Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever

Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever☉ Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever PDF / Epub ❤ Author Walter Kirn – Bluevapours.co.uk Percentile is destiny in AmericaSo says Walter Kirn, a peerless observer and interpreter of American life, in this whip smart memoir of his own long strange trip through American education Working his Percentile is destiny in AmericaSo the Meritocracy: MOBI · says Walter Kirn, a peerless observer and interpreter of American life, in this whip smart memoir of his own long strange trip through American education Working his way up the ladder of standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and class rankings, Kirn launched himself eastward from his rural Minnesota hometown to the ivy covered campus of Princeton University There he found himself not in a temple of higher learning so much Lost in eBook à as an arena for gamesmanship, snobbery, social climbing, ass kissing, and recreational drug use, where the point of literature classes was to mirror the instructor s critical theories and actual reading of the books under consideration was optional Just on the other side of the bell curve s leading edge loomed a complete psychic collapseLOST IN THE MERITOCRACYreckons up the costs of a system where the point is simply to keep accumulating points and never in the Meritocracy: MOBI õ to look back or within It s a remarkable book that suggests the first step toward intellectual fulfillment is getting off the treadmill that is the American meritocracy Every American who has spent years of his or her life there will experience many shocks of recognition while reading Walter Kirn s sharp, rueful, and often funny book and likely a sense of liberation at its end.

Walter Kirn is a regular the Meritocracy: MOBI · reviewer for The New York Times Book Review, and his work appears in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Time, New York, GQ and Esquire He is the author of six previous works of fiction My Hard Bargain Stories, She Needed Me, Thumbsucker, Up in the Air, Mission to America and The Unbinding Kirn is a graduate of Princeton University and attended Oxford on a scholarship from Lost in eBook à the Keasby Foundation.

Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an
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  • Hardcover
  • 224 pages
  • Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever
  • Walter Kirn
  • English
  • 04 July 2017
  • 0385521286

10 thoughts on “Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever

  1. Steven says:

    I first heard of this book when I saw it referenced tangentially in a recent Jonathan Alter column I expected it to be a relatively serious i.e scholarly work of non fiction, but it turned out to be a breezy light hearted memoir from a 40 something novelist about his trip through the American education system and how he worked his way up the ladder of standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and class rankings From rural Minnesota where his father moved the family when he was a sma I first heard of this book when I saw it referenced tangentially in a recent Jonathan Alter column I expected it to be a relatively serious i.e scholarly work of non fiction, but it turned out to be a breezy light hearted memoir from a 40 something novelist about his trip through the American education system and how he worked his way up the ladder of standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and class rankings From rural Minnesota where his father moved the family when he was a small child in order to live out some sort of deluded fantasy of simple pastoral farm life, the author, Walter Kirn, invokes The Great Gatsby early and often throughout his narrative In the opening pages he explains his youthful ambition by describing how he had graduated from high school a year early and attended a small St Paul college in order to successfully transfer to Princeton the following year In this brief passage the reader gets a good glimpse of Kirn s style, tone, and point of the book It is a self effacing account of Kirn s educational experience that demonstrates how a seemingly bright and over achieving student learned virtually no academic knowledge in a system rigged in favor of the uber rich and highly connected He writes, In imitation of F Scott Fitzgerald, Minnesota s most famous writer and author of The Great Gatsby, the only serious work of literature that I managed to finish as a teenager, I wanted to go East He later writes that the tragic and cautionary message of Gatsby was lost on him he read it merely as a chronicle of several high spirited Midwesterners storming through the mansions of the East So how did Kirn get to Princeton with only a modicum of academic content knowledge Through memorization and mimicry There are several instances in the book where the author describes how he would read and memorize dictionaries and thesauruses, so that he could master the analogies section of the SAT, and so that he could impress teachers with a deep vocabulary in order to hide his lack of knowledge and intellectual creativity Kirn writes A natural born child of the meritocracy, I d been amassing momentum my whole life, entering spelling bees, vying for forensics medals, running my mouth in mock United Nations, and I knew only one direction forward I lived for prizes, plaques, citations, stars, and I gave no thought to any goal beyond my next appearance on the honor roll Learning was secondary, promotion was primary No one ever told me what the point was, except to keep on accumulating points, and this struck me as sufficient In high school Kirn was able to accumulate those points mostly through the sheer weight of his vocabulary and a set of memorized facts from almanacs But he also rose through the ranks in k 12 through a technique that would take different forms pleasing the teachers For his earliest teachers this took the form of thoughtful gestures of helpfulness like offering to help clean and tidy the classroom But later he realized that pleasing teachers takes other forms as well In 5th grade Kirn gave a compliment during a private conversation with a hippie music teacher he admired and had a crush on From this conversation Kirn learned something important not about music, about teachers They were people Lonely people, often, who weren t really free to share their lives with us but longed for appreciation, just as I did And why not give it to them now and then Maybe they would give it back to me At Princeton, this pleasing of teachers took the form of mimicry, borrowing, and feigning knowledge and support for the latest academic and intellectual fads In one of thehumorous moments of the book Kirn describes how he became one of the leading decostructionalists in the English Department s undergraduate honors program He assumed the courses would be a study of the classics and analyses of the major themes and such Instead, he was taken aback to find that the professors regarded the classics as trivial and beneath discussion Kirn continues, We were buffeted by theory , whatever that was What mattered, we were given to understand, were our critical assumptions Kirn claims he didn t understand the use of theory to interrogate his critical assumptions , but that he would survive by pleasing his professors by relying on skills he had acquired on the high school speech team, skills that relied on mimicking authority figures and playing back to them their own ideas as if they were conclusions I had reached myself Kirn then writes a passage that might give pause to anyone who is concerned with real education in America, to anyone who is worried that our education system is actually built around teaching kids the correct answers instead of teaching them to ask the right questions To me, imitation and education were words for the same thing What was learning but a form of borrowing And what was intelligence but borrowing slyly I found Kirn s description of how he negotiated his way through being a deconstructionist of literature that I never constructed in the first place to be quiet humorous it s worth quoting at length The deployment of key words was crucial, just as recognition of them had been on the SAT Because I despaired of ever grasping these theory words, style and presentation was everything Liminal , spoken breezily enough, and valuational , served up with verve, could make a professor shiver and drop his chalk, but if delivered hesitantly, they bombed Unless they were spit out promptly and with spirit, such words could actually choke a person This suffocating sensation often came over me whenever I opened Deconstruction and Criticism, a collection of essays of theory people that I spotted everywhere that year and knew to be one of the richest sources around for words that could turn a modest essay into an A plus tour de force Here is a sentence or what I took to be one because it ended with a period from the contribution of Jaques Derrida He speaks his mother tongue as the language of the other and deprives himself of all reappropriation, all specularization in it On the same page I encountered the windpipe blocking heternomous and invagination When I turned the page I came across stuck in a footnote the word unreadibility That word I understood, of course But real understanding was rare with theory For Kirn, he simply understood all these hard theory words to be just that hard As I reflect on my own time as a graduate student, Kirn s summation in this passage resonated with me I wasn t one of theory s true believers, Kirn continues, I was a confused opportunist trying to turn confusion to his advantage by sucking up to scholars of confusion I suspect that is how graduate students become indoctrinated into the orthodoxy of the academy Kirn s description of his time at Princeton is almost depressing with its over the top self effacing and sardonic tone Kirn seems pathetic as he struggles to fit in and is put off by the rigid social order Additionally, he finds many of his classmates to be frauds while at the same time recognizing internally that he is the biggest fraud on campus At times, he sounds like a 1980s version of Holden Caufield with a drug and alcohol problem Halfway through his sopho year Kirn destroys the property of his rich dorm mates for justice against their snobby treatment of him By his senior year, Kirn is penniless, virtually friendless, and experiences a nervous breakdown Despite all his travails, Kirn manages to become a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship It is in the final 25 pages where he describes his Rhodes interviews and his final days at Princeton that I had several laugh out loud moments For instance, Kirn recognizes it is absurd to think he is Rhodes material , especially compared to his classmates who had applied Kirn explains that they all had a conspicuous campus presence, top athletes and leaders of student government, whereas I was an addled loner in an old raincoat I was also an unindicted vandal, a suspected offender against the Honor Code, a phony theory devotee, and a chain smoking post aphasic whose only bulwark against regression was a heavily underlined thesaurus Still, I felt I had an outside shot I d learned by then that the masters of advancement use a rough quota system in their work, reserving a certain number of wild card slots for overreaching oddballs Of course, Kirn does not get the Rhodes Scholarship, but the subsequent climax is a nice exclamation point on the whole book, which suggests that the first step toward intellectual fulfillment has nothing to do with the fast paced and highly competitive educational system we have Kirn tells us that percentile is destiny in America , and David Labaree, the educational historian, demonstrates this axiom in his book How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning After all, Labaree points out and Kirn s experience supports, our American system does not reward real knowledge or creativity it rewards those who play the game and see their grade point averages as a means to a credential that can be used on the open market

  2. Douglas Wilson says:

    Superb It is common for reviewers to say that this chapter or that was worth the price of some book or other, but this book, full of brutal honesty about academic posturing, has multiple metaphors that were worth the price of the book Man, can Walter Kirn write.

  3. Mark says:

    I have not read any of Walter Kirn s novels, including the one made into a Clooney movie Up In The Air , but this rather bleak memoir might persuade me to do so because of how well written it is.Growing up in a small town in the Midwest with an eccentric father and self educated mother, Walter Kirn was always one of the bright boys in his small school district More importantly, he learned early on that education was about one thing being applauded, winning prizes, and doing what you needed to I have not read any of Walter Kirn s novels, including the one made into a Clooney movie Up In The Air , but this rather bleak memoir might persuade me to do so because of how well written it is.Growing up in a small town in the Midwest with an eccentric father and self educated mother, Walter Kirn was always one of the bright boys in his small school district More importantly, he learned early on that education was about one thing being applauded, winning prizes, and doing what you needed to do to get good grades and high scores.That becomes his ticket into Princeton University It also becomes his ruination At Princeton, he is not only completely out of his element socially one whole section of the book relates the outrageous period when his wealthy roommates redecorated their living room and expected him to pay a share of the cost without having consulted him first when he couldn t, he was not allowed to set foot in the common area but he was no longer the top student, and his continuing tactic of trying to butter up professors, learn what he needed to get by and parrot back whatever others were saying not only makes his education hollow and shallow, but gives him such despair that he ends up late in his undergraduate years becoming aphasic for a while literally unable to remember the words for common objects, in what seems to be a severe stress reaction.Walter Kirn, in his own recounting, is not a very likable or admirable young man, but I think that is exactly the point he is trying to make In the end, the book ends on a note of hope, when Kirn discovers after his diploma and before beginning a fellowship that learning, miraculously, can be enjoyed for its own sake A slim, pungent, disturbing and rewarding memoir

  4. Chuck says:

    Was it back the 1960s when you could get into a prestigious university with a so so high school record and high SAT scores, and then bluff, drug, and sex your way successfully through the next four years and into a British postgraduate fellowship by relying on raw intelligence coupled with the ability to parrot back to professors just what they want to hear Well, not exactly, since universities in the 60s still gave out a lot of Cs for average work Fast forward to the 1980s, however, and the Was it back the 1960s when you could get into a prestigious university with a so so high school record and high SAT scores, and then bluff, drug, and sex your way successfully through the next four years and into a British postgraduate fellowship by relying on raw intelligence coupled with the ability to parrot back to professors just what they want to hear Well, not exactly, since universities in the 60s still gave out a lot of Cs for average work Fast forward to the 1980s, however, and the scenario becomes reality if Walter Kirn s memoir is to be believed Master the jargon of postmodernism, and you re home free as an English major at Princeton Kirn s story gains some plausibility in light of the infamous Alan Sokal hoax.Kirn is a fairly engaging writer, and he spins out some good scenes, but his drug stuff doesn t trump Jay McInerney s Bright Lights, Big City, and his orgiastic college material doesn t trump Tom Wolfe s I am Charlotte Simmons Moreover, it s difficult to figure out Kirn s take on himself He s obviously belittling the establishment for tolerating his former ilk, but it s not clear whether his meta self finds his collegiate self to be clever or reprehensible Kirn s long overdue flash of academic enlightenment on the book s final page doesn t exactly add up to redemption More telling is his adulatory barroom encounter in Chapter 7 with a Princeton faculty member Julian who taught psychologydespite having no diploma in the subject, only a book he d written as an amateur Ironically, Kirn manages to mock academic pretension while at the same time celebrating charlatans Unfortunately, he fails to acknowledge that every clever impostor who makes it into the mainstream displaces someone earnest and talented who doesn t.If you have time on your hands, Kirn is a quick read, but for a muchcompelling loser to success perspective minus the cynicism about those who succeed I recommend the works of Tobias Wolff Although unidentified by Kirn, the individual in question is surely Julian Jaynes, author of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

  5. David says:

    Interesting theme of his aptitude for standardized test taking propelling him up a ladder of competition at the expense of any questioning reflection about where the ladder was leading and whether it was somewhere he wanted to go Much of the focus is on his time as an English major and theater arts scene hanger on at Princeton Some of the enjoyment I got from the book was a matter of shared experience hey, my grade school had those SRA color coded cards too, and the competitive kids woul Interesting theme of his aptitude for standardized test taking propelling him up a ladder of competition at the expense of any questioning reflection about where the ladder was leading and whether it was somewhere he wanted to go Much of the focus is on his time as an English major and theater arts scene hanger on at Princeton Some of the enjoyment I got from the book was a matter of shared experience hey, my grade school had those SRA color coded cards too, and the competitive kids would make races out of being the first to get to a certain level I knew snobs like that in college also I met someone once who was obsessed with the book by that guy he just described meeting in a bar cool , but a lot of it I think was that he s just a very good, funny writer Able to take commonplace observations it s easier to BS your way through a discussion of English Literature than in Calculus or Chemistry undergraduates form recognizable social clusters drugs aren t good for your emotional stability and bring them to life via the characters people, I guess, but I would not be surprised if some of the stories are embellished, so I thought of them as characters he encounters

  6. Lia says:

    Kirn taught at UChicago for a quarter, so I was interested to read his latest book about his underwhelming education or non education both before and at Princeton Unfortunately, Kirn s writing is also underwhelming While some of his reflections about education are interesting, and dead on Kirn observes that all he had to do to get an A in an English class at college was to insert words he and most people didn t understand , in the end, his writing suffers from the same problems he suffered Kirn taught at UChicago for a quarter, so I was interested to read his latest book about his underwhelming education or non education both before and at Princeton Unfortunately, Kirn s writing is also underwhelming While some of his reflections about education are interesting, and dead on Kirn observes that all he had to do to get an A in an English class at college was to insert words he and most people didn t understand , in the end, his writing suffers from the same problems he suffered throughout college all sheer wit, no real depth or skill Kirn writes that he managed to get into Princeton through cleverness and no work, and that he then proceeded to spend his years there posing as an intellectual, envying those who hadmoney, and doing drugs, eventually culminating in a psychological breakdown that left him aphasic He then slowly builds his mind back up by reading the dictionary, which I think is reflected in his writing Nevertheless, no one can argue that Kirn isn t clever, and while I don t think there was anything particularly special about this book, it was a decent and quick read

  7. Austin Storm says:

    I did not expect a turn toward addiction memoir leading up to a nervous breakdown I loved the ending, contra firehose of knowledge or academic gamesmanship Really enjoyable.

  8. Mike says:

    Although I ve never read an article or book by the author previously, I know why Lost in the Meritocracy is in my TBR list Someone whose taste in and judgment of literature I respect added it and after glancing at the synopsis I did, also.It is clear that Walter Kirn is an excellent writer He is articulate, literate, and can form a decent narrative Although I understand that many people read and analyze this book to seek deeper insight into the American Education System, American Class Boun Although I ve never read an article or book by the author previously, I know why Lost in the Meritocracy is in my TBR list Someone whose taste in and judgment of literature I respect added it and after glancing at the synopsis I did, also.It is clear that Walter Kirn is an excellent writer He is articulate, literate, and can form a decent narrative Although I understand that many people read and analyze this book to seek deeper insight into the American Education System, American Class Boundaries and the nature of Elitism and the Elite themselves, I did not I read it for the usual reason did the writer create something that held my interest.The short answer is yes His memoirs of growing up and moving through schools and into collegiate life are a good story Maybe not what one would consider attention grabbing fiction, but then this is not fiction In this slim volume, the author exposes those incidents that he uses to illustrate his thesis it is not an encyclopedic history of his life.The longer answer is sort of Even though I said that I read it for reading I also ran my own, semi conscious analysis of his actions and achievements Mr Kirn is someone who everyone agreed had high potential from his early years on Did he live up to that potential If his life ended before the last two chapters, one would have to say no If you include those, then it becomesof a maybe, maybe not I am basing this solely on what is presented in this book I still do not know anythingabout the man His epiphany , if you will, comes just before he will be heading off to Oxford University Has he risen above the hollow sham of his formative and college i.e Princeton days or is it something else That s an area where one could take almost any position I have my interpretation, you have yours.Did exposure to his betters i.e those who are the natural attendees of an Ivy League school make the author a better man, a better writer I mean in the long term sense, not while he was there Probably not From his own words it was his Pakistani friend that provide him with the most intellectual stimulation of his last 2 years there even though he himself was still spouting, his friend was seriously engaged in these topics and discussions But it did give him the realization that there was nothing beyond for him, unless he created it himself What does a grifter do when everyone is an honest man When the games run out, wither the gamer There s a lot that is right and wrong about the American Educational System There have been people clever enough to fool others since time began Many people have high potential but for one reason or another never live up to that promise Mr Kirn is not alone even in his apparent recovery to prominence While I did not have any preconceived notions when I began this book, I probably would not recommend it to some one who only wants to use it for social and political material On the other hand, it was well written enough that I am tempted to readby the author I think his fiction will be up in the 95th percentile Three 3 solid stars

  9. Caitlin says:

    I borrowed this for some light reading on a plane from a fellow Goodreader This is probablyof a 3.5 star review I would say I liked this piece and recommend it.This is one of those cover designs titles that, I thought, suggested a much different kind of book within than what I encountered This is a memoir, and although it is concerned intimately with the highest echelons of education in this country, it is much less about meritocracy than the title would have you believe Even so, the f I borrowed this for some light reading on a plane from a fellow Goodreader This is probablyof a 3.5 star review I would say I liked this piece and recommend it.This is one of those cover designs titles that, I thought, suggested a much different kind of book within than what I encountered This is a memoir, and although it is concerned intimately with the highest echelons of education in this country, it is much less about meritocracy than the title would have you believe Even so, the first two or four chapters are uncomfortably familiar for me The author reflects on being the kind of elementary school student who wanted to be the one teachers called on when a correct answer was needed He talks about the pressure to win spelling bees I remember both those and science fairs and to focus on standardized testing.This is by no means a comprehensive evaluation of the pressure many students face Moreover, once the story really gets going, I think it san indictment of college than it is of meritocracy The author never manages to figure out what he wants to do while he s in school He poses as a playwright and as a proponent of Critical Theory There is an uncomfortable truth in the way he talks about using a certain kind of vocabulary to fool people into buying your take in a Theory environment.I m not insensible about this remember that hoax at the DU Press with Stan Fish Still, it s as if the author is laughing at us even from his reformed place later in life He still doesn t think academia is worth much He never seemed to really like books, or reading, or figuring out why we like them Perhaps the most puzzling thing about the story is that, after four years of middling academic involvement, incredible drug use, and a near total failure to make any lasting connections to other human beings, the author closes, triumphally, by applying for a fellowship that takes him to Oxford A fellowship for ne erdowells with a wine budget Maybe I m most troubled by the fact that the author seems to want to be contrite, but ultimately leaves us feeling like he beat the system I don t know, exactly It s generally well written

  10. John Haskell says:

    Kirn on his efforts to get a Presidential Certificate of Fitness in PhyEd class I d already disappointed the President in two less strenuous events chin ups and the standing broad jump and another defeat, I feared, would crush me utterly and show me up as a poor citizen It would prove that I wasn t just weak, but flawed, defective, and likely to prove a burden on my country should it ever be put to some great test such as resisting a foreign invasion An exchange student at his high school Kirn on his efforts to get a Presidential Certificate of Fitness in PhyEd class I d already disappointed the President in two less strenuous events chin ups and the standing broad jump and another defeat, I feared, would crush me utterly and show me up as a poor citizen It would prove that I wasn t just weak, but flawed, defective, and likely to prove a burden on my country should it ever be put to some great test such as resisting a foreign invasion An exchange student at his high school I don t remember her country of origin It was one of those small, frigid nations that at the time was partly subjugated by the Russians but would eventually break free and dominate the worldwide modeling scene The benefits of a Princeton degree were so far reaching and long lasting, supposedly, that for the duration of our lives we would be expected to give money to various university funds and causes, all of which were portrayed as critical to carrying out what was called the place s mission I d assumed that a deal was a deal when Princeton admitted me, but I was mistaken, it turned out The price of getting in to the university itself, and to the presumed wonderland it led to would be an endless dunning for nebulous services that weren t included in the prospectus I vowed to get serious about my studies I chose to major in English, since it sounded like something I might already know.The Woodrow Wilson school The edifice, whose design was so replete with futuristic optimism that it already seemed comically defunct, faced a plaza with a broad reflecting pool whose centerpiece was an abstract sculpture evocative of the maggot scoured remains of a giant chicken carcass I learned that my friend now belonged to the Tiger Club, the ale drenched, reactionary redoubt of Princeton s most stalwart young misogynists.To my mind, the vaunted mission of the Rhodes smacked of a sort of science fiction Nazism

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