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A Framework for Understanding Poverty provides important insight into the nations ongoing difficulty educating poor children. Students from impoverished backgrounds at all levels of Americas education system achieve success at lower rates than students who are not impoverished.

The author, Ruby Payne, suggests that individuals who have experienced generational povertythat is, individuals whose parents also grew up in povertybehave in certain characteristics ways that put them at a disadvantage in institutional settings like public school. Payne defines generational poverty as different from situational poverty, that is the condition of poverty caused by lack of resources due to a particular event like death, chronic illness, or divorce. The idea is that raising oneself out of situational poverty is easier that raising oneself out of generational poverty.


Jeff Davis is a life long educator with a Ph.D. in English Studies who has taught at both the high school and university levels. He is also an artist and an amateur anthropologist who is a proponent of First Art, that art which our ancient ancestors practiced some 30,000 years ago and even earlier. His most recent book, The First-Generation Student Experience, expanded the college student-affairs field describing the challenges of contemporary nontraditional students. Related to his interest in evolutionary biology, he is currently working on a writing pedagogy book that argues that motivation is the most important dimension of the creative process, even more important than skill and native ability.


Payne establishes her working definition of poverty as the extent to which an individual does without resources such as financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, and knowledge of hidden rules (8). The challenge for the school or work setting is to analyze and understand the available resources before problem solving and to utilize opportunities that impact the non-financial resources.

She describes three aspects of language: registers of language, discourse patterns, and story structure (27). Registers of language include frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate. Dropping down one register in the same conversation is socially acceptable; dropping down two registers is socially offensive.

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