The role of language and story was one thing that especially struck me in Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, which addresses the hidden rules and understandings of poverty, middle-class, and wealth cultures.
Payne discusses discourse of language, explaining the five different registers we use: Frozen (liturgical, wedding vows); Formal (standard sentence syntax—for school and work); Consultative (formal conversation); Casual (language between friends, full of non-verbal assists, 400-800 word vocabulary); and Intimate (language between lovers or twins, language of sexual harassment). (27)
To participate in larger North American society, a person must learn formal register English, either through acquisition (natural immersion) or learning (direct-teaching/study). Formal register is the direct, to-the-point, correct and complete sentence syntax used for job interviews, in the workplace, at parent-teacher conferences, for standardized exams, and more.
Lacking the ability to access formal register, a person cannot communicate effectively in writing without non-verbal assists and will struggle to adequately speak the language of the middle class, setting that person outside of the middle class. (28)
Language also includes ordering of narrative and sequencing of story: the ability to spatially, chronologically, or otherwise categorize information. The problem with being unable to sequentially tell story is that information is received and processed in an associative, random way, which is okay sometimes, but makes it difficult to assign information to categories, or to weave a web of knowledge. (93)
Categorization essentially allows us to organize space, assign meaning and place in a narrative structure, and understand a coherent and truthful story of ourselves and of the world.
Payne’s words have made me think of language as resource and the privilege of access to paper. Literacy is a huge tool to own, though so easily taken for granted. What presumptions do I bring to the table in my interactions with others? That everyone I know also came from a house full of books and has parents with multiple college degrees? That access to fancy personal technology, that goldmine of information, is a given? What language am I speaking, and what language do I assume will be spoken to me?
At Blue Ridge, where a large percentage of the parents I see are pajama-clad, poverty, at least based on income, is the culture of 93% of the students. When many of the teachers come from a middle-class background, a lot is lost in cultural translation between teaching-style and learning receptivity. Maybe we would be better teachers if we spent more time developing strategies to speak the culture of poverty and teach the language of the middle class, to help provide more opportunities to our kids and point them to a door out of poverty.
Ana Tijoux / 1977
Bon Iver / Bon Iver
Brooke Fraser / Saving the World
MIA / Kala
Shakira / Oral Fixation
Adele / Someone Like You
Beyonce / Start Over
Florence & The Machine / Shake It Out
Gregory Alan Isakov / 3am
Hillsong United / Desert Song
Josh Garrels / Farther Along
Kanye / Stronger, Welcome to Heartbreak
Taylor Swift / Breathe, 15, Back to December
Trevor Hall / Te Amo
Blessed Be Your Name
you were a mystery i didn't treasure
and i have a story you don't understand
well i've seen breaches in friendships i thought were strong
and i've known enough men to know i've only really been impressed by a handful
like the mountain in honduras, the hidden trail vista with a view like the rockies
where i stole so many afternoons and wept
and a neglected sister, twisted back
like the marriage of a man who will threaten separate bank accounts,
who will accuse his wife of 'not even working for ten years'
when she has pulled ten thousand times his weight
empty threats so oft repeated you'd think they'd cease to touch you
but they don't
words you couldn't imagine, son
words you wish you could forget, daughter
i don't know much about construction,
but i know a twisted base can buy only fear, not love
and i just can't afford the transactions anymore.
And to the kiddos at Blue Ridge, dirty fingernails and so many with permanent lice in their hair--who knew it is so expensive to remove? And many don't have their own washing machines and all the quarters it costs to kill the parasites, let alone scissors and glue and crayons at home, which is why they're always so worried when they don't finish art projects at school.
And to the leaves in piles on the sides of the streets, grace and more grace piling up, falling down.
To each day of sunshine in December, how hard winter is for me and yet full of its own particular beauty.
To American flags in churches (ask those questions honey, should they be there?--but with love for the bride and not malice in your heart).
To G, J, and J, mama of two cerebral palsy brothers I work with each morning. 'Dejelo mi esposo,' she told me when we met. They live at the YWCA, and she works at Burger King, saving money to rent a house with the four kids and her own mother.
And to dented cars when mine has none and tin can trailer hovels when I dream of (and expect!) a handmade home of wood and glass some day.
Oh, how entitled we are, when we deserve no thing.
Sometimes I feel like I'm cheating on my kids in Honduras by falling in love with these kids here. But the gifts we are given are not exclusive to each other. By receiving one, you don't negate the others. And oh, I have been given a thousand, thousand gifts.
We started off working on miniature bust creations of clay for about thirty minutes--I could have done that all day! The example was this marvelous life-size bust of Kanye West.
Went on to a tour of the facility: the welding and wax rooms, steel and bronze casting, laser-scanning and spatial engineering, machining and fabrication, designing the physics of how to even keep these enormous metal sculptures standing. Titanium and plaster and clay and iron, even concrete. Incredible.
Eighty-five people work there, creating artists' work and sending it out to Sweden, London, Venice, Puerto Rico. All over. Last year the Foundry only had 50 employees. How cool to know there are jobs to make art in these hard economic times.
(Everything in the photo is a metal-cast sculpture).
I spent the night running game booths and selling .25 cent tickets to families spending $2 or $3 on multiple children; the two unbroken twenties passing through my hands obvious. These things you notice.
I've been thinking how bipolar is a word we use because we want to explain insane behavior (the way I always wished he was an alcoholic: measurable, explainable, blameable--rather than just himself).
NPR did a report on 'How the Northwest Handles Mental Illness' this week, and I can already spot the kids at Blue Ridge--not to negative prophesy, but--the ones who will probably struggle all their lives.
And I cried to the school counselor trying to articulate the hardness of sending some of those precious ones back into adversity each day. Seven hours is such a short time for structure and sanity, and even kindness.
But I still want to sing the song of healing and freedom. I still want to proclaim the Gospel of Peace as it becomes true in my own heart and life. I still want to hope where others have none.