In last night’s edition of Horizon, David Baddiel, comedian, presenter and father of two, set out to answer one of the – arguably – biggest questions a parent can ask; how best to educate your child… so I’m not sure why they didn’t title the programme along those lines rather than “Who Do You Want Your Child To Be?” which would’ve suggested to me – had I not read the ‘blurb’ – that the programme was probably something to do with genetic selection and fiddling about at embryonic stage, however, I digress…
Taking in the latest scientific research, David uncovered some unconventional approaches to this issue; from the parent ‘hot-hosing’ his child to record-breaking feats of maths, to a school that pays cash for good grades.
David witnessed a “ground-breaking experiment” that suggested a child’s destiny can be predicted at the age of four, and we heard how three little words “can ruin a child’s chance of success for good” and those words are, “You’re so clever”.
However, while the scientific stuff was marginally interesting – though at times, in my opinion, total bullocks – what was infinitely more interesting was hearing the history of David’s own family. He’s one of three brothers, and in one scene last night, we met David’s younger brother Dan, who’s a cab driver in New York and seemingly not “of an academic bent”.
The purpose of meeting Dan one assumes was to somehow shock us viewers that a famous person could have a brother who’s a cab driver and not only that, he lives in America! And I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that the shock factor was quite well done actually!
In terms of education – which seemed to be the main reason why Dan was included in the programme, other than his being David’s brother – Dan’s was an unenviable one during which, at secondary school, he witnessed two arson attacks at his school and a stabbing. But as bad as this school evidently was, Dan reckoned his primary school career was to blame for the fact he now sweats out his days on the roads of the Big Apple.
There were 36 children in his primary school class and, according to Dan, “I don’t remember ever getting anything that didn’t have a three in front.”
“So you were always in the last six” said David, to clarify the “three in front” thing I presume.
However, David evidently was blessed with an ‘academic bent’ and was chuffed to be told by Dr Whitebread – oh how I wish he was a baker… the fun to be had – a Cambridge psychologist, “You’ll be interested to know that the occupational group that always comes out with the highest IQ are stand up comedians.”
We heard too how David’s father had “drummed the periodical table” into him with the hope that he’d be enamoured of science as a career, but when David announced that he wanted to do A Level Arts, his dad said it would be “a waste of a brain” to do so. Clearly Daddy Baddiel had never had a natter with Dr Whitebread, who I still wish at least worked in a supermarket or something, or was maybe a nutritionist if he insisted on going around being a doctor.
However, despite Mr Baddiel Snr’s concerns about brain wasting, he ended up leaving the world of scientific goings on to sell Dinky toys, for, one would imagine, a lot less of a salary than David gets, so maybe the A Level in Arts wasn’t such a waste of a brain after all.
Now, onto the scientific findings which frankly – for me anyway – were primarily secondary to the interesting story of David and his family, as well as totally unbelievable in most cases. We were told that newborn babies can apparently do rudimentary maths, dyslexia is nothing to do with reading or indeed anything sight related but is in fact about “differentiating sounds” and if you want to ruin your kid’s life, tell him or her that they’re clever.
And if you want to see how academically gifted your infant is, test out how long they can resist eating a marshmallow… rightttttttttt.
So after all this investigating and being subjected to relatively lengthy discourses on the merits of marshmallow resisting, David came to the conclusion that the majority of us parents do too; he just wants his kids to be happy, end of, irrespective of what they end up doing for a living.
This was diametrically opposed to the opinion of one of the fathers David met who had two young sons who are apparently “maths prodigies”. Daddy wants them to become “city actuaries” and anything less than earning millions while doing so would be intolerable failure. No pressure then kids…
And apropos of money, we heard how paying kids to do well in school is a really good plan. David learned this at an American inner-city school where a Harvard economist was trying to show the less motivated kids that working hard at their studies, regularly attending school and behaving well brings a monetary reward.
Early indications were that his plan was working but we also heard that statistically, one in three of the black boys at that school were going to be in prison in seven years time, regardless of their academic record of achievement or non-achievement.
All in all, the science and experimental bits varied from downright silly to marginally interesting, but I was left with more of a memory about David and his family than the statistics and data we were given and shown. And for that, it was a fun show!