A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Understanding the culture of poverty

Poverty is not just a condition of not having enough money. It is a realm of particular rules, emotions, and knowledge that override all other ways of building relationships and making a life. This book was written as a guide and exercise book for middle-class teachers, who often don’t connect with their impoverished students–largely because they don’t understand the hidden rules of poverty. In the same way, poor children misconnect with school because they don’t understand the hidden rules of middle-class life. Ruby Payne, a former teacher and principal who has been a member of all three of the economic cultures of our time (poor, middle-class, and wealthy) compassionately and dispassionately describes the hidden rules and knowledge of each. I think it’s useful not just for educators, but for anyone who has to deal with people of different backgrounds. Having read it, I feel a lot more confident about dealing with people as people, not as representatives of their social class.

Every class assumes that their knowledge is known by everyone, which is one reason they assume that people in other classes don’t “get it.” It’s possible for anyone to shift classes, but only at the price of leaving behind your existing personal relationships.

-- Art Kleiner 06/14/04


The mother is always at the center, though she may have multiple sexual relations.

© 2022