Monday, April 25, 2005

A Fresh Look at Poverty--thoughts grown from a book...

Poverty: A Framework for Understanding and Working with Students and Adults from Poverty
by Ruby Payne

So often we hear about the problems within our educational system, although mainstream media and our government rarely focus on the potential solutions that will get at the root of these problems. Well, this book is a bit different. Payne writes that poverty is not just a reflection of your financial life. She does what many statistics fail to do by providing information implying the rich majority can exist at some level of poverty. Well defined, Payne applies the concept of poverty to areas of life: financial, emotional, spiritual, physical, and supportive. With these new parameters, assessing what wealth our students bring with them to school, our school system can do a better job of meeting our kids where they are. (Those of us in education know the boundless benefit of such a concept.)
If we assess our status this way as opposed to stricktly by money, we find that many of our inner-city families are wealthy in ways our Beverly Hills families are not and vice versa. Such a realization may be the first step towards understanding why the grass on the other side of the hill isn't always greener. This revelation could help those living in poverty find some merit with their lives, something that makes them feel strong against the pity society tosses at them for their lack of financial means. It may also provide a dose of healing for those who live like money is the cure-all, but behind close doors ache for something more. While there are some individuals who possess financial wealth, which in my opinion is the hollowist of the five, other families are rich because they have abnormally strong support systems (extended, close family structure). Which of these families is bound to produce the happiest, most socially responsible person? Note: I didn't ask which of these families is better off.

Take a minute and hink about your areas of wealth. How did those areas shape who you are today?

Discovering Myself Through the Rearview

Part I of III

Preoccupied with the struggle to develop and maintain a sense of “family” with respectful, responsible children, my parents did not know how to develop learners. When my peers were crawling into bed at 9 p.m., I was jumping in the car for a late night family game of bowling. My peers were sitting at a clean, well-lit table doing math problems for homework, but I, like my mom, was talking on the phone, watching television, or cleaning house. My life at home and at school never intersected so models of life-long learning did not exist. Nothing reinforced or added value to what happened at school. Boarding the bus at the end of the day, I left learning in its natural place, at school.

My parents did not know how to prepare me to be a learner, but my mom gave me what she could—access to what she knew existed: better. She knew a world of wealth existed outside the parameters of our neighborhood—that somewhere tucked away in the middle class neighborhoods things looked better: better cars, better houses, better schools, and if I was going to be successful, I would have to have better. Her awareness of better has made all the difference. Ruby Payne, in her book Poverty: A Framework for Understanding and Working with Students and Adults from Poverty, says knowing “the hidden rules/norms” of a class allows the person to shift upward into that class. (Payne, 9) My mom didn’t finish college, but she knew that for me to finish, I’d need the most basic of those norms. I’d have to “talk/dress/act right,” “look people in the eyes when they are talking to you,” and “shake hands like you mean business.” And on those days when I was testing to attend those better schools, we’d wake up early, iron and lay out my clothes, spend a little extra time on my hair, and have breakfast. (Even then she was teaching me school/learning was something I put on rather than a natural a part of me.) The schools had clean, carpeted halls, lockers without locks, and noticeably more salt than pepper. There I was taught and surrounded by the wealthy, upper class, who lived the life my mom wanted for me. By sharing learning space with this class of people, I would learn to speak the language of affluent Americans and live the American way, having a chance at a “better life.” She didn’t know how to bring learning home, because that’s a middle class norm; she did, however, know how to discipline me when I brought home anything below a B, because that is a lower class norm (Payne). Consequently, I learned to stay afloat and fit in, and that seemed to be enough even through college.

But what I realized at _____ University changed the lenses through which I view my educational life. The only thing that separated me from every other kid in my neighborhood was the access my mother had given me. In an education course, we were learning why kids, specifically minority children, underperformed: low socioeconomic status, perils of the inner city, and parents too overwhelmed with life to appreciate or understand the value of schooling. I realized they were talking about me, who I could have been had my mother not been the granddaughter of a housekeeper of a wealthy white family. They would have been talking about me, had my mother not seen better. From that moment on, I devoted myself to not only giving kids, like me, access, but also imparting upon them the value of education. My life experiences had purpose; I knew and could share the norms of mainstream America with those who had no real knowledge of the world beyond their socioeconomic class. My first lesson in teaching came during an observation when the teacher asked if I would escort a disruptive student to the office. Along the walk to the principal’s, I asked why he was acting out, and he replied, “She don’t care about me. That white woman don’t know nothin’ about me. Why should I listen to her?” That conversation affected my remaining years as an undergrad. I became increasingly sensitive to the small number of professors who cared, taught curriculum relevant to my life, and modeled learning/teaching in a way I would want to imitate. If the professor doesn’t know me, how can he know how to help me learn? How can a tenured person giving 10 year-old lectures be interested in my learning? If he doesn’t hear me over the sound of his own voice, how can he know what/if I am thinking? What type of education was I really getting?

Sunday, February 13, 2005


Let me begin by saying that what you read here are the thoughts of one person, shared, I am sure, by many. You will find untucked thoughts, questions, stories of fiction, but on the bottom line of each, I hope you find something in your self. And for the record, you will also find grammatical mistakes, some intentional and others unintentional. Accept them like you do so many other things...

May your reading give you pause and some discomfort.

All constructive feedback is welcomed.

The Author