Understanding Poverty, Chapter 5: Role Models and Emotional Resources (Ruby Payne)

Now that Dr. Payne has clearly established characteristics of generational poverty, the dilemma is how those individuals can make the jump out of poverty into middle class.

"In order to move from poverty to middle class or from middle class to wealth, one must trade off some relationships for achievement at least for a period of time. To do this, one needs emotional resources and stamina."

People draw these emotional resources from role models, and the problem for educators is that most of our impoverished students do not have access to appropriate role models to help them make that jump. A few of the ways we can help students strive for better in life include using "appropriate discipline strategies," and by "establishing long-term relationships." These resonated with me because I have the opportunity for both in my library classroom setting. My own personal beliefs regarding discipline (at school and at home) are that the punishment should fit the crime. Logical consequences teach the child to trust me to be fair with them, which helps lead into building that long-term relationship. I teach at an elementary school, which means I meet those precious darlings when they are 5 and say goodbye to them when they are 10 or 11! (Disregarding transients, of course.) That gives me a good, solid 6 years with these children to impress upon them the inherent belief that they are capable of striving for great things in their life, regardless of what they are told at home! What a challenge before us, when you look at it that way!


Understanding Poverty, Chapter 4: Characteristics of Generational Poverty (Ruby Payne)

This chapter is about defining some of the distinctive characteristics of those in generational poverty. The difference between generational poverty and situational poverty include that those who have been in poverty for 2 generations or more are, obviously, in generational poverty; those who are impoverished due to a tragic or life-altering event (death, divorce, marriage, illness, etc.) are considered in situational poverty.

Some key thoughts mentioned about generational poverty are that these individuals believe that "society owes [them] a living. " They think only on a concrete level when it comes to work; they do not strive for a career, only for a job that will get them by for the moment. They are also more likely to quit if they do not like their teacher/boss/colleague/etc. There is also incredble emphasis on the mother figure in the family. Dr. Payne breaks down the basic structure of relationships between mother and children, and of husband and wife. She explains repeatedly that the mother is the most important person in the family, but that allegiances between parents or extended family members changes often and without warning. This causes confusion in basic elements of the student's life, such as who he or she is going him with, who will sign their permission forms or homework papers, who will send lunch money, etc. This was a great reminder to consider the whole child, and not to judge or become frustrated with them, as these things are inevitable and totally out of their control.

Poor babies. We will never know what our children face, and I don't think we could handle it if we did!



A Path Through Suffering (Elisabeth Elliot)

Elisabeth Elliot knows about suffering. When she was in her twenties, her first husband (Jim Elliot) was killed by Auca indians in Ecuador, where they were serving as missionaries in the 1950's. In the 1970's, her second husband (Addison Leitch) passed away from cancer. She has certainly handled some heavy blows from life.

It is because of her difficulties in life, and her relationship with Christ, that she has an expert's point of view to surviving the most horrific of circumstances. A Path Through Suffering carries a plant/growth theme, and is uniquely designed in that each chapter is preceded by a description of a certain characteristic of a plant or flower (such as the process of blooms bursting forth from thorns, the comparison of a bare tree in winter with a fruitful tree in spring, and the dandelion's death providing life elsewhere). She drew these from Lilias Trotter's Parables of the Cross.

My favorite aspect of this book is that it is mostly meat. Rather than being a fluffy, feel-good, blase book report on the Biblical standard for understanding suffering, Elisabeth Elliot's style is considerably more straight-forward. She provides Scripture, she uses few metaphors, and she provides reminders of the commands of Christ.
A few of my favorite quotations, which provide a nice summary:
  • "Each time the mystery of suffering touches us personally and all the cosmic questions rise afresh in our minds we face the choice between faith (which accepts) and belief (which refuses to accept). There is only one faculty of faith, and 'faith is the fulcrum of moral and spiritual balance.'"
  • Elisabeth's list for dealing with suffering of any kind: recognize it, accept it, offer it to God as a sacrifice, and offer yourself with it. Another list of dealing with suffering caused by other people: forgiveness (Mark 11:25), trust in God's sovereignty (Genesis 50:20), and having a view to eternity (Colossions 3:1-4).
  • "We are seldom shown in advance God's intention in a particular trial, nor the long term effect our obedience may have on others."
  • "...the best fruit will be what is produced from the best-pruned branch. The strongest steel will be that which went through the hottest fire and the coldest water. The deepest knowledge of God's presence will have been acquired in the deepest river or dungeon or lion's den. The greatest joy will have come out of the greatest sorrow."
  • "While angels wait and watch, our part is to be simple- simply to trust, simply to obey, and leave the complexities to the Engineer of the universe."
In an appendix at the close of her book, Elisabeth provides a list of many of the reasons we are asked to endure various kinds of suffering. The 4 categories include:
-suffering for our own sake (that we may learn who God is, to trust, to obey, discipline as proof of the Father's love and of the validity of our sonship, condition of discipleship, required of soldiers, we are being pruned to bear fruit, that we can reach spiritual maturity, to produce endurance and character, etc.)
-for the sake of God's people (that they may gain salvation, to give courage, because of death working in us, life may work in them, our generosity may bless others, etc.)
-for the sake of the world (that it may see love and obedience, etc.)
-and for the sake of Christ (we identify with him in His crucifixion, share His glory, etc.).

Elisabeth Elliott is a very different author than I normally prefer. Her style is 50 years old but her her message is timeless. Her words are succinct and not impressive, though they carry incredibly deep meditative meanings. This is a book to keep on hand, as a tool of comfort when we all inevitably come to our respective times of suffering.



The Associate (John Grisham)

What is it about John Grisham? For about 20 books now, he takes the same general idea of an attorney struggling to beat whatever version of the legal system has him perplexed at the moment. Pretty much every time I pick up a Grisham book, I know exactly what I am getting. Same basic plot line, same general outcome. Usually I hate that in an author. Surprise me! Shake things up a bit! Maybe there is something about the relative predictability of John Grisham that I like after all.

Kyle McAvoy is a successful first year associate at a gigantic Wall Street law firm, only he is being blackmailed to commit corporate espionage. In undergrad, Kyle had the distinct misfortune of having passed out during a fraternity party gone haywire, and now 7 years later a video has mysteriously surfaced of 4 frat brothers in a room with a girl who was quite inebriated herself. The actions of 2 of the guys with the girl are questionable, and could possibly put them all in prison. The video has now fallen into the hands of some opportunists hoping to use Kyle to sneak out secret files for a major lawsuit that the firm is working on. His extortionists are very well-connected, very threatening, and have access to an endless supply of money and technology. They follow Kyle for several months as he tries to stall the inevitable breach of security to his firm. Like Grisham's other stars, Kyle McAvoy is smart and works hard to find a way out. In the end, he does...sort of, but the reader is left wondering about the permanence of his newfound peace and happiness. This ending was quite unsatisfying after such tension buildup. I would rather have seen Kyle McAvoy live happily ever after or die from a puzzling car bomb than to just have to wonder about him! Grisham, oh Grisham. Write me some more southern legal lit, just for old times' sake!


Chapter 3: Hidden Rules Among Classes (Understanding Poverty-Dr. Ruby Payne)

This chapter in A Framework for Understanding Poverty includes a breakdown of the hidden rules of the classes. There is a quiz for each class where the reader can explore what they know about poverty, middle class, and wealth. Some of the items for the poverty list were:
I know....
-which rummage sales have "bag sales" and when.
-which grocery stores' garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food.
-how to get someone out of jail.
-how to keep my clothes from being stolen at a laundromat.
-how to use a knife as scissors.
-how to move in half a day.
-how to get by without a car, electricity, a phone, or money to pay the bills.

It's overwhelming the number of my students to whom these issues are no big deal. It's also troublesome that I am living my life operating on the hidden rules of the middle class, and I have little to no idea about the culture of poverty (which is where over half of our student population is classified).

In this chapter, there is also a neat table that explores topics such as money, personality, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, family structure, world view, and even humor as they relate to the various classes. Standing out to me were time and money. With regard to time, in poverty, the present is most important and every decision made is based on feelings or survival. In the middle class, the future is most important and every decision is made based on future impact. In wealth, traditions and history are of utmost importance, therefore every decision is based on tradition and decorum. In terms of money, in poverty it is to be spent, in the middle class it is to be managed, and in wealth it is to be conserved and invested. Very interesting! The question is, how do we fix it? How are we going to help transition students from a culture of poverty to something better?


Chapter 2: The Role of Language and Story (Understanding Poverty-Ruby Payne)

According to Dr. Payne, one must consider elements of language in order to truly understand the culture of poverty. The 5 registers of language, and characteristics of every language in the world, are: frozen (Lord's Prayer, wedding vows), formal (communication at work and school, grammatically correct and in complete sentences), consultative (formal conversation), casual (incomplete sentences, incorrect grammar, general word choice), and intimate (between lovers or twins). The basic point of this chapter is that students in poverty speak casual register, whereas everything AT school (teachers, standardized tests, etc.) use formal register. That means the kiddos just don't understand what it is we are trying to say, which means they'll never perform at the level we expect. Sad, but it makes sense.
There are several practical ideas the author gives for helping teach students to convert to formal register. They include:
  • Have them write in their casual register, then translate to formal.
  • Establish as part of the discipline plan a way for students to write in formal register what they have done wrong, which will prevent them from being reprimanded.
  • Graphic organizers
  • Tell stories both in formal and casual registers. (I am definitely planning to use this strategy this year!)
  • Make up and use stories in all subject areas, and even in guiding behavior.



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!