Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

On October 15th, Blog Action Day, bloggers around the world will unite to write about this year's theme--poverty--in a way that somehow connects to the theme and character of their blog, whether they blog about genealogy, or financial planning, or weight loss. I registered to participate and encourage other bloggers to do so, too. Curiously enough, I have wanted to write a post, or a series of posts, on poverty: what it is, how it happens, how it affects families and generations.

As many of my readers know, I work as an instructional assistant in a special needs classroom at a middle school (junior high) for Spokane Public Schools. What many do not know is that the building in which I work is located in one of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods of the city. While working with the special needs students is always a treat, being around the regular ed. students isn't always so. Their behaviors, choices of words, and attitudes are different than what I'm used to in my familial setting, and sometimes it is uncomfortable to be around them. They come from a different culture than I do; the culture of poverty.

"What?" you say. "Poverty is a culture?" Indeed it is. So is middle class; so is wealth.

Seven years ago, an award-winning elementary teacher I had the privilege to assist gave me a book to read: A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. A principal who worked in the inner-city school districts of Houston, Ms. Payne observed how there are middle class "hidden rules" (expectations) in school settings which were placed upon students of poverty. Faculty from the middle class culture could not effectively communicate with and address issues of these students and their families, causing strife and interfering with learning. A Framework for Understanding Poverty was the result of these observations and her work in instructing teachers in how to address the needs (educational, social, emotional) of their students in ways that they could understand and accept, especially so they can be successful as adults working in careers where middle class expectations are the norm.

Ms. Payne states that "each individual has resources that greatly influence achievement; money is only one [my emphasis]. Poverty is the extent to which an individual is without these resources." She also delineates between two types of poverty: generational and situational. Generational poverty is defined as being in poverty for two generations or longer. Situational poverty involves a shorter time and is caused by circumstance, i.e. death, illness, divorce.

After reading this book, I understood so much more the differences in the way my home life was (middle class culture) compared to my childhood friends (Native Americans in poverty). Even though our cultures (both social and racial) were different, I was familiar with theirs, and it was difficult for me to transition to a society of mostly middle class Caucasian culture when we moved to Washington State. As I studied different lines within my family tree and that of my husband's, I could see how incidents (war, disease, an economic depression, or the death of the head of a household) caused situational poverty for some of my ancestors or their relatives. Sometimes those families survived and overcame poverty, because they had other non-monetary resources on their side. Other family lines did not, and some of them became subjected to generational poverty. These are some of the things I hope to address in my post on Blog Action Day.

Won't you join me?


Terry Thornton said...

Yes, Miriam, I'll be joining you and all the other Genea-Bloggers in addressing this important issue in family history. Thanks for your excellent review of Payne's book --- you've given me additional "food for thought" and I appreciate it.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

Anonymous said...

My wife, who is a public school speech pathologist, introduced me to Ruby Payne and the "culture of poverty several years ago after she attended a workshop at her school. I have been using some of her ideas ever since when I teach Biblical Ethics. It is always inspiring to see college students, most of whom have lived a pretty sheltered and priviledged lifesthyle, really begin to deal with the reality of poverty. I will participate in Blog Action Day: Poverty.