Teachers and Those They Will Teach

This week, my campus introduced a very cool new tool.  When I  click on the webpage where before, I could access only a list of the people who will be in my courses as a new quarter starts on Monday, I can now  click on another button and also see their student ID photos.

And thus, I’m  reminded — very graphically — of how homogeneous my teacher education class looks, especially compared to the Dream Project class (with 20+ new members next term!), which is  among the most diverse class I’ve worked with in all my years of University teaching.

Social class diversity is of course not immediately apparent in thumbnail shots on a website, but I’m just sayin’ …

What Do We Tell the Kids?

When I teach about social class and education, we examine discouraging labor market data. We scrutinize graphs and charts documenting funding inequalities among the schools attended by middle-class, working-class, and poor kids. We analyze disparities in college attainment.

And the teachers and wanna-be teachers inevitably ask “But what do we tell our students?”

The Education Wonkette generated discussion about exactly such things here.  While she (and her readers) have moved on to other things as I’ve been chipping away at my Google Reader backlog, the question remains:

What do we tell the kids?

Blogging Ruby Payne

Paul Tough’s article in yesterday’s NYT on Ruby Payne is, as expected, stirring up conversation among bloggers:

American Ministers in Bolivia find her fascinating.

Commenters on this blog from an Episcopal minister include someone who says that Payne’s perceptions of poor kids in schools ring true, based on prison work he’s done with poor people, and others who suggest that critics of Payne are motivated simply by self-interest — they need poor people to rant about, so they criticize those who would end poverty.

Also resorting to “refute by suggesting insidious motives” are commenters on Joanne Jacobs’ blog. Jacobs herself dismisses critics of Payne as being “mad” (as if they were having a tantrum, rather than articulating very serious reservations about the things that Payne teaches about poor people), taking the one-paragaph summary of the academic criticism in the lengthy article as the entire story of what people find so troubling about her work.

Paul’s “gut” tells him that Payne’s right.

Cleo, a teacher of poor children in the south, is told otherwise by her gut.

Only the commenters on this blog questioned some things that Payne attributes to poor people as puzzling “stereotypes”.

But a number of bloggers simply quote at length from the article, seemingly in deference to Payne’s authority.

At least two thing strike me about this discussion:

1. While there are scores of books, articles, consultants, local experts, state-level experts, textbooks, AV materials, websites or college courses on pretty much any other element of public education, Ruby Payne is pretty much the only person out there talking about class and education in staff development work.


Just one.

So, she’s not getting much challenge from within the field, as she would if she were working in any other area of classroom practice. Very few people are so immune from challenge in the field of education.

2. In these times of “research-based practice”, there is no evidence that poor kids taught by teachers who’ve gone through Payne’s training are better off.


Certainly not from Payne herself, not from the staff development people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on her books and dvd’s, not from the research community.

She’s in thousands and thousands of schools.

And there is no research to support her work.

On the one hand, Payne’s popularity suggests that a lot of teachers really do want to know more about how to best reach poor kids. And the research community, the staff development world, and teacher education are all very late to the game.

On the other hand, I cannot imagine a literacy consultant becoming this popular if she had based her work on her husband’s family’s literacy practices and on something that she read in a book on the psychology of business. Say what you will about the limitations of educational research, but Payne is honestly in a category of her own in being granted this much credibility with so little to support her work beyond her personal experiences with family members that she found puzzling.

What is it about the subject of class, that this has come to be?

Thinking, Feeling and Teaching Social Class

I’m working on a paper about a course that I teach, Education and the American Dream, in which the students — many of them the first in their family to attend college — examine the processes of upward mobility via success in school.

My writing has taken me back to an article I’d read by Julie Lindquist a few years ago. Lindquist’s piece is one of a number I’ve found in Composition Studies that speak theoretically about pedagogies for working-class students in college.

The field of education is rich with critical critical studies of schooling, and in teacher education, we may devote entire courses to critical analysis of inequities of “race, class, and gender” within the institution of school and the broader society, in the hope that teachers will embrace the work of social justice and school change.

There is a long tradition of grumbling among the faculty who teach these courses about the students who resist this teaching. These students who refuse to simply accept the premise of systemic inequalities, who insist that hard work can bring success, who downplay the relative oppression of others are, it seems, often “those kids” from working-class backgrounds.

But Lindquist questions the pedagogical work that is common in such courses. She writes:

We understand class as a problem of distribution of resources, but we experience it as an emotional process.

And it’s this point — of the deeply emotional work of becoming educated against the odds– that I think we often miss when teaching the many first-generation students in our courses. I think that it can be entirely too easy for middle-class faculty to project their own college experiences of intellectual exploration and social growth into these students, who have burned bridges behind them, who are living at the edges of economic precariousness, who still doubt, deep inside, that they’re going to be good enough in the end

Once in our courses, Lindquist reminds us “much is at stake” for working-class kids asked to accept — intellectually — that the odds are still stacked against them, no matter how hard they’ve worked. Much is at stake in crossing that line of coming to accept academic views of the world as more valid that one’s own experiences.

Much is at stake in crossing over to the middle class.

And the process is deeply emotional.

It seems sometimes as if we just look past the students in our own college classrooms as we admonish them to create their own classrooms in which children can investigate the central questions of their own lives.

Where, in teacher ed, are first-generation students invited to explore the complex and often deeply-emotional processes of social mobility that has been at the core of their own education?

That’s what I’m trying to write about in this paper.



Lindquist, Julie. (2004). Class affects, classroom affectations: Working through the paradoxes of strategic empathy. College English, 67, 187-209.