I read A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D as a work related thing. I’ve worked in and around K-12 education for nearly two decades but have never had the opportunity for this particular avenue of professional development. It was enlightening.
A Framework for Understanding Poverty is aimed towards educators and how they can understand and relate to students and parents in poverty. Some of the points are relatively obvious, such as the fact that poverty is not simply or always about a lack of money. Other points are obvious but, at least to me, less simple, such as the fact that most teachers come from the middle class and so teach using the hidden rules they are most familiar with, which students and parents are not always aware of or able to follow. This disconnect can cause misunderstandings of motivations on the part of the teacher and the student, causing discipline and learning dysfunction. Teaching educators to be more aware of this can help identify and overcome those issues and make better connections with students.
Other chapters of the book dealt with the language we use more directly. People in middle class generally grow up learning how to use formal language in the appropriate settings, such as a job or school by example. People in poverty often do not have access to those examples and often don’t learn formal language usage at all. Payne’s statement is that educators should be aware of these differences in experience and be prepared to explicitly teach students in poverty how and when to use formal language.
Payne also argues that even how students in poverty are punished in schools should be reevaluated based on how punishment is used and viewed in their homes. Students in poverty often do not understand that school-based punishment is geared towards a changing behavior. Their experience of punishment is more often used to elicit contrition and then forgiveness but not actually to change the behavior that caused the punishment.
A Framework for Understanding Poverty lays out strategies for educators to first evaluate their own values and beliefs and then attempts to shift their perspective to one that allows them more productive avenues of communicating with their students living in poverty. The end goal of these strategies is not to devalue the mores and skills the students learn and use in their home lives, but to teach them how to navigate the world outside of their homes. Payne likens it to learning a foreign language through immersion.
Overall, this was a very interesting and helpful book and I would recommend it to anyone in education and even beyond as a way to understand more of how our own assumptions of class superiority are wrong.