Is there a framework for understanding poverty?
Yes, said Dr. Ruby Payne.
Recently, Dr. Ruby Payne shared her insight into understanding poverty and how simple "hidden rules" can help low-income children learn. The hidden rules are unspoken cueing mechanisms individuals use to know whether a person does or does not belong to a given social and economic class. Payne explains these rules in detail in her book, "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," published by aha! Process.
The opportunity to hear Payne speak was part of a videoconference series provided through the Clay County CAPE grant and hosted at North Clay Middle School. Payne was in Texas as she talked with the group of educators, social service providers, community partners, and health care providers, who were gathered for the videoconference event. She spoke about how misperceptions about low-income families and a middle-income frame of reference can hamper one's work with students and families in poverty.
"To survive in poverty, you must be very non-verbal, reactive, and sensory-based. To survive in school and work, you must be very verbal, very abstract, and very proactive, (you must plan). Abstract means that you can live in a representational world. For example, when a check is written, the understanding is that it represents money that is in the bank as opposed to cash, which is actual money."
Payne worked in a school that had discipline problems. She was the director of staff development for the Goose Creek Consolidated School District in Baytown, Texas. When she explained to the assistant principal the reasons for the behaviors, she was asked to talk to their staff. She did. The information spread by word of mouth. Soon she had individuals outside the district asking for information.
During her career as an educator, Payne began to realize that the behavior of some low income students might seem wrong to teachers from middle income backgrounds, but made sense in the context of students' lives.
Payne began to explain her observations to other teachers, and soon was in so much demand, that she found herself writing a book about the topic.
She says that she wrote the book to explain these behaviors because she was unable to take all the phone calls. The information came from living among the poor and the wealthy -- in other words, out of life experience and reading.
Payne's own experience with poverty came through her husband who lived in situational poverty following the death of his father. Situational poverty is usually temporary and is caused by an event or series of events in ones life (death, divorce, chronic illness, etc.). Generational poverty is defined as having lived in poverty for at least two generations. According to Payne the characteristics can begin to surface much sooner if the family lives with others who are from generational poverty.
During the two-day event Dr. Payne explained how economic class differences in an educational setting can make teaching and learning challenging. Payne discussed some of the social cues or "hidden rules" that govern how people think and interact in society -- and the significance of those rules in a classroom.
A common misunderstanding in our own community is that we do not have a significant number of our children living in poverty. However, according to the Kids Count in Indiana information provided at http://iyikcdb.iyi.org/ for 2003, 25.4 percent of all students were eligible for free school lunch and textbooks. What does this mean? This is the percent of public and private school students in kindergarten though grade 12 in Clay County who are eligible for free lunches and text books. Students from families with incomes below 130% of the poverty guidelines are eligible for free meals. Under a state program initiated during the 1999-2000 school year, all public school students in Indiana who are eligible for free meals are also eligible for free textbooks. Source of Data: Indiana Department of Education.
According to this figure that means that more than one in every four children that you see today in Clay County is living in a poverty situation.
Payne also discussed the cost of education to the taxpaying system. Having an educated population helps real estate values remain stable and creates an economy where the younger generation has a job and stays in the community.
What can we do? According to Payne, building relationships of mutual respect with students is one solution.
We can also mentor. Payne suggests that the opportunity for a student to be successful increases when there is an interested adult involved.
The videoconferencing equipment used for this event is available for community use at the LEAAP Center.
For more information call 812-446-2536.