From the archive
Not long after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, in 1957, New York City’s Department of Education concluded that one impediment to keeping up with the Russians was eighth grade. It identified thirty-six Queens elementary-school students with an aptitude for science and placed them in an accelerated program, in which the three years of junior high were compressed to two. Bill Chin, who was a member of the group, said recently, “I guess the basic notion is a sociological one—whether you can track folks and put them on a path and get what you want. And the answer, of course, is no.” Despite the special attention, Chin said, only a few of his classmates grew up to be scientists. One reason might well be the well-known difficulty in forcing teen-agers to do anything. Another might be the fourth law of thermodynamics—the attorney-entropy principle—which states that ambitious, intelligent young people who can’t decide what to do for a living decompose into lawyers.