BOOKS: Framework for Understanding Poverty

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2000:


Framework for Understanding Poverty
by Ruby K. Payne, Ph. D.
RFT Publishing Co. , 1998. 232 pages, paperback. $26.50 includes postage.

A cruelty investigator once told me that wealthy neighborhoods were the ones he really dreaded going into because “you can’t tell those people anything.”

Whether you need help understanding the poor, the middle class, or the wealthy, here is a book with insights for you. Framework for Understanding Poverty was written in the belief that “an understanding of the culture and values of poverty will lessen the anger and frustration that educators [and others] may periodically feel” when working with students and parents of poverty. The “hidden rules” of the middle-class and wealthy are also exposed. The book demonstrates that “middle-class solutions should not necessarily be imposed when other, more workable solutions might be found.”

Even if one disparages the terms “poverty,” “middle-class,” and “wealthy” as offensive and laden with stereotypes, the insights offered to teachers may help animal advocates too. After a decade-plus of working and living on isolated reservations and in the inner city, and then (by a fluke of land development) spending six years in a neighborhood where limosines and armed guards outside homes are common, I still gained perspectives from author Ruby Payne.

Though the content is sobering, the book is fun because of quizzes asking, “Could you survive in poverty?” and “Could you survive in wealth?” Some will be offended by the stereotypical assumptions inherent in the tests, but the author makes clear that her work is based on patterns and that, “All patterns have exceptions.” Payne also gives sample questions that might appear on an IQ test, if it were based on experiences acquired in poverty, rather than on the acquired information of the middle class.

Most powerful for me were vignettes that place the reader in situations that people in poverty face. A person of more affluent background will begin to understand why the typical middle-class worldview cannot be projected. Even after I had been intimately involved on a weekly basis with a Native American family and their extended family in the inner city for more han five years, Payne really helped me to understand some behaviors that previously had seemed stupid to me. I now admire those behaviors and wish my family were a little more like that one in some ways!

As an aside, I got involved with the family through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and I highly recommend this as a volunteer experience, especially if you request to be matched to someone in the inner city. I have seen the presence of an “outsider” coming into the neighborhood once a week––just that fact alone––mean much in terms of stopping child and pet abuse in homes where it was occurring. This is also a great way to become involved with feral animal issues in a neighborhood, letting people know about low cost/spay neuter, helping with transportation to take animals to clinics, and so on. As a blond, very fair woman, I’m quite conspicuous in many of the neighborhoods where I have worked and volunteered, and no one has ever offered me any trouble at all, at any time of day or night, in five years.

Online, don’t miss the still timely December 1994 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial, “Vets on wheels at combat pay,” at < w w w . a n i m a l p e o p l e n e w s . o r g / 9 4 / 2 / editorial1.html>, describing the wonderful spay/neuter and vaccination work that Kim Bartlett did in arguably the roughest inner city in the country––and her contrastingly disappointing experiences with the wealthy! ––Patty Finch


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