Watching Mark Dolan’s documentary last night about child prodigies, I was first and foremost struck by the weirdness of everyone on the programme, the children and Mark included.
Ultimately, this show was all about Mark trying to prove or disprove the claims of those who say their children are prodigies, and it was tedious. There was no real investigative journalism here; merely a rather protracted show-and-tell that spanned the globe and looked at small children with huge intellects as though they were bugs in a jar…
In Seattle Mark met a ten year old literary genius, Adora Svitak, who was the most ‘normal’ of the three prodigies he encountered. She’s written over 400 short stories, has already published a novel and is in big demand as a guest speaker at corporate events, earning up to $10,000 at a time.
She also teaches other children via video conferences and earns $300 a time doing so. She reads at speeds that mere mortals probably couldn’t keep up with and speaks rapidly and confidently too. Her ambition is to work for Microsoft and they are extremely keen to help her out there.
Adora’s mum arranges her daughter’s extremely busy schedule which sees the child with an appointment or something to do pretty much all day and a good deal of the evening too. All in all, the family – apart from all being pretty brilliant in their own right – was relatively ordinary.
However, Mark then met nine year old Adi Putra in Malaysia. As well as being a maths prodigy, Adi is also a mini industry and all the adults in his immediate world are making every penny out of him that they can. His ‘manager’ claims Adi has sixth sense, speaks eight languages and ‘dreams’ up ideas for his ‘businesses’. One of those businesses was being the face of ‘brain food’ supplements which are sold all over Malaysia.
I felt that Mark gave this kid a hard time when he quizzed him about his ‘ideas’ and businesses. Clearly the child had been coached to appear as the driving force behind the Adi Putra industry and as he sat behind a desk in a suit, he was totally out of his depth as Mark browbeat him about his true abilities.
Then we met the weirdest family of them all. In Singapore, Mark met with eight year old Ainan Celeste Cawley who is the world’s youngest holder of a chemistry O-level. His father claims that at two weeks old, Ainan began speaking. He says Ainan asked for water and told his mother and father when he needed a nappy change by saying ‘poo’ over and over until they changed him. Mark doubted this to be true but his father, Valentine, was insistent.
The thing that struck me about this child was that he was subdued and seemed to lack social skills. He didn’t find conversation with Mark easy and seemed ill equipped to participate in normal activities.
His father is a driven man and it seemed he was determined to drive Ainan too, to the exclusion of almost anything else.
So what did we learn from this documentary? There are child prodigies in the world and they’re worth money. And to be honest, that was it. The programme was tedious and I was losing the will to live by the end of it.
What did you think of it?