Children of Immigrants Have Way More Science Skills Than Kids With American-Born Parents

Filed under: In The News

Great in science? Are you parents immigrants? Credit: Getty

Don't believe a lot of what you hear about America falling behind in science education.

Many American students are brilliant in science. What's more, they are hard-working, industrious, competitive, innovative and many other time-honored American ideals.

Where did they get these ideals? From their foreign-born parents.

A reported released May 23 by the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy says America's best and brightest (at least in science) come from first-generation immigrant parents from China and India.

In fact, the San Jose Mercury News reports, two-thirds of the finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search -- which is basically the Nobel Prize of high school science -- came from immigrant homes.

Only 12 of 40 finalists had parents born in the United States.

"The benefit America derives from the children of immigrants in science and math is an additional advantage the country reaps from being open to talent from around the world," Stuart Anderson, the foundation's director, tells the Mercury News.

Your child may be on the honor roll in Toad Suck, Ark., but some of the immigrant kids in Silicon Valley may him look like a dribbling idiot. These kids' parents are often in the United States on H-1B visas based on their scientific expertise.

Put their kids together in a classroom and you have a group of junior mad scientists who are just one death ray away from global domination.

"You see it here in Silicon Valley. It's like planting a vigorous sapling and giving it Miracle-Gro," Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at the University of California's Berkeley's School of Information and a native of India, tells the Mercury News.

"Here you take the cream of the crop. Then put them in some of the best schools in the world," he adds. "These students are really, really competitive and work very hard, inspired by their parents and represent all the American ideals."

To be fair, the newspaper reports the winner of his year's competition was Evan O'Dorney, the home-schooled son of American-born parents. But all of his closest competitors came from Asian families.

Chinese immigrants make up only 1 percent -- and Indians 0.8 percent -- of the American population. So, if contest winners were demographically proportionate, the Mercury News reports, there would only be one child of an Indian or Chinese parent every 2.5 years instead of 10 in one year.

Wadhwa tells the newspaper immigrant parents naturally work a little harder and push their children a little more.

"The families are upper echelon," he says. "They leave their country at the top of the social ladder, then come here at the bottom. As an immigrant, you are treated differently, and you have to struggle, and work harder, to catch up again."

"They [kids] watch their parents work hard and struggle and then they gain the same motivation," he adds. "They seek to prove themselves to their families."

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