Skip to comments.FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING POVERTY by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D (What Teachers Need to Know)
Posted on 08/19/2007 8:34:39 AM PDT by shrinkermd
A FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING POVERTY by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.
I do not remember why I bought this book, but I am glad I did.
This book took a week to write, but it sold over 1,000,000 copies. While popular, the book must be unacceptable to mainstream, academic educators. There are no formal book reviews; there are no Wikipedia entries.
In spite of neglect and criticism, the book is surely popular. Why, is easy to understand. Dr. Payne discusses what is not supposed to be discussed-- social class. She believes that misunderstanding between social classes results in problems for educators, employers, policymakers and service providers.
Dr. Payne is especially interested in the mindset of the poverty class. She believes middle class teachers often fail or are frustrated in their work because they dont know the hidden rules of poverty. She defines the poverty class as being poor for two or more generations and differentiates this from the situational poverty which occurs because of circumstances.
For decades scholars and the laity have debated whether poverty is caused by individual character and moral shortcomings or is a result of cultural and economic disparities. Dr. Payne gets around this by assuming the poverty class results from both individual behaviors and social/economic circumstances. She believes class differences are real but she also believes the differences between the social classes can be bridged. If teachers and other service workers are to succeed in doing their job they need to account and correct for social class differences.
Prior to beginning the discussion, Dr. Payne lists some basic assumptions about poverty. I found keeping these in mind helps in correctly understanding what followed. The basic assumptions are:
Dr. Payne believes if you want to understand poverty you must understand three aspects of languageregisters, discourse patterns and story structure.
The first of these, registers, is discussed from the Martin Jooss book, The Five Clocks: A Linguistic Excursion Into The Five Styles of English Usuage. I prefer the term style rather than register. Apparently, academics have changed the word styleand replaced it with the word register. I prefer style since it is intuitively easier to use and understand.
I have re-read Jooss book and Dr. Payne has a good understanding of what he wrote so she must have read it as well. The five styles (registers) are as follows:
Professor Joos did not discuss or indicate any differences in the five styles of language between social classes. Dr. Payne does find differences.
These differences are that poverty and minority students are not exposed to the formal language style at home; hence, they often cant use formal register at school and are almost completely reliant on the casual style. Also, to be noted the SAT and ACT are in the formal style. The poverty class discourse pattern makes it difficult to teach them concepts and facts.
The alleged unfairness of SAT and ACT has been reinforced lately. Charles Murray the coauthor of The Bell Curve has recently urged that SAT and ACT be abolished. It is not that the tests dont work but that they are unfair. He particularly dislikes coaching for the tests.
Getting rid of the SAT will destroy the coaching industry as we know it. Coaching for the SAT is seen as the teaching of tricks and strategiesa species of cheatingnot as supplementary education. The retooled coaching industry will focus on the achievement tests, but insofar as the offerings consist of cram courses for tests in topics such as U.S. history or chemistry, its taint will be reduced.
Dr. Murray is a political scientist. He dislikes the stratification of society by IQ (SAT and ACT). His Draconian solution will not occur for obvious reasons. In the meantime the real debate should be, are Ivy Colleges better than other colleges or are they merely selecting the cream of the bell curve? IMHO better selection, better networking and better marketing are the principal advantages of Ivy League Colleges. They may have a superior faculty but not sufficiently superior to explain why Ivy Leaguer graduates do so much better than other graduates.
Dr. Payne also opines that the inability of the poverty class to organize their thoughts and get straight to the point makes for difficulty in understanding them. This is a difference in story structure.
I digress. Remember, one of the chief characteristics of human beings is language. All humans, with the exception of those suffering from organic intellectual impairment, achieve competence in whatever language they are exposed to. There is very little need for conscious instruction. Naom Chomsky and others have clearly demonstrated the language basics are achieved by age 5 and this rapid acquisition of language and grammar is an essential aspect of being human. We are born with a language infrastructure. Animals may communicate in many ways but they do not have a language infrastructure.
Language and its styles is so important Dr. Payne returns to this subject with her coauthor, Don L Krabill. In their book, Hidden Rules of Class At Work, some more recent articles. Hart (1995) and Harmon (1991) find that the predominant language style in poverty is the casual style. People who use the casual style almost exclusively have half the vocabulary as those who have varying abilities to communicate in the formal or consultative style. A three year old from a professional family usually has a larger vocabulary than the average adult in a welfare household.
Further, it is noted that the lack of abstract words results in differences of opinion quickly becoming personal. Ad hominem attacks then replace rational disputations. The casual style also results in circular reasoning and discussion rather than getting directly to the point. In the formal style a story is told with cause, effect, sequence by time and from beginning to end. In the casual style (think what we use in gossip) one starts at the end or that part of the story with the strongest emotional connotation. Usually, in gossip and other casual style discussion there is a tendency to expect audience participation.
All of us use the five styles of language at one time or another. The problem for teachers and other service providers is that poverty class primarily speaks, thinks and acts from the casual style. This means even if very intelligent those in the poverty class will have trouble communicating and understanding the formal or consultative style; hence teachers find doing their job for those restricted to the casual style very difficult.
I dislike the term hidden rules. Rules implies someone deliberately made them. What Dr. Payne seems to be describing is a social class typology and what she terms as rules are really characteristics. I found this section of the book entertaining but overly simplistic and less thought out than the discussion on language.
Notwithstanding, my bias Dr. Payne begins this section with the following quote:
Hidden rules are the unspoken cues and habits of a group. Distinct cueing systems exist among groups and economic classes. Generally, in America, that notion is recognized for racial and ethnic groups, but not particularly for economic groups. There are many hidden rules to examine. The ones examined are those that have the most impact on achievement in schools and success in the workplace...
Dr Payne uses only three possible social classespoverty, middle and wealthin her discussion. What she does is characterize each class according to possessions, money, personality, social emphasis, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, language, family structure, world view, love and humor. Quite a list! While the descriptors are interesting if not entertaining, she has the same problem psychiatrists had in making a diagnostic manual (DSM IV). That is, if the descriptors are broad they really predict nothing. If they are narrowed, the danger is the descriptors apply to so few as to be worthless. I have sympathy for her efforts.
I do not have sympathy for her assertion that IQ is a function of the hidden rules. (Pages 43, 62 and 87-88) Intelligence, and especially g, has been studied and documented for over 100 years.
Educators believe in biological egalitarianism in spite of evidence to the contrary: witness their usual avoidance of discussing intelligence. For example, quite popular in educational circles is Gardners theory of the seven types of smarts. Actually, what he lists are talents and his list, unlike an IQ determination, do not predict academic achievement or lack thereof. Gardmers theories are quite popular among teachers but they meet strong resistance in academic psychology and especially psychometricians.
To get back to the hidden rules of class, the authors descriptors include that of love where she pictures the following:
Love and acceptance for the middle class is conditional and based on achievement.
Love and acceptance for the wealthy class is conditional and related to social standing and connections.
Alfred Adler once said, 9/10 of the world is the way you see it, 1/10 is the way it is. In respect to love and the differences of class listed above the assertions are highly subjective and values determined; nonetheless, I found even this section of the book to have extraordinary heuristic value.
This is a long and worthwhile chapter. While written for teachers it points out the common problems of the poverty class in school. The children come to school in a disorganized frame of mind, make excuses for not doing the work, do not do homework, are physically aggressive, see only part of what is on the page, cant get started, work only for teachers they like and show a profound dislike of authority. There are other characteristics listed and the discussion is not only clear but buttressed by endnotes.
The author begins with two necessary definitions. The author defines a system as a group in which individuals have rules, roles and relationships. Dysfunctional is the extent to which an individual cannot get his/her needs met within the system.
All systems to an extent are dysfunctional. The extent that one has to give up his or her needs to meet those of another is the degree the situation is dysfunctional.
Among the conclusions Dr. Payne points out that by moving from the poverty to the middle class the individual must give up relationships for achievement. Only later can this individual establish new relationships that feel right.
This chapter is focused on how schools can build support systems for their pupils.
In generational poverty, discipline is about penance and forgiveness, not necessarily change.When forgiveness is given, the behavior return to the pre-discipline state. Teachers who do not understand this are at a disadvantage in maintaining classroom discipline.
An essential middle class value is self-governance. To be successful at work and school requires self-control. Those in generational poverty usually lack self-governance.
The author goes on to give prescriptions for disciplinary problems. She also discusses the three ego states parent, adult and childthat teachers need to understand and master. Using the parent voice in a disciplinary situation is often responded to with childish, angry behavior.
Many children in the poverty class have been parent to themselves or to their siblings; they have well developed child and parent voices but have a weak to nonexistent adult voice.
Among the strategies given to enhance classroom discipline, Dr. Payne urges giving discipline in the adult voice.
I have skipped over most of Dr. Paynes work on hidden rules of class to focus only on language. I do so because language is an essential human characteristic and the difficulties of the poverty class seem to begin with a language problem.
This chapter gives a series of ways for teachers to intervene and improve achievement. I am just going to focus on language.
Dr. Payne expresses the problem thusly:
The emphasis since 1980 in education has been on teaching. The theory has been that if you teach well enough, then learning will occur. But we all know of situations and individuals, including ourselves, who decided in a given situation not to learn. And we have all been in situations where we found it virtually impossible to learn because we did not have the background information or the belief system to accept it, even though it was well-taught and presented. (page 88)
The above quote surely resonates with many; hence, Dr. Paynes workshops and lectures have been widely popular with classroom teachers. Also, another reason for the Dr. Paynes popularity is she gives a series of concepts and interventions such that this failure to teach is not a fatal failure.
What Dr. Payne does is to point out there are Learning Structures that precede what teachers ordinarily focus on. That is teachers focus on concepts,skills and content
The Learning Structure she focuses on is termed COGNITIVE STRATEGIES. These are more basic than concepts and are the fundamental way of processing information. Cognitive Strategies are the infrastructure of the mind.
The author then goes on to review the extensive literature on this subject. What she finds is that mediation must occur before abstract learning. That is, before even entering school a child must learn to identify a stimulus, assign it meaning and develop a strategy of understanding and action. Mediation is defective in poverty class children and they have random/episodic memory, cannot plan, cannot predict, cannot identify consequences and have problems with impulsivity. (page 90)
She gives some common examples of defective cognitive strategies. One is an inability to see more than half a written page. Another is an inability to hold two objects in the mind at the same time and contrast them. There are many other examples.
Dr. Payne then gives three broad areas of interventioninput strategies, elaboration strategies and output strategies.
I will not list the particulars but IMHO what is important is the classroom teacher is given an approach to a difficult problem that has some degree of optimism and some likelihood success.
Dr. Payne concludes this discussion with several personal opinions. One is, The true discrimination that comes out of poverty is the lack of cognitive strategies. Another, is her observation is that parental involvement in school is not the crucial variable.. What seems to be crucial is ,...whether parents provide insistence, expectations and support at home.
This is a brief chapter that begins by Dr. Payne pointing out that one characteristic of the the poverty class is the importance of relationships and entertainment. Because of this, the most effective motivator for these students is relationships.
When a student escapes poverty and is then asked what was the important factor leading to the change, most indicate a relationship with a teacher or other adult. This always begins with a 1:1 relationship.
In this chapter the author has two lists documenting by deposits and withdrawals to outline what enhances and what detracts from school based relationships.
Not being an educator I looked for outside help. As mentioned previously I could find no formal book reviews and no entry in Wikipedia.
On Amazon.com there are 75 or more consumer reviews. Those reviews written by people actually working in a classroom (and no political agenda) give a positive review. Some even are ecstatic about the book. Others, of a more academic or political bent describe the book in pejorative termsclassist, stereotyped and unsophisticated.
In the New York Times (10 June 2007) Paul Tough reported on Dr. Paynes efforts. Paul Tough seemed amazed at the turnout1400. In any case here is some of what he said:
It may be that the only people with abiding faith in the power of class divisions in America are the country's few remaining Marxists and Ruby Payne. And while Payne may not believe in class struggle, per se, she does believe that there is widespread misunderstanding among the classes -- and more than ever, she says, the class that bears the cost of that misunderstanding is the poor. In schools, particularly, where poor students often find themselves assigned to middle-class teachers, class cluelessness is rampant.
Paul Tough is an editor of the NYT Magazineso his views on how others see Dr. Payne are worth remembering. Another quote from this article is:
Academics in the latter group can't stand Payne. And academics in the former group find it hard to defend her. There are plenty of sociologists, psychologists and economists who have reached conclusions similar to Payne's: poor parents are more inclined to use corporal punishment; poor students are more eager to work hard in a teacher's class when they feel a personal relationship with a teacher; poor homes are more often chaotic and loud. The problem is Payne's methodology, or rather her lack of one. She does have a Ph.D. in social policy, and her book does have a few pages of footnotes. Her seminars include occasional references to popular scholarly works of sociology and history, like Robert Putnam's ''Bowling Alone'' and Jared Diamond's ''Guns, Germs and Steel.'' But clearly, Payne's preferred unit of research is the anecdote. Her talks are nothing like university lectures. They're a blend of cracker-barrel wisdom, Tony Robbins-style motivational speaking and a Chris Rock comedy routine. And that means that among academics in good standing, saying something nice about Ruby Payne is a good way to invite the disapproval of your peers.
A safe assumption is that in spite of her success and support from the classroom teachers, academics have locked her out of any possible serious discussion. Here, as well as on Amazon, the severest critics operate from some basic political assumptionspolitical correctness, denial of any influence of social class, a tendency to ad hominem attacks rather debate the issues.
In the Matewan Journals there is another discussion of the Tough article. The title of this article is Ruby Payne, Poverty, and Class in America. This article is much more supportive of Dr. Paynes efforts. The conclusion of this article seems balanced and fair. It is:
Which is why I have little patience with Paynes academic critics. Shes making people aware. She may not be doing it the way they think she should - and I have many of the same criticisms about her work that they have - but she has done more in a few short years to make class part of the conversation in education than those academic critics have made in decades. Is Paynes work the end? Of course not. Its just a place to start. And I think Payne would be the first to admit that.
That last quote from the Matewan Journals is a good one to remember. She has begun a journey that others refused to take. She bases her conclusions on anecdotes but these anecdotes are based on classroom experience and are buttressed by favorable comments by other classroom teachers.
I have previously mentioned hidden rules of class requires re-working such that there is no implication that someone or some organization establishes these.
I have also mentioned I.Q. Here there seems to be a universal educator belief that this is either not important or that I.Q. is amenable to change by the educational establishment. In doing this teachers may find a false egalitarianism but the outcome really is that the government sets unrealistic goals for teachers.
For example, the effect of urban (middle class) flight from the central cities has had a marked effect on IQ distribution. The inner cities now have an average IQ of 85. [ I have trouble making the link work but it is found at: la Griffe du Llion.]
This means that roughly one half (below 85) of all these students will find it very difficult to graduate from the ordinary, academically oriented HS program. To be sure, the curriculum can be dumbed down and diplomas handed out that the students cannot read or understand. But is this the solution?
I think not. What needs to be faced is necessity of more and better services designed for the less able not on a mistaken assumption we are all equal in ability. An IQ determination is the best predictor of academic potential and it is ridiculous to label such efforts as racist, classist and so on.
The outcome of such efforts would mean we would have different standards of success for different abilities. For example, if half the children in the inner city are at risk for not completing HS, progress should be measured on this basis. If 60% graduate from an inner city HS--this is an achievement. Conversely, in a prominent White, suburban school district ( IQ assumed to be 100), if the HS graduation rate is not above 85%, the school district is derelict in its duty.
In fairness, I note Dr. Payne, in her endnotes, reports that the poverty class had a 6-9 lesser IQ. (page 154)
Another problem I had with this book is the assumption that income determines class. It simply must be remembered that: In the first year, people in the bottom fifth (quintile) had an average income of just over $1,000. Seventeen years later, the average income of those people surged to $26,475 (all figures in constant 1993 dollars). Just 5 percent were still in the bottom income bracket in 1991 The source of this quote can be found: HERE.
Blaming society and income levels for the poverty class is like assuming wet streets cause rain. This brings me to my last criticism. I think it ill advised to use the term poverty class. What we have, if there is a class, it is what Murray called the underclass.
From the Wikipedia entry.
The contemporary concept of the underclass is a sanitized term for what was known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the undeserving poor, and was first used by Gunnar Myrdal in 1962. The usage came into wide circulation in the early 1980s, following Ken Auletta`s (1982) use of the term in three articles published in The New Yorker in 1981, and in book form a year later. Auletta refers to the underclass as a group who do not "assimilate" (1982: xvi quoted in Morris, 1994: 81), identifying four main groups:
In 1984 Charles Murray published a book called Losing Ground, which popularized the term underclass.
There must be a place to discuss the underclass in its totality. This means using the old medical approach of using a longitudinal history (across the lifespan) plus descriptors that are rigorously tested such that they have both reliability and validity.
All in all, this is a fine book by a dedicated and resourceful person. It deserves greater mention. Parents, teachers and psychotherapists all discover that they must put more into their professional relationships than they ever get out of them. Dr. Payne does in her quite remarkable work.
Thanks for reading to the end of this book review.
I can't imagine anyone interested in education not using it as a resource. It is a fine effort.
Researchers examining what happened to 4,248 families that were randomly given or denied federal housing vouchers to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods found no significant difference about seven years later between the achievement of children who moved to more middle-class neighborhoods and those who didn't.
Although some children had more stable lives and better academic results after the moves, the researchers said, on average there was no improvement. Boys and brighter students appeared to have more behavioral problems in their new schools, the studies found.
"Research has in fact found surprisingly little convincing evidence that neighborhoods play a key role in children's educational success," says one of the two reports on the Web site of the Hoover Institution's journal Education Next.
Experts often debate the factors in student achievement. Many point to teacher quality, others to parental involvement and others to economic and cultural issues.
This book is used by lots of education departments etc.
I am surprised you could not find reviews, as I hear about it ALL the time. It is a great book.
And very true in what it details as class differences.
The rest is all HOGWASH !!!
Judge not lest ye be judged.
I received training from her group. Very eye opening! We have not only incorporated the lessons/observations into our school system, but also our social services, health and law enforcement.
You can’t just impose behavioral expectations on another class that stem from middle class values. If they do not intrinsically embrace those values, any changes based on them will not last and be constantly sabbotaged by family and friends.
One of the more interesting observations was the matrilineal relationships of families in poverty. This was particularly usefull for law enforcement to understand so they knew who was likely to come to whose defense in a fight.
How would you summarize the usefulness of this book? Is the world, or anybody's world, different or better due to the "use" of this book? How would the behavior of someone "using" this book change as a result of such use?
Actually, there are two causes. The second one is making stupid decisions, repeatedly. Getting pregnant without being married. Punching your boss. Using drugs and going to work. Committing crimes. Add your own to the list.
It helps you identify certain behaviors consistent with different classes, which helps you understand those in such a class.
I know I recognized behaviors in students, and it really made a lot of sense. For example, the poor value showing love by buying things. I always thought it was weird that some of the poorest students in my class had the nicest shoes. There is also a fear of kids doing better than their parents, which is completely different from middle class.
Hmmm.... It's my experience that there are people at all income levels who purchase things that they really cannot afford. I usually attribute it to a failure to defer gratification for purposes of accomplishing more important goals. I didn't view this behavior as being only associated with the "underclass".
rwfromkansas said: "There is also a fear of kids doing better than their parents, which is completely different from middle class."
I don't understand what you are describing. Fear on whose part? The kids? Can you elaborate on this?
Yes, they are just generalizations, not true for everybody.
But, they have been proven true most of the time from my experience and that of other teachers.
As for the fear, I mean poor parents are afraid of their kids doing better than they did because they often depend upon them for extra money etc.
Thanks for the post and book review. The material is professionally interesting (M.S. in Adult Education) but have not seen it since it relates mostly to the common K-12 school setting. From your review, I can see applications within my profession and probably should consider the book for adding to my library.
However, I would say that Dr. Payne does come in for some justifiable criticism, at least from my grandmother’s common sense perpective. Dr. Payne’s Basic Assumptions = grandma’s saying “poor folks have poor ways”. IOW, there is considerable intellectualization of that which we know either instinctively or through experience.
Dr. Payne appears to promote an approach that is used extensively in adult learning theory that says you have to teach/train the students as you find them in such a way that the meaning and necessity of the required learning is clear. In the adult setting, this means that the material to be learned must have immediate application to a life need, such as on the job learning. I think Dr. Payne is saying that K-12 teachers must ensure that their material is free from the middle class “hidden rules” that could stand in the way of learning by those that do not understand the “hidden rules”.
Just some initial thoughts without the benefit of reading the book but the post and book info are appreciated. I look forward to your comments, if any.
The book we were trained on was Bridges Out of Poverty, which was for disciplines other than teaching.
I remember some generalizations, such as the upper class prizes connections to power and authority. When introductions are made a person is identified by what he does or his position. For example, Mrs. Hoity-toit, may I -present John Grand-puba, John is a physician at Johns Hopkins and serves on the “Aren’t we Wonderful” Board of Directors.
The “lower class” prizes close relationships and rely on those relationships and sharing of things to survive.
The middle class is goal oriented and prizes acquiring things.
I must be reading something wrong.
If the kids do better than the parents, then the parents are somehow going to receive less money from these kids? Because the kids move away from home instead of remaining in the nest? Or is there some other connection that I am missing?
I know I’m late to this thread, but I’ve heard a lot of lower class parents say to the effect, “I ain’t nothin’ and you ain’t nothin’ either.”