Assessment

Walter Kirn, “Meritocracy,” and Stephen Colbert

By Sean Cavanagh — May 20, 2009 1 min read

The novelist and critic Walter Kirn was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s show last night, discussing his new book, “Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever.” Kirn’s book, according to the description I’ve read, is a memoir recounting his transition from rural Minnesota to Princeton, and what he sees as the gamesmanship endemic to getting into the nation’s higher education institutions—and succeeding there. He explored some of these points in a 2005 Atlantic Monthly article.

One exchange from last night:

Colbert: “I’m no fan of Ivy League education, because I think they turn people into elites. But I have to admit that it has to be better education than a state school, because it costs more. The market has spoken. Or did you not take economics at Princeton?”

Kirn: “It’s the landscaping that costs more...”

Colbert: “It’s beautiful there. Really nice...”

Kirn: “And the fact they serve quail...State schools, it’s all scrambled eggs.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.