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. Lwindle June 11, 2007 / 7:25 pm

    OK- so why DO poor people hang their pictures high on the wall, according to Ruby????

  2. Autumn June 28, 2010 / 3:19 am

    I am taking a course where I read Ruby Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” I think that Dr. Payne has very interesting and useful information in her book. My course is the first I have ever taken on poverty so I feel that I have much more to learn on the topic. I think reading and studying Dr Payne’s work is a good start in my studies on poverty. I have to say while Dr. Payne’s information was interesting, I felt at times she was sterotypical. I am not sure I agree with all of Dr Payne’s work but am glad that I took the course to make me aware of Dr Payne’s views on poverty.

  3. Rosita July 9, 2011 / 7:06 pm

    I am currently taking a course on poverty, and Dr. Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” is one of the required reading texts. I have found some of her insights to be thought-provoking and eye-opening. Does she have all of the answers in regard to poverty? No. Should a study of poverty be limited to one book written by one person? Again, no. Do I think her characteristics of generational poverty describe every single person living in poverty? Of course not. My husband and I grew up on farms within 10 miles of each other, went to the same school, and both came from Christian homes. But we differ greatly when it comes to our ideas of time, the importance of verbal communication, and sense of humor. So it would be naive to think that all people living in poverty, regardless of where they live or their ethnicity, are alike. Obviously, not everyone living in poverty knows how to get someone out of jail or uses a knife as a scissors. But as Dr. Payne states at the beginning of her book, this work is based on patterns, and all patterns have exceptions. The fact that her books and workshops are so incredibly popular speaks volumes that educators want to learn everything they can about poverty and find the best ways to help their students living in poverty. No, she doesn’t have all the answers nor should anyone’s study about poverty be limited to just reading her one book. But it is a place to start. The other required text for my course is Eric Jensen’s “Teaching with Poverty in Mind.” This book provides an in-depth view of what being poor does to kids’ brains and how that affects students’ learning and work habits. These books, combined with the many articles I’ve read by Dr. Payne’s critics, will hopefully give me a better understanding of the complexity of poverty and how I can be the best possible teacher for ALL of my students.

    • janevangalen July 10, 2011 / 7:13 am

      Rosita, thanks for reading and commenting. I want to be sure that my critique of Payne is understood. I and other critics don’t fault her for failing to write everything about poverty in one book. Of course not. We fault her for so misrepresenting poverty in the book she has written. What she writes is not true.

      I don’t think it’s enough to say “but she concedes that there are exceptions”. Of course there are exceptions to every pattern, but there is extensive evidence that the “patterns” she claims as common among poor people aren’t actually common patterns at all… and are perhaps at best behaviors of a very small percentage of those living in generational poverty. There’s research to back up the critiques, but Payne is basing her work on what she personally saw in her husband’s neighborhood decades ago, not on research.

      I fully understand that many districts require their teachers to go through her training. Popularity doesn’t make her work any more true.

      (and you and I share similar backgrounds — although I grew up just a few blocks from who would become my husband!).

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