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.
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?