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Walter Kirn, "Meritocracy," and Stephen Colbert

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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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What is good about the US university system is that American students can often determine their own majors and paths beyond finishing high school. In other countries, your future is determined by the national education department by 10th grade. In fact in most nations, college is a form of high school and obtaining a Bachelor's degree is done in university centers where only a few students admitted. People of all ages can obtain a degree here and we don't have to carry our high school transcripts to job interviews. Once we get the diploma, we're free!

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