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The Best Critiques Of Ruby Payne

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Ruby Payne is a popular consultant to school districts around the United States and, perhaps, the world. I have major concerns about her “deficit” view of low-income students and their families — it smacks of a “blaming the victim” mentality.

I’ve written extensively about the concept of “blame,” and you might be interested in The Best Resources For Helping Students (& The Rest Of Us) Learn The Concept Of Not Blaming Others.

I thought it might also be important, though, to create a “The Best…” list specifically related to Ms. Payne. Her popularity is a fact (you can read this fawning New York Times Magazine article about her to confirm that statement).

There have been some good critiques written about her, though there have also been ones that are not particularly accessible and written in “academic-ese” and others which I think have been overly ideological. Here’s a comment I left on Scott McLeod’s blog a few years ago during a conversation about Payne:

I agree that the most effective long-term strategy for dealing with many of the problems facing low-income communities (and the children who live in them) is to organize for better housing, employment, health, etc.). I would also add that schools and their staff should work as partners with parents and other local neighborhood institutions to push for those changes.

At the same time, though, I don’t necessarily believe that this kind of strategy is the only avenue to pursue, just as I don’t believe that most teachers are attracted to Ruby Payne’s deficit model because it’s “comfortable.”

I believe that there is much that can be done day-and-day-out in the classroom by teachers. And that many of these teachers are desperate to learn any kind of instructional strategies and classroom management tactics that they can apply effectively to respond to the many challenging situations that can be found in inner-city schools.

Saul Alinsky, the father of modern-day community organizing and the founder of the organization that I worked for during my organizing career, once said, “The price of criticism is a constructive alternative.”

I believe that those of us who are critics of Ruby Payne need to do a far better job of offering constructive alternatives that teachers can use today and tomorrow — right in their classroom — if we want more to see the fallacies of Payne’s approach.

One of the things I try to do in this blog and in my books is to offer practical strategies for teachers to use instead of getting sucked into “blaming the victim.”

But there have been some good accessible critiques written, and I thought I’d share a few of what I think are the best ones:

The Myth of the Culture of Poverty by Paul Gorski at Educational Leadership.

A Framework for Understanding Ruby Payne by Anita Bohn at Rethinking Schools.

Savage Unrealities by Paul Gorski at Rethinking Schools.

Revisiting Ruby Payne by Anita Bohn at Rethinking Schools.

Poverty and Payne: Supporting Teachers to Work with Children of Poverty is by Mistilina Sato and Timothy J. Lensmir.

Shifting from Deficit to Generative Practices: Addressing Impoverished and All Students is by Paul Thomas. And thanks to Paul for helping me find some of the articles on this list.

The Corrosive Power of Stereotypes in Politics and Education is also by Paul Thomas.

Return of the Deficit is by Curt Dudley-Marling.

More resources can be found at Debunking Ruby Payne’s Framework of Poverty.

Feedback and/or Additional suggestions are always welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.

You might also want to explore the over 800 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

124 Comments

  1. There is no easy answer to the problem of poverty. Every family living in poverty has its own unique set of challenges. As an educator, the best way that I can help the students living in poverty is to become educated myself. Understanding the situation that a student comes from helps me be more merciful, respectful and compassionate. Ruby Payne, Eric Jensen and Paul Gorski all have valid concerns about people living in poverty. Again, there is no easy answer to this difficult question. It will take everyone, from college professors to preschool children, working together in their own sphere of influence to better the lives of families living in poverty.

    • I believe Ruby Payne gives us a start in trying to understand some of the thoughts and behaviors that children and/or parents have. Teachers are often trying to figure out a way to reach their students and she is attempting to help educators do just that. To say she knows absolutely every answer about helping those in poverty be successful is false, but she has some insight to help. Eric Jensen and Paul Gorski also have good insight to help educators do their best at helping students who come from poor families be successful. They may not all agree, but no one person has all the answers. We should all be trying to help in any way we can without pointing fingers and blaming people they have the wrong answer. Ruby Payne is offering information she has found and is willing to help us (educators) be more mindful to our students.

  2. Whenever someone proposes a philosophy or theory, there will always be others who criticize or offer other explanations. Eric Jensen’s and Ruby Payne’s theories initially appear vastly different, but they can be melded well and give a richer explanation of the effects of poverty on children. This is often the case that two theories have some common beliefs or practices. For example, Payne and Jensen both speak to the power of relationships when working with people in poverty.

    In addition, at times different theories seems to fit different situations. For example, Payne talks about how people in poverty value education, but do not see it as part of their reality or as a way to change destiny. In this case, I actually agreed with Gorski as he disagreed with Payne. I think the majority of my parents value education and believe it can bring about change; however, other things (jobs, transportation, unwelcoming environment, lack of childcare) often prevent them from demonstrating this value. However, I also believe there are different levels of poverty and within them different degrees of belief in the “rules”. I have also encountered parents where their attitude is that education is not going to help their kid; do they more closely fit the definition of generational poverty? I am not sure. But I have definitely met parents who have strong beliefs that match both researchers.

    As with most areas of research, it is beneficial to keep abreast of all theories and to critically think about their arguments. Each family living in poverty should be treated on an individual basis and not have theories “blindly” applied to them. Therefore, whether it is a theory about African American culture or educational methods for helping disabled children or a theory about poverty, each case should be considered individually and critically. Based on that evaluation, then one should proceed with the proper interventions that will produce the greatest amount of success. Our end product/work will be better when we keep ourselves educated on the prevailing theories and consider each case as an individual case.

  3. I’m not sure I am solid enough to offer the price of a constructive alternative, but I often come back to this article by Jennifer C. Ng & John L. Rury when I hear Ms. Payne’s name used in vain: Poverty and Education: A Critical Analysis of the Ruby Payne Phenomenon (http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=12596)

  4. I am a school nurse. I found Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty interesting and practical. I don’t really understand the opposition to her theory.
    As a nurse, cultural sensitivity has been an integral part of my practice since nursing school. In order to provide the best possible care I need to understand where the person comes from. I need to know what is important to a person and what motivates. Understanding a culture involves language, actions, customs, and beliefs. Payne describes commonalities within a group. A group can be race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, religion… I am not sure why it is negative to describe the culture of poverty. I don’t consider it stereotyping, with the understanding that the description is a generalization. It is a reference. If I don’t understand the language, beliefs and customs how can we serve them with respect? I would just be imposing rules and interventions that have no meaning to the patient.

    • I agree with Sarah. The criticisms of Ruby Paine appear superficial and biased in themselves. After reading her text A Framework for Understanding Poverty I could not recall Paine “blaming the victim” in her research as many critics propose. Do we give students from poverty the tools, or awareness of tools, or do we change policies to address the income disparity?

  5. I am a teacher in North Philadelphia, in one of the most violent and poverty stricken neighborhoods in the state of Pennsylvania. While I agree that a majority of Payne’s work is borrowed, exaggerated, and unsubstantiated, there were moments when I nodded in agreement in some of the “hidden values” and characteristics of classes that she presents in her book. I fall back upon my experiences with my students and their families as my evidence, but I do not use those examples as an excuse for me to do my job any differently than any other professional teacher. That is my biggest criticism of Ruby Payne’s work. I feel her framework is a shield that teachers can hold up as an excuse for students not making measured progress or academic growth. In short, it is a deficit model that puts the ball in the court of the student, and not in the hands of the teacher. I have read “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and I have moved past that text quickly, it offers little insight in how to overcome poverty, or how to teach through the conditions that befall schools in low SES areas (large class sizes, lack of funding, depleted resources, lack of technology).

  6. Obviously, there is no one size fits all when it comes to labeling groups of people as goes with any type of research and data collection. There will always be outliers. I feel that more research needs to be done and more data needs to be collected. In order to help our society succeed and prosper we need to understand each other. America is a giant melting pot with various races, classes and religions and I feel that all these factors together make up a person. It is not just the class one was born into that divines a person. Multiple factors go into making a person and these factors are always changing and therefor people are always changing. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago yet I am still in the same class I was born into, I am the same race and sex that I was at birth and I still study the same religion I was brought up in. So many things go into making a person how can just attribute those personaity traits to class?

  7. I have been doing a great deal of reading on the issue of poverty including Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” Eric Jensen’s “Teaching With Poverty in Mind,” and online articles and blogs. There is criticism of Payne’s work. Some say she generalizes the classes and describes the poor in a sweeping fashion but I think she offers educators a starting point to examine their own ideas of poverty. Of course each individual situation will require its methods or approaches. I too know poor families who have “middle class” attributes and some attributes that are “poor” are sometimes found in the middle class. I can’t explain this. All I know is that what Payne says in her book helps me make sense of some of the situations I have encountered. As an educator I want what practical help to deal with students in poverty. Both Jensen and Payne talk about building relationships. I think that is a key to increasing the likelihood of success for ALL students.

  8. I agree with many of the comments written about Ruby’s work as it relates to using her work as a resource to help understand different class structures. Her work is not meant to say that every person living in poverty follows the cultural norms but that is the case in any culture. As an educator, it is important to understand different class structures and different points of view in that class structure.

    I believe that her work has helped me to understand different class structures but it has not helped me to educate students any differently. If it did, then I think I would be falling into the trap of stereotyping different students which would be unfair and unnecessary. I believe that Payne’s work is lacking in this area because she is working towards helping people understand class structure. To say that she is an expert I think is far reaching. She has done research on class structures but she has learned much of what she discusses based on the experiences in her life.

    I think using Payne’s work in correlation with other resources will help to educate all students. Using Payne’s work as the only resource to educate students would be doing them a great disservice.

  9. Being enrolled in a college course that examines the effects poverty has on education, I have learned that I actually knew very little when it comes to best teaching my impoverished students.
    After reading Payne’s work and much of the work of her critics, it has led me to the following conclusion: we as educators must educate ourselves on the research that has been concluded and choose what works best for us and our individual students.
    There is no catchall. There is no magic potion. What works for others may not work for me in regards to educating the poor of my district.
    I plan on taking the bits and pieces from all the research I have read and using it to better educate my impoverished students. I will examine many philosophies and create and implement my own philosophy.
    This philosophy will be dynamic and ever changing and if I ever have the time to verbalize it, I may post it here.

  10. I’ve taught a long time (28 years) and I’ve had students who come from extreme poverty and also the middle class (I don’t think I’ll ever teach children who come from wealth, but I was a nanny for a year for some very rich people!). I’ve found that being respectful and patient works with any group you find yourself working among. Ruby’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, had some stereotyping (or generalizing) , but I found it often rang true for me, and I found it somewhat helpful. Poverty effects people differently, so it will not manifest itself the same way in every family, culture, or individual. It’s important for us to take what is useful from what people are saying on the topic of poverty and use what works for us to help children reach their potential.

  11. A representative from Ruby Payne came to present at our district leadership team this past year. Of course, there were eye opening facts and data that were given to us, but not a lot of strategies (although we were handed a book with strategies that we can look at later). Now that I have read her A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I don’t have much more information than I was given in the conference.

    Classroom teachers need a bag full of strategies to use for all students. There isn’t such a thing as a “one size fits all” method in education. That is why our jobs as teachers are so difficult. I think Ruby Payne’s “deficit” model seems to fit everyone into one of three categories, but there are many exceptions to the rules. Along with reading all of the criticism about Payne, I will only be taking pieces of her work and combining it with information from other professionals in the field.

  12. I agree with others that have posted that Ruby Payne’s ideas are a start. There are many others that have given their ideas. If used together those idea can help create a positive solution. I have been in education now for twenty years in special education and after reading Payne’s book it gave me a basis where to start. I don’t think she has all the answers, but at least I can identify with what she is talking about. As others have commented, I feel educators can use her ideas and decided which ones are practical to implement.

  13. I would like to respectfully disagree with some of your comments… I believe that many teachers are drawn to Payne’s research is that she has great compassion in her delivery not that they feel it is “comfortable”.
    Ruby herself does not believe in a deficit model as stated in her book A Framework for Poverty. She feels that is too negative a picture, she believes that people in poverty are not lacky as much as they have a different culture form in which others not in poverty do not always understand. If they must “fit” into another world then they can be guided to do so by the additive process. This could refer to teachers helping support children in learning new ways to act or behave in a very middle class surrounding.
    I have never felt that Payne blames the victim. In reading her books She has never said anything that sounded even close to such an assertion. She is merely pointing out common traits in our varied income groups. Of course there are always exception sto every rule sl you will see overlap however, these characteristics do exist. I see it in the families I deal with and experienced two classes as I grew up. If we take her work seriously and consider the differences we can better understand the families which come to us and meet them where they are at.

  14. I have just completed a course using Ruby Payne’s philosophy on dealing with children of Poverty. While I respect her views there are some basic differences in our beliefs. I believe all socio-economic classes have a set of ‘rules’, but that they are not necessarily hidden. It is not that difficult to find out what is required to be successful at any class level. I have worked in the field of education for over 20 years. I have taught in inner-city schools as well as working in more rural schools. To stereotype one class as all being similar or even being largely similar, borders on, if not encourages ethnocentricity. Every culture, religion, and social class have a set value system that is shared by not necessarily the same as each other. The diversity of our students must be recognized and our teaching methods varied to meet their social and educational needs. But to say we must teach middle class values to all students is going too far to the left. Why can’t we learn from one another and do what is best for the individual child. We should not discount the value that each one brings to the table.

    I am also concerned that once again teachers are expected to ‘fix’ a social problem. When did it become the school’s responsibility to cure the ills of our society? As an educator I feel torn in hundreds of directions all at the same time. Until our politicians stop trying to destroy the public school system, fund it as needed, and curtail the dole system that has allowed people to have children without personal responsibility, things will not change.

    It seems that the government finds it so much easier to regulate (threatened) public education with ultimatums than to hold the public responsible for what is their job-parenting. We need to form a strong partnership with our communities, with the backing of legislation that teaches people to take responsibility for choices they make and that rewards them for positive decisions not negative choices. Many people living in poverty are willing to make changes that will improve their lives. However, after working with these communities the one thing that have become quite obvious is that one of the reasons so many children live in poverty is because we reward people for keeping that status by allowing them to receive assistance without responsibility. Yes we need to HELP provide for our citizens, but what we do is enable them to stay in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to.

  15. Damian’s teacher
    The debate as to how teachers can best help students in poverty is quite interesting. Ruby Payne is well known and has made a name for herself in this field. Some scholars agree with her findings and others do not. Although there are those who disagree with Payne’s viewpoint, I personally learned a lot from reading her book. She presented interesting research that was thought provoking and insightful. I do not have enough background knowledge in this area, but I felt Payne’s book was a worthwhile read. It provided me with new information with regards to teaching students who are living in poverty. As I enter the classroom next year I feel better prepared to help the students in my school that struggle with poverty. Other writers and scholars may offer opposing points of view, but I enjoyed reading Payne’s book. Am I open to other ideas and theories? Absolutely! I do not consider Ruby Payne’s book to be the only source available on the topic on poverty. I think to develop a deep and broad understanding of the complexities involved with growing up in poverty, one should read a variety of books and articles. I feel there is useful information to be gained from reading many sources. I know that this course has helped me to think about my teaching in a different way when it comes to working with children living in poverty.

  16. As I taking Ruby Payne’s “middle class” survey, I was taken aback with the first item and offended by the 11th item. I thought the author was stereotyping middle class Americans and reducing the issues they face to shallowness. The contrast between the “poverty” and “middle class” quizzes was really slanted- as if to say that while poor people are picking garbage and living without food and electricity, my “class” is consumed with decorating a house, table etiquette, and compounding interest on a retirement stockpile. I also felt that many of the low income parents that I work with would not appreciate being stereotyped as having knowledge of acquiring illegal guns, the prison system, and picking through garbage cans.
    I could think of several serious issues that I have faced as a middle class adult which could have been polled instead of the shallow items on this quiz like how to sign up a child for soccer. I actually didn’t know how to do several of the middle class items.
    I wasn’t able to check off any of the items on the “wealthy” list, but was appalled again at the shallowness of the items that were listed. Having seen politicians and entertainers struggling with personal demons and serious issues, I think the author could have compiled a list of commonalities more serious in nature. I also thought it was stereotyping to assume that most affluent people can be associated with most of those items, such as being able to read a menu in two languages or more, and owning a plane or having a company plane. Finally, I believe Payne painted the bleakest picture of the poor and the best picture of middle class and wealthy Americans to substantiate her book. I was very offended. Although I like some of the strategies in her book for bridging communication between schools and families, as well as helping educators to see their students from different perspectives and perceptions, I was turned off of her book by the appalling stereotypes that seem to be written for “shock value” inorder to sell books. She is primarily targeting generation poverty, and although there are some true generalities she captured, I can say from 25 years of experience with teaching children of poverty that she is seriously misguided. If I were a known figure like her, I would want to have good old-fashioned research data to reputably establish myself with the educational world as well as the one she proports to know so well.

  17. Poverty is a complex problem without any easy answers. Every person that is living in poverty has different circumstances and challenges in meeting their needs. While I thought that Ruby Payne made some good points about the different types of resources (Financial, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual, Physical, Support systems, Knowledge of middle class hidden rules, and Role models) and how they affect poverty, I thought that in general she stereotyped all classes of people. I thought her quiz on whether you could survive in different classes was highly exaggerated and serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes. I also believe that the rules for the classes are not hidden. As educators, I believe that we need to find out as much as possible about our students and help them find resources to meet their needs. As a high school teacher, I see students struggling with all kinds of issues. We need to advocate for resources to meet the needs of all students. All students should have access to food, housing, health care, and education.

  18. Gorski and additional critics on Payne do have merit because the stereoptying limits our wider views of what is taking place in the lack of communication between classes. Stereotyping is what causes the bias in the classroom and as a result discrimination in some aspect. We as teachers do not have the same level of expectations for those students. If you have high expectations for all your kids and they will rise to meet the challenge if there are certain things in place. The stereotyping is where the critics have a point. Gorski believes poverty is the result of gross inequities in “systemic conditions” such as health care, high-quality schooling, access to living-wage jobs, safe and affordable housing,etc. Payne believes poverty results from personal deficiencies in poverty level people. As a result, people living in poverty have a higher rate of unemployment, work for low wages, live in lower income housing which may be substandard. When I was reading Payne, I could place some of my families in similar scenarios as were described. Although it was helpful to apply/evaluate the different resources, and to read the different descriptors or examples, they had a negative connotation to me. I know how hard some of my families work to improve “things” in their lives and they are still in poverty. This idea gives merit to the critics of Payne.

  19. Payne’s theory on poverty is based on her personal experiences and observations with limited support by scientific research. She uses a limited amount of case studies. There have been more valid studies on poverty in recent years. I agree that Payne’s work should be used as a starting point for understanding some of the conceptions of and about people living in poverty. It should not be viewed as a solution..but as a springboard to look for scientifically researched strategies for working with children of poverty.

  20. I appreciate you offering several articles to read and explore why we shouldn’t digest Payne as the spokesperson for poverty. I also agree that most teachers are looking for strategies and solutions to reach and teach their students.

  21. I believe Ruby Payne gives us a start in trying to understand some of the thoughts and behaviors that children and/or parents have that live in poverty. However, I don’t agree that we should be teaching to the middle class values. We need to teach to each child in a way that they will learn. She offers insights to us as educators, some sound realistic and some don’t. I don’t think any one person has the answers. I do question when solving the issue of poverty became the job of a teacher. I wish politicians could see what we go through day in and day out with students who live in poverty before they base how effective I am on their test scores.

  22. Ruby Payne has some good suggestions for effectively educating students from poverty within our classrooms. Do I think her suggestions will work for all my students from poverty? No. But I also don’t think it will in any way damage any of my students if I work to be a better teacher through being a good role model to all of my students and working to build trusting relationships between myself, my students, and their parents. I may even improve the achievement of some of my middle-class students through this process. I do believe that Payne’s critics, such as Gorski, have some valid points in their critiques of her book. Thank you for compiling the articles and different resources discussing poverty from other perspectives. While I did gain some ideas I plan to incorporate into my classroom from Ruby Payne’s book I do plan to continue to explore the research and ideas of others in the field. I enjoyed “A Framework for Understanding Ruby Payne” by Anita Bohn.

  23. I appreciate the compilation of critiques written regarding Ruby Payne. I am taking a course on understanding poverty which uses Payne’ work as one of the primary texts. The perspectives offered by her critics in the resources you have provided were very helpful in offering a bigger picture of her work and the work done by others on the topic of poverty. I have to admit that these critics made me analyze the work of Payne in a way that I would not have if I hadn’t read their views. Their comments also made me question whether her knowledge, background, and experience qualify her as an expert on the mindset of poverty. After reading their thoughts, I will take the work of Payne as one piece of the puzzle to understanding poverty.

    While she offers valuable information, she is not the only source of information to rely on as an educator. It is beneficial to read other authors and professionals to develop a well-rounded perspective on poverty. In addition, other experts in this field, such as Eric Jensen, offer practical suggestions for educators and examples of schools who are successfully meeting the needs of those in poverty.

  24. I read Payne’s book: A framework for understanding poverty and found it very useful for my classroom. When I read it, I had a lot of ah ha moments and had wished I had read it earlier. I understand that it has critics, but when I read it I didn’t read it as she was casting blame on anyone. I believe she is just giving us a basis of where to start helping the students. Reading the remarks by the critics gives me another view of her writing, but over all I believe her book is a good place to start. A great resource to start to build relationships with your students and help them set and reach their goals. As we all know everyone reads things with their own perspective so their views are different. I welcome all knowledge and information I can get on students in poverty in order to better teaching, myself, and my students.

  25. I am currently completing a class based on Ruby Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” As I read her book, I found myself relating to a lot of what she said. She would offer up an example of how a student from a low income family might act and I could think of a particular student I had who did just that. As I continued to read I appreciated the insight I felt I was getting on how to understand and approach students from a different “class” than my own. As part of the class we were also required to read what some of her critics had to say. I found myself thinking about the Ruby Payne text in a different light. Of course there aren’t three distinct groups of people in this country. Of course there is more to why people remain in poverty that is bigger than the individual. I am still working on the class and still reading from supporters and critics of Ruby Payne and trying to determine for myself what is right. In the meantime thanks for sharing your perspective and I’ve enjoyed reading the many comments from your readers.

  26. Thanks for all of the useful articles with differing educational views from Ruby Payne. I found as I read “Framework”, I nodded my head and thought, “That’s interesting” and “I have noticed that in my own teaching experience.” I think the reason many teachers/people in education are drawn to Ruby Payne’s work is that it they can relate to what she talks about and because she offers relatively simple suggestions to try. I think (or at least I hope) that all educators are aware that there are larger issues than the stereotypes that Payne speaks about. There are outside issues affecting how students perform. As others have previously posted, I don’t think we should completely discredit Payne. She is a part of many things to incorporate when dealing with poverty within education. Although Payne is lacking in scientific evidence and references, she does have some valid techniques that can help teacher deal with many students who exude the qualities that Payne coins as solely traits of people of poverty.

  27. I have recently been reading books and articles on the issue of poverty in education. I agree with and echo a lot of the comments made in this blog. As a teacher in a low income school I thought that Payne’s book expanded my background knowledge about the culture of poverty. I did not see it as an excuse to give up as a teacher or as a way to blame my students. Payne gave me a way to have a little more understanding of a different way of life as well as ideas for how to help some students succeed. I understand that she was making generalizations and I would hope that most educational professionals would see it that way. I think that part of a teachers job is to take research and educational expertise and find individual ways that it applies to different students. Not every strategy or research based method works for every student, that is why being a teacher is so difficult. There are so many variables to consider to help each student have a successful educational experience. That all being said, I thought that Payne had valuable research, opinions, and strategies to share with teaching professionals.

  28. I think that any time you are trying to create change and progress more and various sources of information the better. I think Payne gives one approach but as educators we should know better than to only read one source on a subject and not question it. It is naive to think we can read one book and call ourselves experts on poverty. I do think that if you can take away one or two things that help you make positive changes then it was worth your time. I think the key is to not stop looking for new techniques and ideas and to find a way to track your changes to see if they were effective.

  29. As an educator, I question. I debate. I probe. I found Payne’s theory both interesting and lacking. Allow me to preface this with the following statement. I feel that Dr. Payne’s motives for her “research” and writing are admirable and inspirational. Her readers leave with a better understanding of the social classes and perhaps motivated to change their thinking, question their biases, and act to create a more harmonious world. However, I feel as if her perspective on poverty is a very narrow focus. Her experiences as a principal and the experiences of her husband, do not give her a broad range of the meaning of poverty. However, as educators, I also believe that it is our responsibility to learn as much as we can so that we can better educate and inspire our own students. I was able to glean a few things from Dr. Payne. Her purpose for writing, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, was to perhaps getting people talking, thinking and acting on Poverty. Mission Accomplished.

  30. I have recently read “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby Payne. In the course of my professional and educational career, I have heard many professionals cite information from this book as a resource. I never had the opportunity to read the book prior to this summer. I was hoping for more insight/tools to utilize as I work in a poverty community. After reading the book, I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed. I found the information to be helpful to new professionals who may not have a lot of experience in working with those in poverty. I also found it may be helpful to those who feel uncomfortable with social skills pertaing to indivduals with different life experiences. However, I found that the information would be helpful only if individuls see the information as what it is…the opinion of one individual. The information lacked valid research and study. The information seemed to be based on Ruby Payne’s professional experience. I also was disappointed that the information seemed to lack real insight to a diverse population of indiviudals. The information seemed to really stereotype the popuation without giving information on all differnent dynamics. If I was poor, I would be insulted by her views. I would find many inconsistancies in the information. My husband did read some of the information. He grew up poor and his family did not fit many of the sterotypes in the reading. I think that by my personal and professional experiences, that the the cycle of poverty is based on the values that the parents hold. My husband has great saving and spending habits. He has kept this family going after I was laid off and we are on a one job income. My husband has great planning for the future and he was never incarcerated or did drugs. I think that those reading and learning from the book need to keep the origins in perspective.

  31. During my course work study, I have been educating myself on the issue of poverty through reading Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” and Eric Jensen’s “Teaching With Poverty in Mind,”. While I understand and can conceptualize a number of Payne’s ideas a generalization can never be made. I believe that each student and their needs should be looked at individually. In addition, more attention needs to be given to student who come from impoverished backgrounds. Regardless of the reason for their poverty, these students are behind and have further to go. Since lack of education is one of the mitigating factors of poverty it is essential that we try to negate this piece to the best of our ability as educators. The students are not at fault for their current situation and must be given every advantage available to help break the cycle.

  32. After reading multiple books, articles and blogs about poverty, I have come to the conclusion that if people focused more on collaborating with others to accomplish much needed success rather than bashing each others work, educating people about poverty could be much more productive. Aside from the blatantly disrespectful comments people/critics make about others, I think that the intelligence and efforts that are put into changing the effects of poverty are great. There has been a lot of time and research devoted to the topic of poverty. Some if which comes from people that have managed to reverse the poverty in their lives whether it was situational or generational. The information that exists for people to learn from is fantastic. Like any book or topic, depending on what your reading you will get a different perspective about the topic. That doesnt mean that one book is right and the other is wrong or that one method works better than the other, it just takes an open mind to learn what works best for the situation you are in. I believe the most important thing for an individual to do is to gain as much knowledge and experience about the topic so the person can have many tools and strategies to work with. If one method doesnt work, that doenst mean its wrong or cant work for others, it just means something else must be tried. The more we have, the better we will be able to meet the needs of a very diverse population.

  33. I first heard of Payne 10 years ago when the school district I worked in chose her works for training with our staff at the high school. At the time I had a difficult time accepting her work. I just wasn’t comfortable with some of the assumptions I thought she was making. Probably this stemmed from my experiences growing up in poverty in northern rural midwestern area. I went through the process and thought OK all done with that, will need to figure out my own approach with my students.

    Now I am taking a graduate class that requires the reading of Payne’s – A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Jensen – Teaching with poverty in Mind, Gorski- The Myth of the “Culture of Poverty”. I just recently read in Kappan – by Myers – Finding common concerns for the children we share. Each address poverty from a different perspective. I don’t think there is any one anwers or if we are even all asking the same questions.

    What I found this time around was from all of the authors a validation for the various methods I use to help my students achieve success in schools. The most important being understanding the family and what that family values. They all want their children to achieve and find happiness and success. So I think in the end everyone has something to contribute to this discussion and we can all learn from one another. Facing our own negative beliefs about families and children in poverty is the way each of us will help children growing up in poverty succeed.

    • I am also taking a course on poverty and have been asked the same question as many of you: Should we be finding fault with Ruby Payne’s research? Do her critics have merit? I believe that there are many useful things that she can offer educators. I think that Ruby Payne has truly brought to light one of the most often ignored issues that our schools and students face. It is important that educators understand how our students learn and how poverty can effect their language acquisition. We also need to understand the difference between formal and casual register. Educators also need to realize that formal register needs to be directly taught to our students. In addition, her research shows us the distinction between the different classes and how they may affect our students. Is her research perfect, no? At least it addresses an important issue in education and the success of students.

  34. I agree there is no easy answer to solving poverty and its effects on those that live within in it. I also agree, educators play a major role in helping students to rise above their situation and see there is a door of hope for a better lifestyle. Sometimes it seems educators are the answer to all. I struggle with that because we have students a limited amount of time. Granted during that time we can try new strategies and most importantly, be a positive role model. with class size the way it is now, the shortage of funding and the pace of life itself, it is not always easy for an educator to reach those students that are struggling; even though, that is the desire of every good teacher. Additionally, I think Payne’s position is easy to grasp because it sets everything out as a teacher would like it – step 1, 2 and 3; students in poverty are this, this and this. But as is obvious upon further research into the topic, poverty is very complicated. There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of poverty, the village often times needs to be raised also. I don’t think pity is the answer but instead empathy and a desire to give as much support as possible for struggling students. Teaching students in poverty requires those same good teaching strategies a teacher would use for all students. Teachers have to have understanding about their students not matter what class. They also have to have a toolbox of effective strategies no matter what student. They must have an understanding for those students who look up with the missing joy in their eyes.

  35. I agree with those that state that Payne can be stereotypical. Many of the “hidden rules” that she references to would only be relevant to some of my students living in poverty. I think that if I spoke with some of the parents that live below poverty, they would be pretty offended by her comments. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean you know how to bail someone out of jail or how to use a knife as scissors or how to get a gun – even with a police record. Most of the parents of my students work very hard but there are other factors that keep them in poverty. If Ruby Payne could hear their stories, it would be interesting to see how she would react.

  36. I recently read Ruby Payne’s book, Framework for Understanding Poverty for a class. While I admit I am not an expert in sociology or philosophy, I do have first hand experience with students just like the ones she writes about, those who have grown up in poverty. I did not grow up in poverty myself so I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be poor but I have spent extensive time around people who grew up in poverty and this has affected me deeply.
    From the first chapter of Payne’s book I was nodding my head as I recognized my students in the stories. I have been teaching in a high-poverty urban public school for over 12 years. My students come from very poor neighborhoods. I found Payne’s observations matched my own observations of my students and their living situations. I understand that she is making generalizations about poverty. She clearly informs the readers that everyone is unique and her descriptions are not meant to describe every single person who lives in poverty. Rather, they are meant to illustrate patterns that exist among many people living in poverty.
    One critique of Ruby Payne is that she is purposely avoiding scholarly reviews of her work by publishing her own books and that she is out to make money off of poor school districts and tax payers. I cannot attest to Payne’s motives, her profits or the fact that she publishes her own work. However, she has spoken to my experiences in a way that no one but my colleagues who teach in high poverty areas have been able to do. I also read Eric Jensen’s book, Teaching with Poverty In Mind and while he has some great ideas, I do not feel like he has been in my shoes nor do I feel like he has seen what I have seen. Ruby Payne may not have grown up in poverty but her observations ring true with mine.
    Critics of Payne’s work blames her for making excuses for students who live in poverty or for thinking they are less than able to achieve at high levels. I did not interpret her message that way. I don’t believe my students are less capable than their wealthier peers. I don’t believe that trying to understand where my students come from is making excuses for them. I want to reach my students, and to do that I need to understand where my students are coming from, on a general level and on a personal level. I believe that by changing the way I interact with my students and I can offer them an additional way of communicating that can help them to unlock doors of opportunity. I can’t make choices for my students but I can teach them skills that they can choose to use to determine their own future. I believe my students can succeed, with the right resources. While I can’t do much about monetary resources I can give them emotional resources. This is what Ruby Payne offers.
    Another critique of Payne’s approach is that she ignores the systemic problems that lead to poverty and the inequalities that exist in education. Payne isn’t trying to change the system, an important goal to be sure. Instead she is providing a strategy for working in the present, with the students who are in our classrooms today. We can’t just wait for the magical day when schools are fully funded and societal inequities disappear. As teachers we have to go to work everyday and do our absolute best to make a difference for our students. This is where Payne’s framework will help me.

  37. Many African American students in low-income families already lag significantly behind their more affluent peers academically, socially and physically. If they do not make up this ground early in their educational careers, they will have a real challenge academically. Our students are expected to take the Ohio Graduation Test which measures a variety of academic skills however because many of them are reading 3-4 grade levels below we spend a lot of our time trying to “catch them up.” Many of our low-income families frequently move because they cannot afford to keep their apartments and homes, they end up living in temporary doubled-up housing, or move from one homeless shelter to another. This disruption affects student achievement because in general the research I’ve read suggests that children who move and change schools have lower math and reading scores and are less likely to graduate from high school on time. There is definitely a commonality in regards to issues that those in poverty face. A minor flaw with Payne’s ideals is that the solutions she proposes are cookie cutter. The solution to this epidemic is just as diverse as the situations that created it. It’s not as simple as her book would suggest.

  38. The initial reaction while reading Payne’s “In the Face of Poverty” was that her conclusions are based on the assumption that those living in what we would deem substandard conditions are people who want to leave those conditions. That is not intended to sound simplistic or obvious, instead it is meant to point out the fact that many of the cultural characteristics that Payne draws into the forefront are not issues to be resolved by the middle class. I don’t feel as though I want to criticize Payne’s ideas, however they do have an aura of elitism. My thoughts resonate more in line with Sato and Lensmir who are referenced on this site. Their research states that “Payne offers educators the role of savior. ” When reading Payne’s text I felt as though as a teacher, I had a life in the upper echelon of society and that feels awkward. Establishing relationships with students is what feels comfortable. Part of that relationship is treating the students as people without a societal class. “New ways of being in the classroom must be taken up by teachers. Part of that being is to be present in the moment with students, while listening to them and respecting their ideas.” (Sato and Lensmir)

  39. I am a school social worker and work with students who are teen parents in an alternative high school. I enjoyed Payne’s perspective as I enjoyed Jensen’s perspective as well as Paul Gorski’s article as mentioned above. I enjoyed them because even though there were variances in their perspectives there was helpful knowledge in all of them that I could use in real-life practice. In some ways, Payne is working from a deficit model when she talks about students needing to assimilate to the middle class culture when in school by using the formal register, etc. But she also talks about the skills that students in poverty do have in order to survive. That perspective really made me think about the students I work with and I am able to help the students as well as the teachers recognize that even though they may not be doing so well in the classroom, they do exhibit skills that we may not even have ourselves. If we recognize those skills and help students to recognize their strengths we can work together with them in changing their classroom experience so that they can be more successful. Maybe Payne doesn’t discuss systemic change as she should-but we, as educators, can apply what she teaches us and change the system that we’re in together. In my work as a School Social Worker I do tend to hear teachers comment frequently on how they thought a student had no money to get to school or for food, but that their nails are always perfectly manicured. With the help of Payne’s explanations of the poverty skills for survival I am able to better explain to teachers what’s behind that behavior and to help teachers come to more of an understanding and to develop better approaches and attitudes when working with students.

  40. Educators should make an effort to use strategies that focus on both the child’s competencies and areas of weakness, which vary immensely from child to child. This requires a comprehensive analysis of a child’s academic, physical, social and emotional needs. All children (not just children from impoverished homes) need to be analyzed by a team of educators. By doing this, the whole child can be nurtured by adults who care, and plans of action can be targeted to the specific needs of the child.

  41. As an elementary school counselor, I agree with many of the previous posts. Ruby Payne’s work certainly provides a good starting point for educators to begin understanding poverty. Her text is easy to read and provides information that is easy to digest for someone not familiar with the topic of poverty. My biggest concern with her ideas/theory is saying all people that live in poverty share the exact same values and characteristics. This obviously perpetuates stereotypes that are already in place. I also believe Payne does not give educators enough real world solutions to try in the classroom.
    I feel Eric Jensen provides many more ideas on how to actually improve academic success on a school-wide and classroom-wide level for students. He also provides information that is backed by research. But even after all of this being said; I do feel all the information from Payne, Jensen, Gorski, and other researchers/theorists regarding poverty is useful and helps us grow as educators in learning and being able to help students.

  42. b). Being a school nurse has some limits to observing classroom behavior and making statements as to the overall classifications in our schools. Ruby Payne’s book on “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” has opened my eyes to the differences in cultures and the “hidden rules” that I was not completely aware of coming from a medical background. My best approach to such differences has been to learn and understand more of each student’s environment on an individual basis and point them in the right direction by being available to them and giving the correct resources needed to succeed in school. My being the best role model I can, I hope to make a difference in some student’s lives, which I believe most critics will agree upon. After all, is that basically what we are all striving to do? Eric Jenson takes on different views related to poverty, all of which make sense to some and gives us further insight into the plight of poverty sufferers. When we take into consideration many views and opinions of those who study poverty issues, we can develop our own philosophies which work for us and move our students forward and help them to be successful adults.

  43. Being a school nurse in an urban area where a large percentage of the student population is living in poverty, I found reading Ruby Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty very interesting and practical. I could apply her scenarios to real life situations and felt the points she made were valid. I am not sure I understand why others debate her viewpoint. She simply defines poverty as a culture. She makes reference to group of people who share a common background. This is culture, not stereotyping. As a nurse being culturally competent and sensitive to an individuas needsl is an integral part of my profession. Culture entails language, body movements, customs and beliefs. In education we need to understand the various cultures of our children. If we do not put ourselves in our children’s shoes, how can we get them on and keep them on the right path? Defininig poverty as a culture is not stereotyping. Understanding the culture of poverty shows respect , not understanding it or recognizing it is insulting

  44. I have read Payne’s book “Framework for Understanding Poverty.” The key word in the title is the ‘understands’ aspect. I would classify myself within the middle class spectrum, and I thought I had an understanding of what people in poverty go through on a daily basis. When reading about the “hidden rules” of poverty, I did not realize how little of understanding I truly had about those in poverty. I believe there are critics that will criticize anything. The only part the critics have on Payne would be the research aspect. If Payne would get her ideas and strategies researched, then her critics wouldn’t have much to complain about or maybe Payne would realize that some of her strategies are not as applicable as she had thought.

  45. I am a primary grade teacher at a school with high poverty rates in a school district in Nebraksa. I learned about Ruby Payne from a class that I am taking. When I first read her book I was somewhat surprised by her no nonesense approach and some of the stereotypes that she described. I later went online and realized she had a number of critics who were adament in reducing and dismissing her insights by questioning her research methods or lack thereof and condeming her books as purely anecdotal.

    I have come to the conclusion that many teachers are probably interested in RP’s books because she gives them direct information and answers to questions and situations that are often very gray and seemingly unanswerable. As a teacher, I am often frustrated by the lack of information and knowledge that we are given in our training and in our professional development about poverty and how we are to effectivley teach. Ideas like “enriching the whole child” seem antiquated and not part of the “21st Century skills model” that we hear so often from policy makers. Yet “the whole child” approach is exactly what children in poverty need.

    We (teachers) do not want to be biased and we do not want to treat some students differently than others but we are very much aware of the differences that children in upper and middle class have in regards to advantage and opportunities compared to children in poverty and we know from our own experiences that the children in poverty are not getting what they need before they even enter our doors as a Kindergartener.

    We know that children in poverty have so many deficits against them in their exposure to books, print, language development just to name a few. So RP gives us a branch to cling to in a way that others in the field of education do not.

    I am not for or against any one theory or philoisophy. As most teachers, I simply want what is good for my students, especially those who are struggling, and if RP can give me some insights to help me understand what I am dealing with then that can be helpful. Likewise, when I read about the Myths of the Culture of Poverty (which counter RP ideas) I find that those kinds of articles based on research are eye opening as well.

    As professionals, we need not just information about poverty, we need programs that will help enrich the lives of those students who are behind the curve as soon as they enter school. We need wrap-around programs, we need after school enrichment, we need field trips and outdoor education and mentors to work in our schools. We need resources to pay for enrichment so that children in poverty will at least have an honest chance in the world.

    Working for social justice and improving the housing and medical care of people in poverty is admirable, but teachers need support and help in our schools so that the kids we are trying to take up a notch are getting all the help they can get during the school day and after. It is a complicated, complex situation and we all need to work together to help these kids and ensure that they are getting the same quality of experience as the kids in middle and upper class families.

  46. I believe like most that teachers want to know more about how to reach/teach children in poverty. As a teacher I’ve seen my students of poverty struggle with standardized testing yet not so much with daily classroom instruction. There never is a quick fix to resolve a problem so I appreciate people such as Ruby Payne, Paul Gorski and Eric Jensen for their research and insight into this challenging and growing problem. I also believe that there is no one right answer! Really all teachers want are books that offer practical stratigies that can be tried in the classroom.

  47. Teaching in a school of poverty for the last 13 years the insight the Ruby Payne has given me is priceless. Helping my students achieve all they can is what my job is all about and any knowledge of how they may be feeling or acting can help me think of ways to help. However I do feel that policies and programs to help families of poverty is also needed in order to prevent more families from facing these difficult challenges. Allow Ruby Payne’s insight has helped me I do know that taking her information and applying it to all families of poverty is a dangerous place to go as well.

  48. I have recently been introduced to Ruby Payne, Eric Jensen, and Paul Gorski while taking a continuing education graduate course. This course held appeal to me because I work as an Educational Assistant in a CDB classroom where 9 out of the 10 students are living in poverty. I felt like I was struggling with understanding the behaviors of the students in our classroom. Although all three experts don’t always agree on specific strategies used or whom should be making changes, I learned a lot about how poverty can affect students in the classroom. Each makes valid points and the ultimate goal is to help students achieve. I feel better equipped to face this challenge now more than ever!

  49. I have taught for over twenty years in an isolated rural town with a student population of over 65% in poverty. After reading Payne’s hidden rules of those in poverty, I actually have observed these characteristics in a small amount of families I have worked with. However, I do believe it is dangerous to go with a one size fits all mentality when assigning these attributes. In these days of high stakes testing it is far too easy to apply a deficit model for lack of proficiency. However, I believe as an educator I can take the research provided by Payne, Jensen, Gorski, and others as hope that we can engage and empower all students to their best ability.

  50. After reading more about the topic of poverty, I have come to realize that I would have to agree with some Payne critics. It seems that one of the biggest complaints people have with her views are her overgeneralization of stereotyping and offensive descriptions of people in poverty. It seems to me that her ideals might be drastic to attract people’s attention to the topic. I am in favor of raising awareness, but not at the expense of those we are trying to help. If we do try and focus on the positive effects these debates have brought forward and the change that has occurred for the better, than we are moving in the right direction. By focusing on topics such as building relationships and strengthening communication, we can all agree a positive impact might evolve.

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