Teachers, Ruby Payne, and Moving the Conversation Forward

I wrote last week about Scott McLeod’s post on Dangerously Irrelevant about the large number of districts hiring Ruby Payne to speak to issues of childhood poverty in spite of how little evidence there is for most of her claims.

There was a lively discussion in the comments on Scott’s post, and Alice Mercer, one of the women chiming in there, has continued the conversation on the In Practice blog with the first of what she promises will be a series of posts  on “Why not ‘cure’ poverty instead”.

The conversation threatens to degenerate into camps of “theorists/ practitioners”, as if those lines are completely clean.

But perhaps, in these ongoing discussions,  there’s the chance to move beyond the unfortunate assumption in too much of this discussion that people who critique Payne for ignoring the deeper structural causes of poverty somehow expect teachers to solve problems of poverty themselves or to simply suspend further work in classrooms until all children come to school well fed, toting their photos from Disney World, and dreaming of Harvard.

So, perhaps some of the teachers, scholars, parents, staff people, and the idly curious who read Education and Class could head over there to  join the conversation.

12 thoughts on “Teachers, Ruby Payne, and Moving the Conversation Forward

  1. Kristen Ayers July 28, 2010 / 4:00 pm

    I know there are many critics of Ruby Payne, but I do think she writes with the intention to help those that are struggling with a lack of supports systems. If her books and ideas inspire one teacher to try and make a difference in some way, than I feel she is doing good. Maybe her book with spark ideas for change. As a special education teacher, I thought of poverty as only a financial problem. Payne’s book made me see that there can be many different kinds of poverty, some that I can help address. That really made me feel good and inspired me to do more.

    • janevangalen July 28, 2010 / 4:11 pm

      Kristen, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad that you’re feeling inspired to do better as a teacher. That’s always a good thing.

      My concerns are that so many misguided things have been done with good intentions. I, too, was a special ed teacher and know that for years, educators and legislators — all of whom were well-intended , I’m sure — believed that special ed kids should be educated completely apart from “regular” kids, but we know now that those good intentions weren’t enough and generations of kids never realized their potential because they were going more on “gut” than on careful, research-based thinking about how all kids learn.

      So beyond good intentions, how do we know if we’re getting a full and well-supported picture of the reasons for poverty and the needs of poor kids in schools?

      For me, having the right intentions is never enough.

      If someone wants to claim expertise, they have to show their evidence and show that the changes that they want me to make as a teacher really does make a difference in the lives of kids. Payne can’t do that.

      And I really do believe that with 25% of all kids in the US now living in poverty, we should aim much higher than a few teachers being inspired to try something different.

      I think that we really need good, solid, research-based practices.

      Many scholars and teachers have developed excellent strategies for working with poor kids.

      But districts keep hiring Payne as their highly paid consultant on educating children of poverty.

      Why do you think that is?

  2. dpeshak February 6, 2011 / 3:25 pm

    I also know there are many critics of Ruby Payne. I do think that Payne’s book has brought the issue of poverty to the attention of teachers in many schools. I also think that we can take information and input from a number of different authorities. The one thing that they all seem to agree on is we need to do something in the field of education to help with the poverty issues and the affects on student learning. It seems to me that every students has issues with portions of their lives. No one thing works for all students. If we as teachers can keep ourselves informed on new studies and what is being found a common thread in the area of learning we need to do what we can to understand it’s use and benefits in our classroom.

  3. janevangalen June 12, 2011 / 11:05 am

    Thanks for commenting Linda. The question still is: Why Payne’s ideas and not those of others who have much deeper and more recent experience with poor kids, and who disagree deeply with Payne’s stereotypes of the poor. Sure, poor kids need more resources — no question. But why do we have to stereotype their parents so unfortunately to come to that understanding? No one is disagreeing with all of her very basic ideas like structure and choice, or about more mentors.

    But her writing about language and lifestyle are just wrong.

    How is it good for teachers to read and believe things that have been shown not to be true?

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