Assigned Reading

It's been a while since I've been assigned a book to read. (Outside of the montly titles for book club, that is.)

As a staff here at Starfish, we are reading Ruby K. Payne's "A Framework for Understanding Poverty." The plan is to discuss the book in January, which meant I really did need to start reading it soon. Since I had some time yesterday, I picked it up and was really impressed by the first few chapters.

I'd heard of Ruby Payne during my time as an education reporter in my past life in Oshkosh WI. The schools up there had read the book and I believe some of the staff had attended some of her workshops in an effort to better understand how poverty affected learning. So, going in, I expected good things.

The premise of the book is that there are hidden rules for conduct and behavior at each socio-economic class and when people are moving between classes, they bring the rules of their former class with them. For people trying to move out of poverty this can mean that they need to learn the hidden set of middle class rules (by which schools and business are run) to succeed.

For example, Payne says, a hidden rule of poverty is that food is equated with love, because food keeps people alive. A hidden rule of the middle class is that time is valued for the future and decisions are weighted against future consequences. A hidden rule of the wealthy class is possessions should be one-of-a-kind pedigrees.

Payne gives an interesting quiz about what knowledge the reader has that could help you survive in the different classes.

In the poverty class quiz, I could check off about 3.5 boxes. In the middle class list, I checked off all 15 boxes. In the wealthy class I checked off about 3.5 boxes too. It was really amazing to see it so clearly, that I am so familiar with the cultural expectations I grew up with and so unfamiliar with the others. I'd like to think I would know what to do if I moved either up or down in categories, but honestly, I don't. (Really, I don't know how to find the best rummage sales or navigate the politics of Junior League...)

It's pretty eye-opening to think about these core values and assumptions that really aren't the same across socioeconomic lines.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts about this book as I continue to read it.

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