, hey, all this childish turmoil makes money.
From my perspective, the show is borderline child abuse; however, sensationalism doesn’t factor in the impact to a child’s psyche. It is entirely misrepresentative of what truly profoundly gifted children and geniuses are like. The show exploits the concept of giftedness and genius which, by the way, are not the same thing. Most children, no matter how brilliant they are, are not necessarily going to be eminent and contribute to society in a positive and meaningful way and therefore, it is entirely premature to coin them as geniuses. Even if a child who has attained a specific IQ number coincided with a certain view of the term genius, this show does nothing to emulate the nature of a genius, prodigy or profoundly gifted child. Genius is not quantifiable.
It is surprising that Mensa is involved in this exploitation of gifted children. They should know better than to perpetuate negative stereotypes about academic achievement equalling profound giftedness. The Mensa name conjurs up the idea of genius despite representing the top 2% versus the top .001%. Mensa gives credence to this portrayal of parents hothousing their children to make them look like academic scholars and mislabeling that genius. Shame on them.
This show, with its train wreck allure, is nothing more than an oral standardized bubble test akin to those that children are forced to take in school. The contestants are given a very specific set of information to memorize and regurgitate under an anxiety producing televised contest format. Most profoundly gifted children wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole as they have a built in disdain for performing like circus monkeys.
Profoundly gifted children and intellectual prodigies are not fueled by external acceptance but, rather, by an intrinsic desire to learn, create and question. This show conjures up a spelling bee format but extends this limited view of mental abilities to other prescribed areas of study. How well one can recall facts under timed, pressure filled circumstances demonstrates how well one can recall facts under timed, pressure filled circumstances. Got it? Nothing about that specifically trained, and possibly extraverted display of memory recall, relates to abstract, divergent thinking which is an inherent trait of the profoundly gifted.
Idiosyncratic, profoundly gifted children are usually highly creative, incredibly sensitive and unusually intense. They display verbal precocity, enjoy argument, spot inconsistencies and often espouse a dry wit and a staunchly independent mind. Rote memorization of disjointed, à la carte facts wouldn’t pique the interest of the most abstract thinkers. Divergent, out-of-the-box gifted children are rarely invested in knowing surface facts without depth and meaning. Being able to recite geography facts, human anatomy terms or the names of all the presidents in order is a memory stunt. It is a gimmick that Americans seem to be fascinated with but, it has nothing to do with profoundly gifted children and certainly does not emulate genius. Memory, while useful, doesn’t demonstrate abstract, higher order reasoning where the gifted mind lingers. Those with solid working memory are the ones that may breeze through school with high achievement accolades which serves a purpose but, again, doesn’t remotely equate to genius. While high academic achievement within the school context is perceived as a worthwhile accomplishment to the bulk of mainstream society, it is not necessarily indicative of incredibly high intellect–you know, the off-the-charts kind of of brilliance that is a closer match to the elusive genius.
“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of minds to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” – Einstein
Profoundly gifted children generally come complete with a wide variety of overexcitabilities, asynchronous development and quirks which are visually and energetically palpable. From what I have seen of the show, most of these kids are in-the-box schooled children who are accustomed to imposed curriculum memorization input and robotic output that is omnipresent in a schooling environment. The kids come across as relatively “normal” with dedicated, but perhaps misguided, parents who are pushing them to perform under high stakes hoping that they will win some scholarship money. The children seem pretty relatable which is rarely the case with highly asynchronous, profoundly gifted children and the parenting style, though a little too pushy, seems like a version of traditional dictatorship parenting. Profoundly gifted children are rarely relatable to the masses as they bring with them a cacophony of peculiar and intense mannerisms. They are often weird, intense and eccentric in the most confusing and enjoyable way.
Pushing profoundly gifted children into competition may not reap an optimal outcome. Forcing any child, in general, doesn’t represent respectful, democratic parenting. Since I am a radical unschooling parent to two outliers, and respect children as autonomous beings capable of making choices about their own lives, learning and well being, this type of show exascerbates troublesome, antiquated notions of parenting and education. I feel for the families who may not have realized what they have signed up for or those who may not understand what parenting profoundly gifted children can be like. Applying traditional, mainstream coercive parenting to an outlier is both suffocating and counterintuitive to the child’s development and innate need to become self-actualized.
The show is a memory and performance show and the only thing it does is foster psychologically damaging competition while further supporting the concept that in order for one to excel, another or others have to fail. Oh, how our culture loves to compete so we can feel better about ourselves when we win. Our society talks about the importance of collaboration and selflessness but we do nothing to foster it. We would rather measure, quantify, sort and reward our children for playing their part in this unhealthy paradigm of do as your told and make us proud. Afterall, how are we going to train them to be obedient rule followers if we lose control over them by allowing their individuality to come through.
Now, drink your water.
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” – Pearl S. Buck
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This blog is part of a blog hop on giftedness and reel life