More on Ruby Payne…

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Last week, in a post about education and poverty, I took a pretty critical look at Ruby Payne, a popular, if misguided, advocate for ‘middle class values’–whatever those are. It turns out that I’m not alone in my criticism. Lee Enterprise’s Jodi Rave offered a critical look in the Gazette today:

And while middle-class educators tend to embrace her teachings, a growing number of others are revolting against her teachings. Her work, they say, promotes stereotypes, lacks research and devalues students of color while ignoring pertinent issues, such as gender, culture and race.

“Ultimately, Payne seems to want students in poverty to assimilate into a system they experience often as oppressive, and she calls on predominantly middle-class teachers to facilitate and enforce this assimilation,” wrote Paul Gorski in the Teachers College Record: The Voice of Scholarship in Education.

Unfortunately, Payne will be coming back to Montana to peddle her soft racism:

Meanwhile, Payne continues to make her rounds on the lively education workshop circuit. Montana’s Elementary Principals Association is sponsoring a full-day workshop in which Payne will share her poverty views with state educators on Jan. 31.

It’s a good think Payne is being asked to share her ‘views’, not her ‘research’. It’d be a short conference if she were to focus on the latter. 

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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Shane C. Mason
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I don’t really understand the term ‘middle class teacher’. Does it mean teachers who teach middle class students? Or does it mean teachers who teach at private schools? I suppose that it could mean teachers who are married to someone who makes more than they do. Last time I checked, being a teacher in the state of Montana makes you part of ‘the working poor’, unless you take a very broad view of what ‘middle class’ means. In my mind, middle class is too often used to describe anyone who is not ‘dirt poor’ nor ‘filthy rich’. “Everyone wants to… Read more »

Valerie
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Valerie

I think you are misunderstanding the concept of Payne’s “Understanding Poverty”. As a middle class teacher who teaches in an impoverished urban school, I found Payne’s work to be an insight into a world that I did not understand. I found that after the workshops, I have a better insight in regard to where my students are coming from. Her tests asking if you can survive in a world of poverty, middle-class, or wealth was very eye-opening. Different classes have different value systems. Does that make one a racist to recognize that? I don’t believe that Payne is trying to… Read more »

Leo
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Leo

It is a good thing Pogie is not a teacher or we may have a lot of little kids running around thinging about throwing thinks. 🙂

Pogie
Guest

Amen. I can’t imagine how terrible it would be if someone like me was a teacher. 🙂

Kathy
Guest
Kathy

Having just read Ruby Payne’s book, and endured an entire day of being force-fed her philosophy by administrators at the school where I work, I acknowledge that I have more in common with those living in poverty than those living in middle class, and absolutely nothing in common with the privileged class–no surprise to public school teachers. I work in a district where about half of our students meet the federal standards for “poor,” yet little in the type-casting “culture of poverty applies to more than a couple of students. Both the book and the training provided a handful of… Read more »

sell
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sell

As a liberal,I believe its important for us to keep some people poor- we need their votes on election day. The best way to discredit anyone who points out the dysfunctional culture of poverty that devastates this country is to scream things like “racism!” and “classism!” (preferably with exclamation point). This will scare white people and they will abandon any attempt to fix poor people and their destructive nature.

sell
Guest
sell

We should do away with logic and reason while we’re at- there is no longer any reason for such things in this paradise we have come to create.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I've been assigned the Ruby Payne book for my alternative certification program. I took her "class" quiz. I can get people out of jail, know how to set a table, and have favorite restaurants in other countries. So what. I plan on taking whatever works for my classroom, regardless of the source. What's more important…what someone thinks, or what works to help students get out of their situation and see a better life for themselves ?

vjkirk
Guest
vjkirk

I have been reading both positive and negative feedback on Payne's book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. I have, in my research, come across two videos that I found very interesting: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid3… and the second is http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid3… I agree with Payne on much of her writings. I feel that she is being criticized for her good intentions and I also agree that social class should be taken into account while working with students to give them some sort of foundation to start from, otherwise they would have limited background knowledge about certain subjects due to limited exposure and resources. After… Read more »

acummings
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acummings

I work in a low-income school and tend to agree with most of Ruby Payne's writing. She gives insight to why students have some of the behaviors they do and also why some of them tend to speak to teachers as if there were one of their friends or siblings. I think Ruby Payne has the best of intentions in her book, I don't believe she is trying to to set any stereotypes or devalue people of color. The one thing anyone can take away from Ruby Payne's views is that no matter what the behaviors are students will behave… Read more »

Pogie
Guest

The underlying assumption that these behaviors are more prevalent among lower-class students is exactly what's wrong about Payne's book. I work in a very diverse school, and see the kind of behaviors she describes cutting across social classes.

That she relies on anecdotes and personal experience demonstrates the shoddiness of her work, and its basis in nonsense "culture of poverty" ideology.

adowney
Guest
adowney

I teach in school district with 70% of our students receiving free or reduced hot lunch. Of that 70%, I would guess that 60% or more are students of generational poverty. I grew up in this town. I know their parents and how they lived. I know which ones come from situational poverty. I think that what Ruby Payne says is right on. This book gave me a lot of insight as to why my students do the things they do, and why their parents do the things they do. I don't think that she is trying to be racist.… Read more »

adowney
Guest
adowney

I understand Ruby Payne's middle class to mean people who grew up in middle class homes with middle class value systems. I do not think that it necessarily means that they are middle class. Anyone could be poor and still have grown up in a middle class home with middle class values. This would be her definition of situational poverty. I think the behaviors and values she discusses in her book mainly apply to people from generational poverty.

Pogie
Guest

I find the entire underlying assumption that there are "middle class" and "lower class" values to be intellectually bankrupt and entirely lacking researched support.

Payne is just peddling the same "deficit" theories from the 1960s and 70s that blame poor people for their poverty without examining structural causes.

Jenny
Guest
Jenny

I agree with some of Payne's ideas, but not others. I can understand the idea that kids who enter the "real world" lacking the typical middle class skills will likely not be successful in finding a respectable job. They need to learn the appropriate way to interact with people in more formal settings and how to use proper English. While I can see some of the characteristics that she described of students of poverty in my own students, I don't necessarily agree with the stereotypical way that the information is presented. There are some students from poverty whose parents do… Read more »

Ryan
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Ryan

I agree. After reading “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” I enjoyed the information and the beginning of understanding of how our students of poverty live their lives. The book does not claim to be this is the way everyone can be classified. But rather it gives an outline of how to approach the situation of poverty that is experienced in most all schools. I have never experienced living in poverty and the book allowed me to see what some of my students have been going through. Payne did not say that the characteristics of poverty are prescriptive. Her characteristics could… Read more »

Pogie
Guest

Ryan, Thanks for the comments. I think my biggest concern is that, because the work, isn't research-based, it's just stereotypes and assumptions about the lives of the poor. I mean, Payne herself has said that she based some (much?) of her work on her husband's family. To ascribe certain characteristics to people who live in generational poverty (the most nebulous demographic concept around) ignores both the complexity of individual lives and the structural causes of poverty in the United States. I think Payne's book makes teachers feel better because a) they can believe the behviors aren't their fault and b)… Read more »

Gen
Guest
Gen

I thought the book was wonderful. I work in a low-income school and Payne offered such insight to my own situations. I was able to relate to almost all of her "stereotypes." Is it considered a stereotype if all my students and their families fit her descriptions? I understand not all impoverished families are the same, but their hidden rules, behavior, and cognition are different from the middle class and anyone teaching them can see that! We should embrace that Payne is not calling them unintelligent or hopeless, like (unfortunately) many educators do. I have witnessed colleagues giving up on… Read more »

Sue
Guest
Sue

While reading Payne's book I had a difficult time applying her poverty quiz to the students I teach. My students come from rural Mexico, and while they might be street smart back home in their own ranchos, they certainly aren't street smart here. Poverty does not just exist in inner cities. It's here in rural, agricultural areas as well. I do believe that Payne's book is a good starting point to get teachers thinking and talking about poverty. Many (in my building) teach and assign homework as though our students go home to homes similar to their own, with quiet… Read more »

Josh
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Josh

There's no question that our countries "structures" have created a lower class however you want to define that lower class. We've built this problem through white supremacy and greed. Racism and greed have been two characteristics of humanity since time began, not just in our country. I believe we are working toward changing these structures, but it is an extremely slow process. Just as feudalism took hundreds of years to fade away, the gap between classes will slowly fade away. I do think Payne's work can be a good start for that. I also think this debate is a healthy… Read more »

Pogie
Guest

My disagreement is that we seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Over the past generation, the gap between the wealthy and poor has grown in this country rather than starting to shrink. Payne's book doesn't represent an answer in my mind because it perpetuates old-fashioned ideas that argue people who live in poverty are there because of deficits–in character, motivation, etc. That ideology prevents us from implementing real solutions, like adequate funding of pre-schools, real social welfare programs and health services for poor children. If we really want to help poor children succeed, we need to focus on… Read more »

Josh
Guest
Josh

Pogie, it seems to me like you're argument leads us back to a somewhat simplified liberal versus conservative debate. I really do like liberal ideas, but they always seem better in theory than in practice. I think your real solutions mentioned above are great, in theory. However I also see some truth in Payne's work. There are issues in poverty that keep people from benefiting, long term, from the real solutions. That's why I like this whole debate. Although the sides seem to be opposite, I hope they'll lead us to a solution that has not been thought of yet.… Read more »

Bret
Guest
Bret

While it may appear to some that Payne " '… seems to want students in poverty to assimilate into a system they experience often as oppressive, and she calls on predominantly middle-class teachers to facilitate and enforce this assimilation,' wrote Paul Gorski in the Teachers College Record: The Voice of Scholarship in Education." I do not necessarily buy it. I believe Payne makes her position clear when she states, "Poverty occurs in all races and in all countries." Some have implied that she comes from a racist position which I just do not see from reading her work. Is she… Read more »

Linda
Guest

In my opinion Ruby Payne's book suggests that rarely is one person fully responsible for being in poverty but that there are many factors such as structural causes (political, social, and economic) that contribute to the situation and must also be held accountable. Ruby in her own words does not claim to be a researcher or a theorist, but has been a teacher who carefully observed families and children in poverty and reflected on what worked in her dealings with them. Drawing upon my own teaching experiences, I believe that there is some merit to her statements about differences. I,… Read more »

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

Ruby Payne seems to have generated a lot of controversy. I feel that with Ruby Payne's writings the reader can take what they need and leave whatever information they do not find helpful. What Ruby is doing is allowing the reader to know what it might be like to grow up, live and survive in a culture of poverty. If the reader works with individuals who live in poverty everyday and has never experienced what it would be like to live in poverty than Payne's writings can only help the reader glimpse into that world. Education on cultural differences can… Read more »

Margene
Guest
Margene

First, I'm impressed that this disucssion is still going and still being commented on by Pogie even after four years. It points to a deep issue that we have in education. What do we do when our kids don't fit neatly (for whatever reason) into the value system that schools are run on? Do we try to change the kid or try to change the system? From my perspective as a teacher that has taught in the inner-city, an upper class suburb, and a mixed income district, it sure seems easier to change the kid, right? The system is just… Read more »

Melanie
Guest
Melanie

I agree with Payne! I also teach in a poverty stricken area. I see what she is talking about on a daily basis. I am also middle class. This book gave me an insight about a life I cannot comprehend. I am deeply saddened to hear that people think that Payne is a racist. This is why no teacher will say anything about the large elephant in the room to help these kids. They are afraid of being called a racist.

melissa
Guest
melissa

I wonder if some critics have actually read Payne’s entire book. Many accuse her of using the deficit model to explain/solve poverty. On the contrary, she points out the downsides of using the deficit model and directs us to use the additive model when considering poverty. Also, we all know her theories are not scientifically researched based, but she doesn’t claim that they are. She based much of her ideas on real-life experience which she very clearly states. I believe there is value in having real-life experiences. That she was immersed in poverty for a prolonged period of time makes… Read more »

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

I’m not sure we are still in a middle class nation, but I sort of agree with you in regards to the value of her work. Ruby Payne is sharing what she has learned about human patterns of thinking and behaving as she experienced them during her time working with children of poverty. As a counselor, much of what I do is identifying patterns and helping students understand how these patterns help or hinder their quality of living. I think this is where it started fro Ruby Payne. Her critics look at her work as perpetuating the “culture of poverty”… Read more »

melissa
Guest
melissa

I wonder if some critics have actually read Payne’s entire book. Many accuse her of using the deficit model to explain/solve poverty. On the contrary, she points out the downsides of using the deficit model and directs us to use the additive model when considering poverty. Also, we all know her theories are not scientifically researched based, but she doesn’t claim that they are. She based much of her ideas on real-life experience which she very clearly states. I believe there is value in having real-life experiences. That she was immersed in poverty for a prolonged period of time makes… Read more »

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

I’m not sure we are still in a middle class nation, but I sort of agree with you in regards to the value of her work. Ruby Payne is sharing what she has learned about human patterns of thinking and behaving as she experienced them during her time working with children of poverty. As a counselor, much of what I do is identifying patterns and helping students understand how these patterns help or hinder their quality of living. I think this is where it started fro Ruby Payne. Her critics look at her work as perpetuating the “culture of poverty”… Read more »

Ssevers
Guest
Ssevers

I read the book, “A framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby Payne for a class and have heard of her in the social work field.  I have problems with her generalizing by using the word “all” and categorizing people into classes even though this happens in our nation.  What is considered “middle class”?  Is it being employed making a certain amount of money, assets one has, determined by morales and values, same class as previous generation, or what choices one makes in life?  I was told by a person early in life that one can be poor but can be clean. … Read more »

Randy Reister
Guest

Over and over again I like to think about these problems. As a matter of fact it was not even yesterday that I was thinking about this very situation. Frankly, what is the answer though?

Brice Jude
Guest

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Guest

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Mens Weight Loss
Guest

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LBW
Guest
LBW

I agree with some of what Payne presents and some not. During my readings on the subject, I did watch a “clip” where Payne said it takes 3 generations to move out of poverty. She reports that the first generation works hard, very hard. The next generation completes high school and the third generation completes college. For me, this was an aha moment as it hit home. She continued by saying that the generation to first complete college typically become teachers (educators)…again aha! This analogy is my story in regard to poverty and education. My grandparents came here from Italy… Read more »

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