Saturday, September 05, 2009

Smart Kids, Depictions of

I have a near lifelong grievance with television depictions of intellectually gifted children. Leaving aside the frequent assumption that such children are always desperate to be "normal", what really galls me is the lazy, unthinking depiction of such children and teenagers as loving school. No exceptions--they all love it, just LOVE it! I guess that's why these hyper-intelligent TV children all do loads and loads of studying so that they can get their good grades! (Yeah, right; as a bumpersticker I once saw says, "My dog was student of the year at the local government school.")

In real life intellectually gifted children often despise school, because they are bored there. Hideously, hideously bored. A topic is introduced, said child grasps it, and then has to sit through days of having it expounded upon. Child's reading level is twelfth grade, child still has to suffer through the same fourth grade reading materials as everyone else. Child is ready for deeper explanations of causes behind historical events, child gets the same simplistic summing-up and "memorize this date" as the other children. Elementary school vocabulary tests give him words he picked up on his own a year or two before, and high school literature class has him read books he read on his own several years before. Result? Child spends the better part of twelve years bored out of his skull.

But for some reason smart children on TV always love going to school and have to do lots of studying, else how would they get those As.

I always used to think I wanted to see a depiction of just one highly intelligent child who didn't like school--just one. Still hasn't happened as far as television goes (the closest would be Malcolm in the Middle, but I never got the sense the eponymous character hated school, only hated being put into the gifted program--filled, needless to say, with kids who love school, just LOVE it), but last year it finally happened in another category of popular media--comic strips.

The new-to-me strip Frazz (launch date 2001) is named for a janitor-songwriter character who looks suspiciously like a grown-up Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) and features a highly intelligent child character who looks suspiciously like an eight year-old, black Calvin. Caulfield is refreshing because, as any thinking person who isn't a sitcom writer would expect of such a child, he is bored in school. He whiles away the time with drawing the Mona Lisa in his standardized test score capsules and pulling stunts on people, such as giving his race as "Callipygian", something I swear I'm going to start doing! Luckily for him, he has Frazz to talk to and play with.

Glad as I was finally to see a character like Caulfield, I find I just don't like the strip much. I put it on my daily read list (morning means news headlines and two to three comic strips) but soon took it off. There's too much about Frazz's exercise hobbies (he's a cyclist, like Calvin's dad) and it sometimes seems as if there's a moral superiority vibe coming off the strip, directed downward to people who don't exercise. I don't think I'm imagining it, but even if I am, in my non-exercising (yet still callipygian!) inferiority, deluded, the fact still remains that I'd rather be reading about Caulfield than Frazz's exercise routine. Still, I give the author, Jeff Mallett, credit for doing something new with his strip.

More later about another new (once again, only new to me) comic strip I like.

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