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.
- Involve kids in investigating and solving real-world problems, so that they sense their personal power and ability to change –not just adapt themselves to — the broader world.
- Invest in programs that support authentic, long-term relationships with kids and their families, such as that created by Stephanie Jones.
- 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).