Sunday 6 March 2022

Nerd Church - Beethoven and Barbies: Smart Kid Characters From the Perspective of An Ex-Smart-Kid


Whenever someone's complaining about the attitudes of small children, and says something along the lines of:

well, you know what kids are like...


- my brain has a moment of confusion where it's like:

...Beethoven fans?


And then I realise that they don't mean that at all.

'Beethoven and Barbies: Smart Kid Characters From the Perspective of An Ex-Smart-Kid' written in white on a chalkboard background

I've made no secret of the fact that I was a weird, precocious, little kid.

At the age of six, I loved fine art and classical music and reading reading reading.

My parents had only the barest knowledge of classical music, and none of fine art. So it's safe to say it was a learning experience for them 😅

You know that meme that's like, 'you weren't gifted, you were just White and middle-class'?

F**k that meme.

I'm sure in many cases it stands true - educational racism and classism is 100% a thing.

But, aside from completely excluding neurodiverse kids from the narrative, reducing every 'gifted' child's schooling to an all-encompassing model negates the experiences of smart kids who are not supported by their educational systems.

I was so not supported by the system. I did not have the best schooling, opportunities, etc.

My infants school tried to help me out a bit by sending me to the junior school for some lessons, but then when I went up to the junior school, they pretty much accused me of lying when I said I already knew this sh**. 

And my secondary school sucked on a myriad of different levels.

I went to state schools in a partially-deprived area, in a poor country. It's a miracle I never turned to arson.

(...don't turn to arson. Arson is BAD. #ResponsibleAdult.)

Uber-smart kids are a staple of both literature and media.

But there were only ever a very few I could relate to.

Because, contrary to many people's beliefs, smart does not always mean rude. If I was rude my mother would've had something to say about it 😅

Neither does it always mean snooty. Or rich. Or, necessarily, someone who wears glasses.

And it doesn't always mean that Jimmy Neutron/Dexter's Laboratory vibe either -

both of whom could be rude and snooty af sometimes

 - a lone special-sauce White boy who's smart in the way that your average 10-year-old White boy imagines being smart (which mostly includes blowing sh** up.)

I found Malcolm from Malcolm in the Middle to be a little closer to relatable.

Malcolm was a weird-a** series though, plenty full of cynicism and blowing sh** up, and it kind of ditched the fact that Malcolm was supposed to be uber-smart more and more as the series went on - until the very end when it suddenly remembered again.

Also, mostly unrelated, but: I grew up watching Malcolm, and when I catch reruns now I'm like 'how has this dated so much?!' - it is peak 2000s in hair, clothes, decor, etc. 

And that's so weird to me - because you wouldn't even think the 2000s had a distinctive time and vibe, y'know? But then you put an episode of Malcolm and - wow.

(The theme song remains a bop though.)

Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) making a WTF face
Via Giphy

Malcolm as a character was more of an actual person, though, rather than a stereotype.

He had a family to deal with, a batpoop one which made the show about way, way, more than 'Malcolm is smart.' He had friends who were as smart as him but all had their own personalities and quirks.

And he had a school which 6000% did not know how to deal with smart kids. 

The 'gifted class' he was in was a joke, with their first teacher being way out of her depth, and their second teacher being pretty sadistic.

I had a teacher who wouldn't accept that I could, y'know, f**king read, and do my two times tables, so I totally know what it's like to have a teacher (...or several,) who don't know wtf to do with you.

Which brings us to Lisa Simpson

 - a character who struggles along in a poorly-funded state school with teachers who don't give it a sh** and dislike her independent thought and corrections of their mistakes.

...I related pretty damn hard.

Lisa Simpson, standing on a chair and surrounded by other students, including Bart: Whoo-hoo!
Via Giphy

And apart from anything else, Lisa's still a kid

She loves Bach and reads The Brothers Karamazov, but also plays with her Malibu Stacey dolls and loves ponies and unicorns.

For 6-year-old me, with my Beethoven and Barbies, Lisa was the sh**. 

(And she was Vegetarian! I grew up, and am still, Veggie - and I literally didn't know anyone except my family IRL who was.)

And of course, Matilda.

I know that I'm not the only smart and/or bookish child who was a super-fan of Matilda - the book more than the film, as nature intended (although the film's still awesome ofc.)

There's something about Matilda's view of the world - her adoration of books, her view on justice and fairness - that had me from page one.

(Brief but important side-note: Roald Dahl was pretty openly anti-Semitic, and that sucks. 

Matilda meant, and still means, a lot to me - as do most of his books - but nothing good comes from ignoring uncomfortable facts - only from facing them.)

And I used to love watching Smart Guy.

If you're not familiar - Smart Guy was a Disney Channel (at least, that's who showed it in the UK,) show about TJ Henderson, who ends up being moved several grades, and going to his brother and sister's high school instead of elementary school.

I related a lot to the experience of being in a school with people who were older than you - like I was when I went to the juniors for some lessons as an infants school kid. 

TJ Henderson (Tahj Mowry) hiding behind his hand in the cafeteria
Via Giphy

Even though I was closer in age to the people I was sharing those lessons with than TJ was to high-schoolers, it was still noticeable 

- the difference between six-year-old kids and nine-year-old kids is pretty obvious to begin with, and we had a different colour uniform to the junior school kids, so you could see me coming a mile away.

...And the junior school was my brother's school.

Much like TJ's siblings, he did not approve of his little sister popping up in his place 😅

Also, there was no way in hell TJ's family would've let him act like a rude little so-and-so.

...And I def. felt that!

Some kids like Beethoven and Barbies.

Support them, as much as you can, and not just in academics.

So... this post started in one direction and ended up in an entirely different one 😅

Were you a smart kid?

Are there any other smart kid (or adult) characters you'd like to hear my views on?

Talk to me! 😊💬

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  1. I was not a smart kid. I was in special ed classes until I was 12. The school thought I was learning disabled and wanted my parents to get me tested, but they never did. I loved Lisa and Matilda. My sister watched Malcolm in the Middle, but I don't think I ever saw an entire episode.

    1. My best friend as a kid was in the 'special needs' class - she was way smarter than anyone gave her credit for, and we totally confused the staff simply by being friends. <3

  2. I totally get your points, Cee. I was a bookish kid, though far from middle-class and I don't like the stereotype that all smart kids were rich. It gives us working class kids a disservice!

    1. We certainly weren't rich! We were kind of lower-middle-class - comfortable, but not able to splash out on a whim, y'know? (The British class system divides exponentially until everyone's in a precise hierarchy beyond the 3-tiered system... I'm tired and therefore talking like a Victorian dictionary again, sorry! Lol) My parents and grandparents all grew up working-class, and Wales is relatively poor in general - state schools do their best, but mine sucked.


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