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April 19, 2007

Troubling, but entertaining guidebook for educators: "A Framework for Understanding Poverty"

Framework_for_understanding_pover_2 As reported in the Washington Post, a guidebook being given to teachers across the country on understanding poverty itself does not demonstrate much understanding of poverty and is filled with troublesome generalizations.  The book has strong sales, is in its 4th edition, is #637 in Amazon book sales (see here), and is written by Ruby K. Payne, the founder of a linked consulting business, Aha! Process, that offers, for a fee, its training services, to schools  across the counties.   The business is driven by its tie-in to the book, and given what is in the book, I hope the public would at least be concerned if this is how their district was spending limited resources. 

I first encountered "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" a month ago when I returned to where I am from and saw that my dad's wife, a teacher, was reading the book.  Since poverty matters are not on her normal reading list, I asked about the book and learned that her principal had given out copies to every teacher and had also discussed the book at a teacher in-service day.  FamilycircleSo I skimmed the book, and I admit that I laughed a lot as a read it!  A lot!  It is great that educators are being asked by their principals to think about poverty (for my dad and his wife that live on the Navajo Nation, an area with widespread unemployment/underemployment, the teachers are probably pretty aware to begin with), but to use a book with such rampant -- and I acknowledge funny, in a sad sort of way -- stereotypes, unsupported by evidence or research, is problematic.  Some things I just could not imagine were actually published... To give just one example, to the right you have the author's presentation of the family structure of a poor woman (tied to 3 husbands and a live-in female lover), which of course she contrasts with a more traditional family structure of a better off family.  To quote the Washington Post story, "The Texas-based author says in her book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty": Parents in poverty typically discipline children by beating or verbally chastising them; poor mothers may turn to sex for money and favors; poor students laugh when they get in trouble at school; and low-income parents tend to "beat around the bush" during parent-teacher conferences, instead of getting to the point."  If you are still interested in getting training materials based on the book, contact Aha! or simply Google "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," though a trip to the library for another book seems more worthwhile, unless you are into this for the entertainment value. 
- E.R. erosser@wcl.american.edu   

April 19, 2007 | Permalink

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