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. The Urban Scientist July 19, 2008 / 4:07 pm

    I decided to look up some info and learn a little about R Payne and her approach. There is something rather seductive about her lessons. Seductive because if you lived in poverty or worked with people in poverty you can relate to much of what she says..Even I feel like an amen or 2 after my personal work experiences….

    But I also see what the critics are saying. She hasn’t been vettted. She uses anecdotes (which are perfect for informal discussions, basis of future study, relating to people) as if it were hard and fast sociology data. That’s not right.

    And some of her sweeping generalizations are rather tough to swallow, but there is a superficial truth to it…Not that she’s correct, but many her observations of what happens among many poor people are true and do happen in real life. But being poor, impoverished, urban, black, latino, immigrant or whatever does NOT pre-determine your destiny or capacity to learn or adapt or be a good citizen.

    It’s worth an honest discussion.

  2. janevangalen July 21, 2008 / 6:12 pm

    Hello, U.S.,

    I think that Payne wouldn’t be so popular if she didn’t resonate at some level with the experiences of people who live among or teach poor kids.

    I grow concerned that because she may generate some spark of recognition about some people I know, I then begin seeing other people through those same lenses because I’ve been told that poor people have these characteristics in common.

    It is worth an honest discussion. And instead, there seem to be parallel monologues, and that’s quite uncommon in education, I think.

  3. Lone Star Ma July 28, 2008 / 11:23 am

    God, I hate Ruby Payne’s book so much. I was so deeply offended when we had to study it in my certification classes. And yes, there is that dangerous ease of recognizing what she says – but she understands so little that is beneath what she’s recognizing and judges so easily.

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