Originally published April 12, 2013
When I was growing up I never dreamed of being an astronaut or ballerina. I wanted to be a teacher, because it seemed like a steady, secure job. My family was poor. There’s not a fun, witty way to say that, so there it is. We were three kids, a single mother, and two cats, and our household income never topped $24,000. The average was $17,000.
We were poor, I knew it, and it sucked. It’s hard not to notice when your family buys food with a weird card that only works at the grocery store. Or that you frequently get letters with “FINAL NOTICE” emblazoned across the front. Or that you are never, ever supposed to answer the phone in case it is “a bad man wanting money.”
College was positioned as The Answer To All My Problems from a very young age. I think that happens with a lot of decently smart kids from poor families—college is the way up the ladder, the way out of a tiny basement apartment, the way to a six-figure income that will help not just you but also, hopefully, your family. You didn’t want to beat the kids who made fun of your Wal-Mart clothes, you wanted to join them. Upward mobility and all that.
College admissions offices were the gatekeepers to the Middle Class, my brain the key. Right.