Bringing All That We Know to the Education of the Poor

There’s too little time for reading or writing during this hectic stretch that I’m in,  but I did sneak away with an iced tea last week to read a very good analysis of Ruby Payne’s work published by  Teachers College Record last November (Formal cite: 2008, Vol 100, Number 11. E access # 14591)

The article, Miseducating Teachers about the Poor:  A Critical Analysis of Ruby Payne’s Claims, by Randy Bomer, Joel Dworin, Laura May, and Peggy Semington is among the most carefully researched, thorough, and detailed analyses of Payne’s writing that I’ve found.

The authors systematically weigh the claims made by Payne against what can readily be found within peer-reviewed research about the causes of poverty and the lives of the poor (their reference list alone runs to five pages), and as others have already observed, Payne comes up very short.

They review research on the lifestyles, values, goals, language, and educational aspirations of the poor.  They find evidence for little of what Payne writes and teaches, and instead cite solid and respected research that directly contradicts much of what she claims.

As I’ve written before here, here, here, and here, this sort of analysis makes it very difficult to understand why schools settle for Payne’s work when there is so little support for her claims, and so little evidence that poor kids are well-served by teachers who have experienced her training.

I’d encourage folks who have dismissed  criticism of Payne’s work as “academic jealousy” (or other personal, rather than intellectual motives) to read this article.

And I’d welcome discussion here — not about the motives of the article authors, but about the research that they cite.

It would be a violation of Fair Use policies to attach the entire article here, but it’s worth the effort to track down a copy.  Readers with access to  academic libraries can find copies there, you can get a PDF (for a fee) from the publisher here , or you might email the lead author, Randy Bomer, at rbomer at mail dot utexas dot edu.

So, are we willing to get past questioning the motives of those who critique her work,  past the “but she seems to make sense” reasoning,  past  anecdotes about ones own family members, and down to the core questions of whether we’re simply settling for Payne rather than bringing all that we know to the education of poor children?

I have no doubt whatsoever that teachers exposed to solid, carefully done research such as that cited in this article can, together, formulate ways to better serve poor children in schools.  Given how this field is developing while Payne’s work stands still, I think that we should be well past the point that we depend so heavily on someone  who just hasn’t done her own homework  to tell us how to do this work.

7 thoughts on “Bringing All That We Know to the Education of the Poor

  1. Peggy Semingson August 2, 2008 / 3:50 pm

    Hi! Thanks for writing about this important topic. I am one of the co-authors on this article in TCR. There is a more recent article in January, 2008 by Joel Dworin Randy Bomer in January, 2008 of “English Education” (NCTE) titled “What We All (Supposedly) Know about the Poor: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Ruby Payne’s “Framework”. It is more of a microanalysis of the language Payne uses to enlist the reader to buy into an othering of families in poverty. I think you are right about suggesting that her discourses resonate with popular culture beliefs about poverty….a sort of unquestioning attitude towards her work….
    My website:

  2. School Counselor November 21, 2011 / 6:25 am

    I do agree the Ruby Payne should have more empirical evidence backing up her research. While I cannot agree with the concept all people from a certain “class” have the same values and work from the same “hidden rules”, I did find some of her generalizations fascinating. If anything, it helped me see alternative viewpoints and values. I agree that is is unfair to assume that class determines these values, but I do not believe it is helpful to ignore the unavoidable differences people living in poverty face based on being forced to think based on survival rather than choice.

    • janevangalen November 21, 2011 / 6:44 am

      Hello counselor. Thanks for reading and commenting. Sure. The day-to-day lives of poor people do differ from the lives of people who live comfortable material lives. And the lives of poor people on farms in Wisconsin different from the lives of poor people in urban New York and differ from the lives of poor people in the newly-poor suburbs of small cities in the southwest US and the lives of recent refugees from Africa. To suggest that all these poor people share a common culture is just amazing and that they’d no longer be poor if they just acted more like middle class people is doing the poor a huge disservice.

      All Ruby Payne would have to say is “don’t overgeneralize. I based my whole book on things that I saw while interacting with people in the neighborhood where my husband grew up, a whole generatio ago”. But she won’t do that, and I have to wonder if that’s not in part because she makes so much money claiming to speak about “the poor”.

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