Over the past few years here at Gifted Exchange, we've written a few times about "child prodigy" shows, when TV hosts like Ellen or Oprah bring on kids who do what are billed as amazing things. These often involve memorizing a high volume of information, like which US president did what, or lists of famous quotes.
I'm not sure how it's become a broadly held notion that intelligence in children is defined by the ability to memorize things and do quick recall, but I guess this is what makes for good television. All of these kids are, of course, bright, but children in general like to memorize things like the names of all the Thomas the Tank Engine characters or the names of dinosaurs. It helps them make sense of the world and given that they don't have to stuff their brains with other questions (like "did I remember to pay the mortgage?"), many can do it quite well. If you've got parents who want to promote the kid, then you've got a TV segment, though it may not be showing quite what everyone thinks it does.
It was particularly eerie in one of the Oprah episodes I watched, in which a young girl who could recite famous quotes was asked about her favorite quote from Oprah. She gave the quote, then said at the end "Oprah Winfrey." Since she was speaking to Oprah, this made very little sense to give the name of the speaker. But this is how she had memorized everything (quote, then name of person who said the quote), so she stayed true to form, rather than changing to take account of the current situation (which is probably a better measure of intelligence).
Anyway, this television tendency will now get a new breath of life with the new Fox show, premiering next week, called "Our Little Genius." In it, children pulled from gifted programs will answer increasingly difficult trivia questions to win money. Their parents have the option to have them stop at any given point if they decide that's enough winnings. The show's creator, Mark Burnett, told the New York Times that “I love that we’re shining a light on these academic geniuses... So much light is shined on gymnasts, football players, singers and actors. It’s not often that you get a light shined on academics.”
This is definitely true. However, I wish we would recognize that this is a certain kind of academics. For game shows to work, there has to be a right answer. So you get questions like "Who was the Roman god of war?" for which you can study and cough up the right answer. You don't get more interesting questions like "why might a culture have a god of war?" or "how might it change a culture to move from a pantheon of gods to one god?" which actually test a person's ability to draw on different bits of information and reach a new conclusion. If you had a show in which a 7-year-old discussed those questions, I'd definitely watch it. But since there's no right answer, it would be hard to dole out $500,000 in front of a studio audience. And the ratings would probably stink.