Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Stanley Kaplan

It is beyond ironic that Stanley Kaplan became one of the central figures in the American meritocracy. Kaplan, a small, dapper man, the son of immigrants, was a complete outsider. He had planned to be a doctor, but when ethnic quotas kept him out of medical school, he turned his attention to helping college applicants with their test scores. And although the business Kaplan started in his parents' basement in 1938 represented the single most potent argument against the SAT — namely, that the test was not a great equalizer but rather part of a system that could be gamed by people with money — Kaplan was the exam's biggest fan. His company depended on it economically, of course. But more than that, he sincerely loved it. He thought it represented a doorway to opportunity that could be pried open through the application of a little money and willpower — something that hadn't been available to him when he was young.

— Nicholas Lemann

Lemann is the author of The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy.