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Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Review: A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne

Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Do you know “Which grocery stores’ garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food?” If not, you may not pass Ruby Payne’s quiz about hidden rules of the classes. I had noticed homeless men in my neighborhood, but never made the connection with the grocery store a block away. I had never lived without a checking account, electricity, a car or a phone.  Although I had lived in poverty for a year, Ruby opened my eyes to a culture that was fairly unfamiliar to me. This is a book review of her book, called A Framework for Understanding Poverty, which would be an excellent book for a book club.

Ruby Payne first makes twelve key points that she wants her readers to keep in mind; that poverty is relative, it occurs in all races and cultures, class is a continuum, generational and situational poverty are different, patterns have exceptions, individuals carry values they are raised with, schools and businesses work on middle class rules, we may have to teach middle-class rules to students in poverty, teachers must “provide support, insistence, and expectations,”
children may need to give up relationships to move upward, education and relationships can help students out of poverty and motivation for upward movement can be pain, a vision, a relationship and a talent. 

She begins with a definition of poverty as a lack of resources, listing the many different categories of resources that we may have without realizing it. With seven scenarios, she makes examples of family situations that have some resources, but still would be considered poor.

One entire chapter is devoted to language and its different registers. We are all familiar with the difference between formal and informal language, but discourse differs as well. Stories are told for entertainment, not to illustrate a point. Hidden rules of lower, middle and upper classes were discussed. A contrast of generational poverty with middle-class school values shows the difficulty of meeting the needs of the students to get them out of poverty. A discussion of emotional resources lists ways school personnel can be role models to their poor students. To demonstrate support systems, Payne uses another scenario to show how nine strategies can help. She also demonstrates behaviors related to poverty and strategies to help them. The chapter on improving achievement. Intelligence can be underestimated, solutions can be poorly fitted to the situation, but with proper mediation, students can develop the cognitive strategies necessary to succeed. Using the work of Reuven Feuerstein, she groups these strategies into “input, elaboration, and output.” She finishes this discussion with a list of responses identified by Virginia State Department of Education as being effective for students. 

Her book ends with a chapter on the importance of relationships and how they are the primary motivators for students in poverty. The final pages are the charts of poverty compared to median incomes and her research notes, which are extensive.

The criticism of Payne is that she is racist and classist. She is telling educators how to help students overcome behaviors that may inhibit their success in school, not telling us how to learn more about the culture that the kids come from. She sees challenging behaviors as something to be overcome, not cherished. She is speaking from the point of view of the middle class about the need for others to learn middle-class behaviors instead of speaking as a voice of the poor. You’ll have to decide for yourself, but I found her suggestions helpful. Until we come up with a better system, we have to work with the one we have.

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