Magazine article The Spectator

Nature's Wonders

Magazine article The Spectator

Nature's Wonders

Article excerpt

The other day Boy sat the scholarship for possibly the most gorgeously wonderful prep school in the land, where the teaching is so inspiring, the headmaster so charming and the general aura of happiness so palpable it makes you want to weep -- especially when you realise that, even if your lad got the 25 per cent reduction, you still couldn't afford it anyway.

Maybe at the back of our minds was the idea that the school would decide Boy was so unutterably brilliant they'd go, 'Look.

Never mind the fees. Your child is a wonder of nature. How much do you want?

Fifty grand do you? A hundred?' I expect there are quite a few straitened middleclass parents out there who harbour similar thoughts about their offspring. But these delusions wouldn't have survived a viewing of Child Genius (Channel 4, Thursday).

This documentary series is going to follow the progress over the years of ten gifted children. To qualify as 'gifted' a child needs to be in the top 2 per cent intellectually, though the ones here were miles more rarefied than that. At least two of them had IQ levels of 170. One was admitted to the Royal Academy of Music aged six.

Another -- did I hear this aright? -- was reading at four and a half months.

Another, aged 11, spoke (supposedly) seven languages including old Norse (yeah, really? Not even Oxford dons can do that) and Mandarin, and cooked gag-inducingly pretentious cuisine like undercooked pigeon in mediaeval sauce. All of them were scarily, freakily, nauseatingly bright.

What you quickly realised is that having a genius kid isn't the path to joy and ease you imagined it would be. Even when they get scholarships to great schools they are resented by their classmates, and are too often cocky and disruptive. Worse, when you arrive home knackered from work, you then have to spend several more gruelling hours tutoring your wunderkind in advanced chemistry, further maths or chess. Otherwise their superpowerful brains grow restive and they trash your home and try to kill their younger siblings (whose lives have already been ruined because, thanks to brainbox, they grow up convinced they're thick).

Not all of the children were ghastly. I warmed greatly to ten-year-old chess prodigy Peter, who, asked what he planned to do if he didn't become world chess champion, replied that it wasn't worth thinking about because he'd already calculated his odds of failure -- five in a million. …

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