A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Intro and Chapter 1 (Ruby Payne)


I've wanted to read this book for a while, and now our faculty is doing a book study (via our schoolwide teachers' blog) on A Framework for Understanding Poverty. The study is going very well so far. We already have 71 comments in response to the first post by our principal (and our school only has about 25 teachers)! Because we are studying and reflecting collectively on our schoolwide blog, I'm going to use this space to note key points in each division. Most of these are direct quotes, and some are my own summary of several points made by the author. By the time I'm finished, you may feel as thought you have read the book!


This is a book truly worth taking the time to savor. It should be required reading for all educators in their first 3 years of teaching (NOT pre-service, because firsthand experience makes Poverty much more powerful).


Notable key points from Intro:


  • Poverty is relative.

  • Poverty occurs in all races and all countries worldwide.

  • Generational poverty and situational poverty are different.

  • There are hidden rules in every class, and individuals carry along those rules with which they were raised.

  • Schools (and businesses) target middle class hidden rules. This leaves out a lot of individuals.

  • My favorite quote: "We can neither excuse children nor scold them for not knowing; as educators we must teach them and provide support, insistence, and expectations." WOW

  • Two things that help move a person up out of poverty are education and relationships. WOW

  • Four causes for a person to leave poverty: too painful to stay, a vision or goal, a key relationship, or a special skill/talent.

Key points from Chapter 1: Definitions and Resources-


  • There is a set of various types of resources that people either have access to or do not have access to. The resources are: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, and knowledge of hidden rules.

  • So, even from the Introduction, Dr. Payne mentions several times the existence of "hidden rules" within different levels in a society. I was perplexed by this, and at the end of Chapter 1, Dr. Payne mentions a few of them as related to the 7 scenarios presented for dissection. Those rules include the ever presence of jail for many people who live in poverty. Jail bondsmen, bail, and even the guarantees of food, shelter, and safety provided by jail are a part of life for many in poverty. As Dr. Payne puts it, "The line between legal and illegal is thin and often crossed." People will do anything, sell anything, be anything, to get their loved ones out of jail in this class, because relationships are more important that money in generational poverty. In one scenario, a woman in generational poverty receives a bit of extra money, and is immediately asked by 3 different people for money they need to get out of a bind, buy groceries, etc. Another hidden rule is that any extra money is spent immediately or shared. If it is not shared, the next time she is in need, they will not help her...which leads to the hidden rule of the support system. "In poverty, people are possessions, and people can rely only on each other." Another important rule is that of penance and forgiveness, usually controlled by the mother. "The mother is the most powerful figure in generational poverty...she controls the limited resources" and also "dispenses penance and forgiveness. the typical pattern in poverty for discipline is to verbally shastise the child, or physically beat the child, then forgive and feed him/her. The hidden rules about food in poverty are that food is equated with love."

  • "Resources of students and adults should be analyzed before dispensing advice or seeking solutions to the situation. What may seem to be very workable suggestions from a middle-class point of view may be virtually impossible given the resources available to those in poverty."

  • "Educators have tremendous opportunities to influence some of the non-financial resources that make such a difference in students' ives. For example, it costs nothing to be an appropriate role model."

Great stuff, and I believe that this book will have a deep impact on the way we talk with and impact the students of our school!