The Young Scientists: America's Future and the Winning of the Westinghouse

By Joseph Berger | Go to book overview
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Chapter Eleven
The Right Stuff

I've always been very curious about the world, and I can't understand how someone is not curious.

—Jenny-Yi Lin, a 1989 Westinghouse winner

The brain is like a muscle. The more you work it, the more you exercise it.

—Divya Chander, a 1989 Westinghouse winner

There is a popular myth that youngsters who can handle the advanced thinking required by a Westinghouse practically emerged from the womb reading sentences and adding numbers and by the time they started first grade they were comfortable with Newtonian physics. But remarks like Jenny's and Divya's suggest that something far less magical, and more manageable, may be at work.

Yes, there are some children who almost fit the popular stereotype. Christopher Skinner, the first-place winner in 1989, did know his multiplication tables by the time he started first grade, though a very good Montessori program and a mother who read to him as she rocked him in the cradle did not hurt. Still, the surprising revelation from interviews with dozens of Westinghouse winners and some of their parents is that most winners displayed no particular signs of precocity. They learned to read and to do simple arithmetic in school, just as their more ordinary classmates did.

If they did manifest any precocity it was in such qualities as curiosity, enthusiasm, diligence, discipline, and an appetite for exploration, not in the breadth of their knowledge or the intricacy of

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