A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Title: A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Author: Ruby K. Payne

What it is about:

The book is about understanding differences in wealth and how those differences effect thought processes, actions, and priorities. 

Who should read it: 

  • Any person who interacts with people affected by poverty and who would like to gain insight into the reasons their thoughts or behaviors seem difficult to understand or illogical.
  • Every teacher
  • People who want to engage the discourse about poverty
  • People who want to attempt to alleviate poverty

Why I read it:

It was given to me, and seemed extremely relevant for the work I am currently doing, and the work I was doing at home.

What I learned:

Relationships are one of the most potent tools to provide children with the opportunity and choice to move out of poverty. 

Positive adult relationships can:

  • improve a child’s feeling of self-worth
  • teach them about the unwritten rules of the middle-class
  • develop the skills necessary for success in school
  • provide a resource for 

Individuals leave poverty for one of four reasons: 

  1. a goal or vision of something they want to be or have
  2. a situation that is so painful that anything would be better
  3. someone who “sponsors” them
  4. a specific talent or ability that provides an opportunity for them (p61)

2 aspects of poverty that stood out to me (and I am not trying to stereotype here)

1) We often hear or see conflict situations in which children speak in a manner that is disrespectful, insubordinate, or sarcastic to adults. 

This book taught me how to use an ‘adult voice’ and why it is important. Children of poverty are not always taught the idea of an 'adult voice' and they often default to a ‘parent voice’.

The two most natural voices children learn is a ‘child voice’ (their own) and a ‘parent voice’ (their parents’). In short, she discusses how children will choose the ‘parent voice’ because it makes them less vulnerable and saves face, even if it gets them into trouble. She points out that the issue can be further complicated when she says,

"the tendency for educators to use the parent voice with students who are poor is based on the assumption that a lack of resources must indicate a lack of intelligence. Students and parents in poverty are very offended by this” (p.82).

2) The educational system that I came through had middle-class as an underlying assumption. There are a group of skills that are typically learned in middle-class homes that are necessary for success. The book discussed how some skills need to be taught, where traditionally the children lacking these skills have been placed in special education. Some of these skills include:

  • planning behaviors - such as goal setting and breaking down a task into parts
  • impulsivity control - stopping to think before acting
  • organizing space with stable systems of reference - (up, down, horizontal, vertical..)
  • organizing data - requires the ability to systematically explore the information
  • making decisions and predicting outcomes (pp.95-96)

A quote for do-gooders:

    “Yet the role of the educator or social worker or employer is not to save the individual, but rather to offer a support system, role models, and opportunities to learn, which will increase the likelihood of the person’s success. Ultimately, the choice always belongs to the individual” (p113).