Education

‘Child Genius': Revenge of the Reality TV Producers, on New Competition Show

By Mark Walsh — January 05, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Putting children on reality competition shows is the latest trend in television. On Fox’s “MasterChef Junior,” pint-sized chefs slice and dice up some pretty appetizing dishes. On Lifetime’s “Project Runway: Threads,” kid fashion designers battle in the offshoot of the long-running fashion competition show “Project Runway.”

When it comes to more academic pursuits, “Jeopardy!” has long had its annual kids’ and teens’ tournaments. And the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee shows the pressure that young participants face.

Combine a little bit from each of those shows and you get “Child Genius,” a competition reality show that premieres Tuesday on Lifetime (10 p.m. Eastern time, 9 p.m. Central).

The show features 20 boys and girls ages 8 to 12, who are competing for a $100,000 college fund, as well as the title of Child Genius 2014. As with many reality shows on U.S. television, the concept is an import: The show is based on a popular British version of the same name.

But the U.S. contestants won’t have to know their British monarchs to succeed. Over eight episodes, the youngsters will be quizzed on two topics per week, including mathematics, spelling, geography, memory, the human body, U.S. presidents, vocabulary, current events, zoology, astronomy and space, inventions, literature and the arts, Earth science, and logic.

The show is not all about the rounds of questions, in the way that watching the National Spelling Bee can be quite tedious. No, this is a reality show, and that means the producers give us the back stories of a few of the contestants each week and tightly edit the drama of the competitive rounds.

Some of the little darlings come across as more likable than others. The tone is struck in the first moments of the premiere episode, when a mother notes that her daughter has “self-taught herself” in several subjects.

“Mom, ‘self-taught herself’ is redundant!” the child interjects.

Several of the children are home-schooled. All have parents who push them to study, perhaps to excess. The first episode is titled “I Am Not a Tiger Mommy,” which is based on a quote from the mother of 11-year-old Ryan, who seems to be just that.

An observer from the American Mensa Society notes that some of the parents of genius children are like “hovercraft—they leave ‘helicopter parents’ in the dust.”

The Mensa group is involved in the show, apparently in the selection of the contestants and in the questions. We learn the IQs of the children and many of the parents.

Among the other contestants highlighted in the first episode are 10-year-old Tanishq, who already has a high school diploma; Graham, also 10, who is a geography expert; and 12-year-old Vanya, a veteran of the National Spelling Bee whose father gave up golf to devote himself to coaching his daughter.

The first episode’s subjects are math and geography. In math, the contestants have to think on their feet to answer questions from moderator Leland Melvin, a former NASA astronaut, such as “Calculate 17 times 2, minus 25, times 5, divided by 3.” (The answer: 15.) Several contestants are eliminated at the end of the first round. In a modern American tradition, they receive “certificates of achievement” for their participation.

One young contestant chides the show from the lectern by asserting that “addition was not on the sample” questions. Her parents shake their heads in horror.

“Child Genius” may have noble intentions—to highlight youth smarts and to award scholarship money. But as long as reality TV show producers are in charge, we are bound to get more delicious and subversive moments like that one.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP