Blogging Ruby Payne

Paul Tough’s article in yesterday’s NYT on Ruby Payne is, as expected, stirring up conversation among bloggers:

American Ministers in Bolivia find her fascinating.

Commenters on this blog from an Episcopal minister include someone who says that Payne’s perceptions of poor kids in schools ring true, based on prison work he’s done with poor people, and others who suggest that critics of Payne are motivated simply by self-interest — they need poor people to rant about, so they criticize those who would end poverty.

Also resorting to “refute by suggesting insidious motives” are commenters on Joanne Jacobs’ blog. Jacobs herself dismisses critics of Payne as being “mad” (as if they were having a tantrum, rather than articulating very serious reservations about the things that Payne teaches about poor people), taking the one-paragaph summary of the academic criticism in the lengthy article as the entire story of what people find so troubling about her work.

Paul’s “gut” tells him that Payne’s right.

Cleo, a teacher of poor children in the south, is told otherwise by her gut.

Only the commenters on this blog questioned some things that Payne attributes to poor people as puzzling “stereotypes”.

But a number of bloggers simply quote at length from the article, seemingly in deference to Payne’s authority.

At least two thing strike me about this discussion:

1. While there are scores of books, articles, consultants, local experts, state-level experts, textbooks, AV materials, websites or college courses on pretty much any other element of public education, Ruby Payne is pretty much the only person out there talking about class and education in staff development work.


Just one.

So, she’s not getting much challenge from within the field, as she would if she were working in any other area of classroom practice. Very few people are so immune from challenge in the field of education.

2. In these times of “research-based practice”, there is no evidence that poor kids taught by teachers who’ve gone through Payne’s training are better off.


Certainly not from Payne herself, not from the staff development people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on her books and dvd’s, not from the research community.

She’s in thousands and thousands of schools.

And there is no research to support her work.

On the one hand, Payne’s popularity suggests that a lot of teachers really do want to know more about how to best reach poor kids. And the research community, the staff development world, and teacher education are all very late to the game.

On the other hand, I cannot imagine a literacy consultant becoming this popular if she had based her work on her husband’s family’s literacy practices and on something that she read in a book on the psychology of business. Say what you will about the limitations of educational research, but Payne is honestly in a category of her own in being granted this much credibility with so little to support her work beyond her personal experiences with family members that she found puzzling.

What is it about the subject of class, that this has come to be?

22 thoughts on “Blogging Ruby Payne

  1. sheila hansen January 29, 2015 / 1:00 pm

    After reading Ruby Payne’s book on poverty. I feel like there are pros and cons on both sides. Whenever studying people or society as a whole there will always be overlaps in the behavior of those studied. People are individuals with varied backgrounds that can not be duplicated exactly. This is what makes the science of social problems so difficult to study- all the variables. While concentrated studies do tell us a great deal about similar results, they are just one snapshot into a vast set of societal circumstances. I enjoyed Payne’s book in the regard that she seems genuinely concerned and dedicated to helping children who are disadvantaged by poverty. Being a teacher for over two decades, I can honestly say that much of what she has to say has been prevalent in many instances I have experienced when dealing with poverty-stricken students. However, each case of a family situation has to be taken with individual, unique care. Not every case is the same. Some of the suggestions she makes to help impoverished children make a lot of sense, but they are not the sole determinate of leading students out of poverty. Teachers can be the best role models ever and create great relationships with their students, and it may not make a difference one way or another to a student, whether that child is in poverty or not. The key here, I believe, is understanding that teachers need to have open minds and be diligent in getting a variety of information to help understand the varied circumstances surrounding our students. Payne’s work, in my opinion, has merit, but is not the only source of information I am willing to study on this topic.

    • janevangalen January 29, 2015 / 1:19 pm

      Sheila, thanks for commenting. So what else are you studying on the topic? It’s a sincere question because if you’ve clicked around here, Payne is pretty much out there alone in the things she says. I can read a book about women being emotional and weak and that may well “ring true”, but it is far far from understanding women in their fullness. I’m not so clear how you can tell she’s genuinely concerned. She’s been promising for years to update her book when even the people she cites disagree with much of what she says. She never does those revisions, though, in part because she’s making millions selling exactly this story.

      I agree that teachers need to be diligent, so I really am interested in who else you’re reading about poor kids!

    • Jennifer Boone August 9, 2015 / 9:17 am

      Sheila, I do agree with you about Payne’s work. She does make many good points, but there is a lot of generalization of the ‘hidden rules.’ I feel that she does well with the rules of the middle class, but as a middle class school nurse, I, also, know where the best yard sales and second hand clothing stores are and have been known to frequent. With that being said I feel that in today’s society and the abundance of social media outlets, children in poverty have greater advantages than their parents did. Schools today are more focused on increasing their standardized tests than they are on teaching basic life skills needed to succeed in life. I do support the need for students to have a positive role models in their lives. Those working with children in schools can be that positive influence. The role models do not need to be just a teacher. The role models can be the cafeteria worker, the custodian, the nurse, or a secretary. I did feel that Payne did a good job in outlining how to be a good positive role model. From studying Payne and another text from Eric Jensen, positive role models can assist students develop a future plan and succeed.

  2. Leah Hilmanowski July 11, 2016 / 9:07 am

    I have recently read Payne’s book and Eric Jensen’s. I am a special education teacher that works with a high number of students that come from poverty. Much of what Payne had to say in her book makes a lot sense to me. I feel that the hidden rules are there, even if it may seem that they are stereotyping. I think it is good to be aware of them so that we can be more effective in our teaching. However, I also agree with the comment made above that with social media students from poverty are exposed to more that is out there in the world. And I also agree that there is some overlap among the rules in different classes.

    The idea of the casual registry language is also something that made sense to me and helps to better understand my students. I do also believe, that many of the strategies discussed can be beneficial to all students, as it was stated in Jensen’s book. Good teaching is good teaching.

    Relationships are key, that is true and can be true for every student I work with. I did find it interesting reading the previous comment that good role models can be anyone in the school. It reminded me of a speaker I heard last year. The speaker was an art teacher that came from a family that lived in poverty. His role model that he really connected with was the school secretary. She showed him care and often gave him positive support which in turn, gave him hope. Thirty years later, he had not forgotten that school secretary. It was a very touching story and shows how important each person that works in a school truly is.

    • janevangalen July 12, 2016 / 4:40 pm

      Hi Leah. Thanks for commenting. Where is this class that generates this commenting around this time every year? If you’ve read any of the other comments (They’ve been coming in for years now), you’ll see that the challenge becomes the circular conversation: Payne hasn’t done any actual research. She’s written a book based on common stereotypes. She’s popular in part because she really doesen’t challenge anyone’s ideas, but instead confirms them, but wraps that in semi-scientific language. The people who have done the research on language are pretty appalled by how she simplified their ideas. And she makes so much money doing this. I love stories like those of your speaker. I’m grateful that that secretary didn’t stereotype as Payne often does. If she had, that story might have had a very different outcome.

  3. Cindy July 10, 2017 / 6:19 pm

    I’ll be honest – I am writing a comment on this site because I am taking a class and students in the class have the option of making a statement on a blog regarding the writing of Ruby Payne. In the introduction to her book, Ruby Payne writes that she knows she has many critics regarding her work. She believes her work has been highly criticized because the book did not approach poverty as a systems or exploitation issue, nor did it delve into associated correlates to poverty, especially race and gender. She admits that her approach is predominantly practical. She states she believes that teachers – I will say educators- are on the front lines of social change, one student at a time. I wasn’t looking for a difficult text to read. I am taking a class to learn strategies to assist students who may need help. The topic is poverty and I have not taken a class about students from poverty in my career thus far. I learned things that can help me as a school counselor in an elementary school. I am willing to put some ideas into practice that may help the families that I work with. I have read many books about building relationships with students at school and Ruby Payne’s book is no exception. So besides learning information about casual and formal register, hidden rules, generational poverty, support systems, etc., my belief about being there for children to ensure that they feel a part of the whole has once again been solidified.

    • janevangalen July 10, 2017 / 7:45 pm

      Hi Cindy,

      Every summer for years now, what seems to be the same class comes to my blog and leaves comments without ever addressing anything that’s been written before in comments, without acknowledging any of the responses to the comments I’ve taken the time to write, and all of which essentially say the same thing “I believe what Ruby Payne writes; therefore her book is true.” Most haven’t bothered to actually read the blog posts they’re commenting on.

      As I’ve said before, Payne took the language of casual and formal register from other scholars and those scholars have strongly taken issue with how she’s *distorted* their work for her own profit. As I’ve said here before, generational poverty is a fraction of all poverty, yet you and others come to my blog and ignore what I and others have written here to just casually say poverty/ generational poverty as if those are the same thing.

      I’d love it if someone in your class would ask your instructor to contact me personally about how inappropriate it is to use my blog in this way, summer after summer, for simply dropping the same comments over and over and over, as if that has any value beyond fulfilling the same assignment that hasn’t been updated in years.

      This is the last comment like this I’ll approve, and I’m doing so only as an attempt to reach your instructor to express my dismay about this lazy assignment. Blogs are about discussion, and not once, in the years people from this class have been commenting here, has anyone done more than drop the same basic comment over and over. And over.

      So I’m out.

      If you’d bothered to read anything here before commenting, you know that Payne is relying people believing her “I’m the victim of unfair academics” schtick, all the way to her multimillion dollar bank account from her self-published work. She promised almost a decade ago to actually produce research or any other evidence of any of the claims she makes in this book. She hasn’t bothered. Why would she when she can make so much money without making that effort?

      I hate to potentially penalize students by trashing these sorts of comments after this, but this has become a completely inappropriate assignment. Beside being ripped off by whatever you paid for Payne’s book, you may also be getting ripped off by whatever you paid for tuition for this course. I also teach about working in low income schools. Unlike Payne and whomever is teaching this course, I work very hard to update my courses, readings, assignments because unlike Payne, most educators believe that that’s their job.

      I won’t continue to enable a professor who won’t do update assignments or reading or require students to actually engage with ideas different from their own. So if you bother reading this and can tell your professor this, please do. I’m willing to talk to him or her, but my blog is no longer open for comment dumps by people who haven’t bothered to read anything here.

      Regards and best of everything in your teaching. I mean that. Payne exploits caring teachers like you. I’m sorry for that.

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