(Continued from here)
Quick background: I grew up in Kansas City, KS and lived there until last June. I never lived in an area that I would consider full-blown “ghetto” for KCK, but that’s all relative: those from JoCo call far nicer areas of their county “ghetto” without a hint of irony, so keep that in mind.
I attended Kansas City, KS schools and graduated from Sumner Academy.
Socioeconomically, it’s hard to say where we stood. Relative to those around us, we were probably near the middle. (Again, emphasis on "relative".) We were a single income family until my youngest brother was old enough to be in school all day (I was 13 or 14 at the time). At that point, my mom dove into getting her teaching degree and subbed along the way. She graduated college a year or two before I graduated high school.
My dad, who is now retired, did grueling work as a laborer at a sand and gravel quarry. He was an incredibly hard worker, probably to a fault (dude – bronchitis means you should probably stay home).
I say all this to give you perspective. I didn’t usually get the things I wanted. I always got the things I needed. I never went hungry. We didn’t have extra money at the end of the month, but (unless they did a great job of hiding it) we weren’t upside down either.
Result: I appreciate all of life’s little luxuries that I enjoy now—steak instead of Hamburger Helper, Great Divide instead of Natty Light--more than most people. My tastes still haven’t even bothered with life’s big luxuries.
My father was a great example of the importance of work and earning an honest living. My mother was a great example of budgeting and handling money responsibly. Of course, I didn’t understand or appreciate any of this as a selfish youngster, but it definitely rubbed off.
Result: My mom taught me not to spend frivolously, and to keep track of where my money was going. I’ve never bounced a check, even in my broke-est college days. I’ve been late on a utility bill only once in my life. Though I’m half the worker my father is/was, I treat my job with respect and do what it takes to maintain a high standing at the office.
Sumner Academy is a magnet high school (grades 8-12) in KCK. It is a public school, but you must be invited to attend. This invitation was based entirely on standardized test scores when I was there; my understanding is that they’ve added some GPA and behavioral considerations in recent years.
The focus of Sumner is a college preparatory curriculum. Put another way, your race, background, or socioeconomic status didn’t matter—if you went to Sumner, you were expected to go to college. Your parents expected it, and the faculty expected it. With few exceptions, my entire graduating class at least started college.
Result: From age 13 to age 17, I was more or less surrounded by kids who were going to college and adults who expected me to go to college. It was never a question of IF I would go, but rather WHERE I would go.
I’ve never had a long-term, disabling health problem that has caused me to miss out on significant amounts of income or cough up a huge pile of money. Neither have my parents. This is mostly just good fortune, though the importance of having a job with benefits factors in.
I selected my major (mechanical engineering) partly due to my math/science aptitude and partly due to future employment and salary projections. I will admit up front that I was not at all happy with my career choice for the first 7 years or so, but it got better after that (and significantly better once I took my current job).
Result: I’m covered if my health heads south, and I have the education and skills that are likely to help me find another good job if I need one.
Now, I would be well within my rights to simply say, “I came from a low-income area. I worked hard. I made something of myself. I made good decisions. Why am I picking up the tab for those who haven’t done those things?”
But there's a reason I don't say those things. I’ll tell you why shortly.