Sunday, May 24, 2009

An Examined Life: Stanley H. Kaplan

Recent conversations have reminded me of this oldie-but-goodie from the archives of The New Yorker Magazine.

A Critic at Large
Examined Life
What Stanley H. Kaplan taught us about the S.A.T.
Malcolm Gladwell

Once, in fourth grade, Stanley Kaplan got a B-plus on his report card and was so stunned that he wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood, ashamed to show his mother. This was in Brooklyn, on Avenue K in b Flatbush, between the wars. Kaplan’s father, Julius, was from Slutsk, in Belorussia, and ran a plumbing and heating business. His mother, Ericka, ninety pounds and four feet eight, was the granddaughter of the chief rabbi of the synagogue of Prague, and Stanley loved to sit next to her on the front porch, immersed in his schoolbooks while his friends were off playing stickball. Stanley Kaplan had Mrs. Holman for fifth grade, and when she quizzed the class on math equations, he would shout out the answers. If other students were having problems, Stanley would take out pencil and paper and pull them aside. He would offer them a dime, sometimes, if they would just sit and listen. In high school, he would take over algebra class, and the other kids, passing him in the hall, would call him Teach. One classmate, Aimee Rubin, was having so much trouble with math that she was in danger of being dropped from the National Honor Society. Kaplan offered to help her, and she scored a ninety-five on her next exam. He tutored a troubled eleven-year-old named Bob Linker, and Bob Linker ended up a successful businessman. In Kaplan’s sophomore year at City College, he got a C in biology and was so certain that there had been a mistake that he marched in to see the professor and proved that his true grade, an A, had accidentally been switched with that of another, not quite so studious, Stanley Kaplan. Thereafter, he became Stanley H. Kaplan, and when people asked him what the “H” stood for he would say “Higher scores!” or, with a sly wink, “Preparation!” He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and hung a shingle outside his parents’ house on Avenue K—”Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Center”— and started tutoring kids in the basement. In 1946, a high-school junior named Elizabeth, from Coney Island, came to him for help on an exam he was unfamiliar with. It was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and from that moment forward the business of getting into college in America was never quite the same.


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