Instead of Ruby Payne …

The Ruby Payne discussion continues today with this comprehensive post from Dan Butin on the Education Policy Blog, one of the few bloggers over the past few days that actually critiques Payne. Steve grapples with how poverty might be eliminated, but misreads those who acknowledge structural dimensions of poverty as believing that the poor themselves can’t change without being “lifted up” by the “power elite” (which is sort of like saying that anyone who believes that women still face sexism also believes that women won’t get anywhere until men “lift them up”).

I also read this article yesterday, in which a number of educators critique Payne’s work in their districts.

This article mentioned that one district spent more than $320,000 dollars on Payne training. Reading this reminded me of the unfortunate comments on the blogs that I read yesterday that suggested that the only real choices available to teachers of poor children are to embrace Payne’s “theories” or to become mired in the critique of overly-intellectual, self-interested, out-of-touch academics.

That got me thinking of just a few of the many other ways that this district might have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. And had they done any of these things, they could have been pretty confident that they were drawing upon carefully-researched, effective practices (most of them developed in collaboration with academics). I’m including here only links that are readily available on the web (I’m not one to take copyright lightly). There are many more resources on any of these practices in journals, in library catalogs, and via ERIC, just as there are many other effective practices with poor kids beyond this short list.

  • Home visits, so that teachers can form relationships with parents and kids directly, without Payne positioning herself as the cultural broker between them.
  • Smaller classes so that teachers can get to know kids better without relying on Payne to explain what they’re really like.
  • Supporting teachers in developing deep, inquiry-based curriculum, as Deborah Meier did at Central Park East.
  • Support innovative and creative uses of technology in schools for poor kid so that you’d see more of the literacy learning that is evident in Sara Kajder’s classrooms.
  • Educate poor kids in partnership with their parents, not as adversaries of families, as Comer schools are designed to do.
  • Invest deeply in the arts for low-income kids, as Shirley Brice Heath recommends, because in the arts, kids learn “motivation, persistence, critical analysis, and planning”, and the sense that they have a point of view that matters.
  • Have a full-time person coordinating community partnerships, as BF Day School did in Seattle, because having such a person brought multiple new resources to the homeless kids attending the school, the teachers, and the families.
  • Ensure that low-income kids are being educated within new media, as are the kids in the City Voices, City Visions program, who are learning a tremendous amount about history and literature and literacy along the way.

Those are just a few of the things that schools looking to better serve low-income students might do.

And what do all of these programs have in common? They bring the best of what we know about teaching, learning, and schooling to low-income kids.

And they do these things without first teaching teachers that people are poor because poor families engage in bizarre and destructive child-rearing practices (even if the workshop leaders do insist that they’re not stereotyping when they speak of the drugs, the alcohol, the beatings, the inability to plan or to engage in such basic cognitive skills as predicting cause and effect).

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12 thoughts on “Instead of Ruby Payne …

  1. Carrie Corcoran October 2, 2016 / 6:37 am

    I am currently taking a class on poverty and have just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. For the past sixteen years I have worked in an elementary school with over 90% of families living in poverty. I have gone on home visits and have seen firsthand the families that have no electricity, no food in the refrigerator, make shift beds created by using old, torn couch cushions, and mice scattering across the floor searching for dropped crumbs. Payne’s book gave me a better understanding of where my students are coming from. Critics are quick to point out that she is stereotyping or endorsing cultural discourse. Instead, Payne made me realize that these situations do indeed have an impact on my students when they come to school and that my role as a teacher is to offer a support system, be a positive role model, and provide meaningful opportunities to learn. As I continue to read information pertaining to education and children living in poverty, I will use Payne’s text as a guide as well as a multitude of other resources on this topic.

    • janevangalen October 2, 2016 / 5:30 pm

      Carrie, thanks for commenting, here and on two other posts (since they’re all the same, I’m just approving this one). You’ve spent much much more time with children of poverty that Ruby Payne has, yet she’s making so much money selling this very flawed book. I’m not believing that it took Payne to make any teacher realize that living in dire poverty affects children.

      Why do you think that in spite of being asked for decades now to show any research that teachers who’ve read her book or taken her expensive training are better at working with children of poverty than other teachers? That’s a very very basic expectation that most people selling books about education have placed on them.

      I’m wondering: Why didn’t you talk more with the parents of your students, or with people working in their communities, instead of trusting Payne who wrote this book decades ago, to help you to understand your students?

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