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The Best Critiques Of Ruby Payne


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.

Questioning Payne is a good piece from Teaching Tolerance.

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

The Payne of Confronting Stereotypes about Poverty as Educators is by Paul Thomas.

Questioning Payne is from Teaching Tolerance.

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.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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


  1. I work in a Title 1 school, as the school psychologist. I have recently read Ruby Payne’s book, as well as Eric Jensen’s. In reading both texts, I appreciate the time spent on referencing the development of a child living in poverty. Understanding how poverty can affect a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development is important to me in my work. I appreciate that in the text, there are practical ideas, interventions, and approaches to use when working with those who are living in poverty. But just as many critics have said before, I think that using this information as a ‘one size fits all’ tool to understand poverty may be misguided. Just like with any student I work with, I like to understand their background, their individual differences, and what they have experienced in order to provide the best support and interventions that I can, rather than looking at them through the lens of their socioeconomic status. Ruby Payne’s work may highlight many experiences that people living in poverty have; however, it seems like it might be an over generalization and at times, stereotypical.

    In working in such a population, I think that an understanding of the effects of poverty can increase educators ability to provide support and services for families. Poverty is a complex thing that cannot be addressed at just school. I think more awareness, programming, and supports to help address needs for all families.

  2. I just finished reading Ruby Payne and Eric Jensen’s book for a class. I do agree with Payne’s “hidden rules” but I believe Payne’s work should not stand alone. I believe educators need to research the topic of poverty and combine strategies from many researched based resources to improve or support all students not just those in poverty. She did have some good strategies. I really liked the strategies and the research backing of Jensen’s approach. Payne’s work did have research based approaches.

  3. I just finished my course work on Ruby Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” Throughout the course of the book, I felt that her observations and insights were spot on. It was as if Payne had visited my school prior to writing this book! Now that I have completed reading the book and have had a chance to internalize the information, I feel that she has made me aware of things that I was probably better of not knowing. Based on the hidden rules of poverty, she explains why students are tardy to class, why their lockers are a mess, why they loose assignments, and why they laugh in your face when you try to discipline them. Does this mean I should excuse these behaviors because they cannot help it because they are poor? I feel like I almost know too much now about my poor students. Her descriptions of their way of life has made me feel even more separated from my students because of the labeling, defining of classes, and “us vs. them” mentality depicted in her book.

    • When first reading Kim’s response, I was with her! I too felt as if Payne was writing about the high school I have taught at for the last 28 years, but I believe that Payne’s writings were helpful to me in better understanding students living in poverty. At no time did I believe that Payne was telling us as educators to excuse behaviors as such as tardies, or losing homework, instead she gave us insight as to why this happens and ideas on how we can handle them. I found much of the book very helpful, and at the same time I believe I am doing much of what she shared to do. The key is building relationships with these kidlets, as well with the families, this is not an issue about pointing fingers at who is to blame and who needs to fix it, this is an issue that needs to be addressed head on with everybody setting goals in a positive direction. It’s not a shocker to know that many parents resist change, as they only know what they know, but if somehow within the school system we can reach at least one student in poverty and give them hope that there is life outside of poverty, then we should cheer from the mountain tops! A former superintendent in our district always used the old adage of, “It takes a village to raise a child”. That is becoming more and more true in our society today, we all need to take ownership of our youth, and guide them in the right direction, it just happens in our district that we have a high percentage that need that assistance. As an educator, I believe after taking this class, that our entire district should be mandated to read Payne’s work and do group discussions on it. Like Kim, we will have some teachers who think this book excuses students in poverty, but my hope would be that a majority of teachers would learn how important it is to build relationships and model what is acceptable in life in general.

    • After reading the information presented in Payne’s book, I too was more aware of the reasoning behind some of my students actions. I feel that we as educators need to have background knowledge of our students, so that we can understand their behaviors/reactions and choices, but not necessarily “excuse” them. I am not in total agreement with Payne’s stereotypes of classes, but I agree that there are “hidden rules” for all of us to recognize and learn if they are needed to succeed.

  4. I just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”. I think Payne gives great insights into the different social classes. I think she gets me thinking about the thoughts and behaviors of some of my students. Her description of the hidden rules in the social classes made me really ponder the students that enter my doors everyday. I think it is very important for teachers to learn as much as they can about each of their students. I believe the more you can know about a person the better chances you have trying to make connections with them and teach them new things. I believe we as teachers need to collaborate more and work together more to help all students be successful at school. I am sure all of Payne’s opponents have their good reasons for disagreeing with her, however, she has some great ideas and insights for teachers, administrators, and others. I think the biggest thing I take from all the reading that I have done is teachers, administrators, parents, and the community all need to work together to build a stronger community and, therefore, a stronger individual.

  5. I truthfully agree with the remarks and views from the discussions on this blog. After reading the book of Payne and some of her critics, I would say that Payne’s critics have a good point, but it doesn’t mean that her work’s is not valuable at all. Critics say’s that Payne’s work is “discriminating”, “stereotyping”, or that she takes a broad view towards low-income family. I would say that to some extent, it is. I noticed from her book, that she usually used the negative side (violent, lazy etc.) about the poor people stereotype, and/or describe this culture as what the public assume about this low-income way of life. However, I was wondering what would it be like if we flip the other side of the coin? Has she ever experienced what is like of being poor? Or has she ever lived with them? Have she thought that mostly all of them wanted to get out in that situation (not the poor choose to be poor)? I grew up in a poor neighborhood where I witnessed that not all poor people are lazy, violent, irresponsible, or they don’t value education at all. In fact, some of the parents tried by working hard to send their child to school. Nevertheless, the socially accepted stereotype will not provide them with options or they will be given less opportunities to excel, and it will make them get stuck in poverty because circumstances rooted in equity won’t allow them to soar. I have known some of the type of poor students that have graduated with high honors, getting into college and obtaining a decent job in society. How did they do that? Is it want she called out by labeling them as lazy, irresponsible and with no regard valuing education?
    A friend of mine was very poor, but she was the most intelligent student in class. I remember that she only had one notebook for the entire school year, and that she was always asking a paper every time we had a quiz, and her clothes are just washed and worn every day. She graduated as a top student during that year. Later on, I heard she graduated with “cum laude” in college, and she got some job offers from different companies after her graduation. How could she do?
    On the other hand, Payne’s work presents some points that I am not comfortable with because they were shocking to me, I am referring to the “hidden rules”. With this information I helped myself to improve my teaching strategies and deep understanding of my low-income students. Moreover, from her opinion poor people continue to be poor because they choose to stay, that way she might have said this because of what she witnessed from a specific poor family. But she also mentioned that many families in poverty were lacking of resources, quality of education, and getting low quality jobs, exposed to teen pregnancy, etc., which are just a difficult examples of circumstances of barrier in moving out from poverty.
    Every situation has a rationale, Payne’s purpose in explaining the “culture of poverty” is to help teachers understand their poor students so they could identify and look for ways to help them to become successful in life. Thus, we should keep an open mind to accept what would be the best for our students. Additionally, for the critics, wanted to clarify and elaborate more deeply about the real situation in poverty that Payne’s haven’t contemplated. I strongly believe that as educators we would not just focus on one single opinion, but also to work further and collaborate deeply more to prepare our students for success.
    Going back to my previously stated question, how did my poor friend become successful? I would say that as a child she had a strong determination to achieve goals. She believes that poverty is not a hindrance to success. It’s an individual’s strength keeping such a mindset, so we teachers are entitled to find a way to help them, understand them, and guide them to a better way of life.

  6. I believe there is much to be learned from Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” Payne allows the reader to gain an understanding of the many facets of poverty. She then provides research based strategies and suggestions on how to provide positive support. Based on my work with families, I have witnessed many of the socioeconomic behaviors described by Payne. However, I recently returned from teaching children in a poor African village. The hidden rules and attitudes there were very different than those in Payne’s book. We cannot use this book to stereotype and create prejudices. It was written as a “framework” to help guide our understanding about people who face poverty. As an educator I seek to understand the background of each student in my classroom. I am constantly asking, “How can I help this child reach their potential?” Payne’s book is just one of the many tools I can use to better understand my students and help them succeed.

  7. I too recently finished reading Payne’s Framework for Understanding Poverty book and thought she was right on when she was discussing some of the problems students living in poverty face that many middle class students do not. I try to relate to my students on every level, but in reality I can not. When going throught the check list of what class you belong to I could not fathom my sons (5th grade) knowing any of the items on the list. However, in reality many of my 6th and 7th grade students do know many of the items of the list. This is something that educators need to be aware of and take into consideration each and every day. Knowing your audience is so important in any service career but even more important when it comes to education. Whether it be the languauge, hidden rules, or the ability to relate to parents, knowing your audience is essential in today’s world. Payne’s thoughts on education hit home with me because it seemed like she was describing my school and my students. Her book is worth the read even if you have some differing points. It gets you to think about how you could start each day and what you can to do understand why some of the students behave like they do. Get to know your students by asking them questions about themselves and their family. Get to know your students by telling stories about yourself and your family. Relationships are what they remember and by understanding the framework people in poverty are building around educators can then help create the strongest foundation for their future.

  8. I get so frustrated when someone doesn’t agree with a stance that other people take and they use the discrimination card. With the passage of NCLB over a decade ago, the federal government created a new category of students (economically disadvantaged) whose test scores would be monitored by the US Department of Education officials. This law is to ensure that the improvement of poor children’s test scores are a major concern/priority of every public school. Ruby Payne may not have all the answers, but she provides useful strategies to be used. While I do agree with some of Ruby Payne’ suggestions and strategies, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ mold. I have taught elementary school for the last 13 years and have had quite a range of students, from the poorest of the poor to upper class. As a middle class person myself, it was eye-opening as I read certain parts of the book. I do remember thinking that I had no desire to be part of the wealthy class after taking the quiz. If that’s how I felt, then I wouldn’t be surprised if people of poverty felt the same way if they took the middle class quiz. I think Ruby Payne has brought to light some major issues that teachers need to be aware of. I also think teachers need to look at the needs of each individual student and be flexible their immediate needs. Ruby Payne’s framework can be just one tool in our tool box, not the bible of teaching all students.

    • I agree with you totally, Cindy. As a teacher we all know that most of what we do is made up of small pieces of this theory and that practice, this researcher and that expert. I enjoyed reading both Ruby Payne’s and Eric Jensen’s books and there are some things I learned and will use and some that I laughed at openly. Like you, I did enjoy taking the quizzes. I grew up in a poor household, but after taking that quiz and seeing the hidden rules of poverty, I realized that I was a “lucky” poor student and I didn’t have to worry about my clothes being stolen at the laundromat or how to use a knife as scissors. I also have no desire to be in the wealthy category…yikes! In today’s society we spend too much time being offended by things we should learn to just ignore.

  9. I am a middle school, special education teacher in suburban, white bread Iowa. Poverty is not an overwhelming issue here. Many of my specific students suffer in poverty, while the rest of the student population does not. I found Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty realistic and comprehensive. I understand the opposition to her philosophies, but don’t necessarily agree with them. Understanding students and families in poverty is one of the only ways I can connect to them, because I know what they need from me to survive and be successful. This goes for parents as well as students. As a teacher, I am always looking for ways to implement strategies, access resources, and create a culture of diversity and tolerance in my classroom. I wish Payne would include more of this work using her extensive research.

    I have read critiques about Payne calling poverty a culture, when critics believe she is just using stereotyping as a part of her work. I don’t believe this is stereotyping, as I believe it is the framework of a culture. Culture is made unique by their beliefs about relationships, religion, language, value of education, customs, foods, family structure, etc. All of these components are found to be similar and consistent in areas of poverty, no matter the region of the world. Therefore, Payne calling poverty a culture is appropriate and the use of the term stereotype inaccurate.

  10. Currently I am enrolled in a course which utilizes Ruby Payne’s, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” book. Although this course finds her book of value to understanding those living in poverty, it also poses one important question, “do her critics have merit”? As with anyone who poses a theory or philosophy (especially in education) there will be many critics and naysayers, but that does not mean the person does not have valid points of interest. Personally, I feel that her work has helped me to understand different class structures that I deal with on a daily basis. Her findings have aided me in understanding the differing needs of those students and how it can affect their education. I feel that I have benefited from her ideas and many of my colleagues could as well. She sheds light on issues that are often ignored by educators and the education system. I once worked for a district that believes that “all students could learn regardless of their socio-economic status and/or home life.” I found myself falling into the trap of this mindset as well. Although I still believe all students can learn Ruby Payne’s findings have helped me to understand the differences between the classes, how they live, and ultimately how it can affect all details of their life.

  11. Payne does make points that are very stereotypical of people in poverty. However, she does bring up many points that I had not yet thought of in my very few years of teaching. She brings up important issues students in poverty may face but does make it seem like a blanket statement of those in poverty. I have also read work by Eric Jensen. Both authors made points that I feel have increased my awareness of those in poverty. They may not both agree, but both have some important comments and strategies to help work with those in poverty. These blogs are also very useful in finding additional insight into those struggling in poverty. I am excited to use the new information and strategies in the upcoming school year!

  12. To say that teachers who follow the works of Ruby Payne are assuming the ‘blame the victim mentality’ is bold. Teachers are seeking to understand how to help ALL children become active and successful participants in inclusive settings. While Payne’s work may be interpreted as a product of classism and racism, a true educator understands the dangers of over-generalizing any claims an author makes. A true educator thinks critically about the claims set forth by a variety of perspectives. After doing so, I don’t view Payne as a villain. Instead, I appreciate her efforts in helping educators to understand the role class diversity may play inside of the classroom. Would her claims be stronger and more convincing with further supporting evidence and research? Absolutely, quantitative data works to strengthen qualitative data. Yet other than state test scores, standardized testing, and other assessments, how can we prove her claims don’t have merit? There is obviously a deficit in our own education system. Standardized testing has proven that children living in poverty are not performing as well as students of other socio-economic classes. I am certainly not a fan of these high-stakes threats imposed on our education system; however, I can also see the impact of poverty in my own everyday classroom practices. So, what can we do about it? We must understand why this may be happening. Payne provides an interesting perspective to help educators understand why and how we can help INCLUDE students of poverty rather than EXCLUDE them. To say that I am blaming the victim is inaccurate. Rather, I am trying to help the strengthen the abilities of the victim to rise up and become the victor.

  13. After reading and digesting A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne, I do believe there is value in what Ruby has to say about those living in poverty. While all of the information might not be applicable to everyone’s situation, poverty is not an easy topic to take on and I believe she has done a nice job presenting her material. I believe that the part many people don’t appreciate with Payne, is the approach that she has chosen to present her information. She doesn’t sugar coat or worry about offending others, she presents her information as she sees it through research and experiences. As a teacher, you are required to go to professional development workshops to enhance teaching skills. Not everything you hear at these workshops are ideas you can take back and use. Just like with Payne’s book, you take the ideas that are relevant and apply to you and use them. I teach in a rural school with very little diversity and about 50% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. This was may first exposure to any type of training on those living in poverty, the hidden rules, and what behaviors might be seen in the classroom by those living in poverty. The book left me with many “A ha” moments where I thought of students I have had and wished I had known this information when working with them. I know there were situations I could have handled more empathetically had I been exposed to the information presented in the book.

  14. I agree with so many of the comments posted. I know that when it comes to the issue of poverty there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to ending it. I’ve read a lot of comments from people that are against Ruby Payne, stating that she stereotypes the different classes, but I feel that she is just trying to make people think about what’s going on in our world. I appreciated her book along with Eric Jensen’s book. They both opened my eyes to the situations my students are living in. I feel like I have a better understanding of poverty after reading both of these books and I’m hoping I can be a positive role model to all of my students in the future. The best thing we can do is to keep an open mind and support all of our students no matter what situations they are going through.

  15. I took a graduate class on “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and found a lot of useful strategies that I can implement into my classroom. I found the registers and hidden rules to be most helpful in understanding how children living in poverty make decisions, think, and act. It also brought the importance of teaching children the “normed” rules and expectations of school and society to my attention. Payne’s book made me realize how we mainstream our schools to fit the middle class model thus making school more difficult for families living in poverty. I think school need to do a better job making accommodations for these families to help their children become successful students. However, I did think Payne made a lot of negative stereotypes about families living in poverty. I also wonder where Payne came up with the questions for the “can you survive living in…” quiz, the generalizations are very negative. I was highly disappointed with his view point and generalization of individuals living in poverty. Overall, this book will help me to become a better teacher to students in my class living in poverty.

  16. I, too, am finishing the coursework for the class, In the Face of Poverty. Although I do not agree with everything that Ruby Payne writes in her book, I found it valuable. I never truly understood the culture of poverty. From my middle class perspective, I did not understand the different values that different classes of people hold and follow. As a special education teacher in a small, rural, Pennsylvania school, I have witnessed students and their families living in poverty. It is heartbreaking when students speak to me about their living situations. Some of my students live in generational poverty. In fact, I could easily believe that the diagram of Jolyn’s family on page 75 is modeled after that of one of my students. I found the information on role models and relationships very helpful. However, when I read the conclusion, I became distressed. Payne writes that it is not the role of the educator to save the individual but rather to offer support and opportunities. As a veteran teacher of 30 years, this goes against my own personal philosophy. I do believe in the “Starfish Story” that a person can make a difference and save individuals. I also do not fully agree that if given a choice, people in poverty would choose to continue to remain there. This may be true for some individuals, but I know from personal experience that some students who live in poverty want a better life for themselves and their future families.

  17. I agree with parts of Payne’s “hidden Rules.” I, however, in my own classroom do not see the poverty aspect of my students. What I see are individuals who are in need of guidance, leadership and instruction. As a classroom teacher in an at-risk school I deal with the poverty student on a daily basis and strongly feel that teachers identify and try to meet the needs of all students. However, those that are not directly involved with families in poverty tend to wear blinders or turn their backs to the issues related by Payne in her book. This is the area that I feel needs to be addressed so that more awareness is brought forth for those in poverty.

  18. I to agree with much of the discussion that occurs in this blog. Just like any texts that are out there on the shelf there will always be pros and cons to different peoples research and views. I do believe that Ruby Payne has found some great researched based information to help us understand the students and the families that we work with each and every year. I do love the fact that she has taken the time to research and enlighten us on a very hard topic that many educators are unfamiliar with. I find that some people have took offense to how she addresses the different classes. What people need to realize is that just because she states the “hidden rules” it does not mean it applies to everyone. Everyone is raised differently. I have found the research she has on the “hidden rules” to be beneficial. It really has allowed me to use this when understanding the values of many of my families. I have learned that we need to learn how to build empathy and express empathy to students. With coming from a middle class family all we can do is stop and listen to the problems and concerns that are being expressed. We can not say we are sorry or that we can relate, because we can not. Overall after reading Ruby Payne’s book I feel as though I have a good understanding of what poverty is, and I have taken away some great strategies to use in my own classroom.

  19. First and foremost, all teacher education programs need to include the readings of Ruby Payne, a Framework for Understanding Poverty as well as the Eric Jensen book, Teaching With Poverty in Mind. These two perspectives, whether you agree with them or not provide the typical, middle class, teacher-in-training, with the ramifications of poverty within the classroom setting. Each book addresses the academic, behavior as well as cognitive disadvantages faced daily by children growing up in a poverty-stricken environment. As with everything in life, it is fundamentally sound advice to have balance; read from a variety of sources, be well-informed and open-minded to change and differing ideas. I am willing to read and accept the practical advice Payne offers especially when it can positively applied to the children in my care. However, I will continue to be cautious with stereotypes. As educators, we need to be aware of our low-performing SES kids and always be asking, what can we do? We need to be continually working with school staff, administrators, local business and community leaders as well as politicians to help this growing sector of our school population.

  20. After reading A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I do not believe that Ruby Payne is blaming the victim. She seeks to explain how those living in poverty view the world differently and how those differences effect students trying to function in schools which are mainly structured around a middle class system of values. I see the hidden rules and behaviors Payne writes about in my classroom. Understanding the values and hidden rules of poverty, helps me be a better teacher. Just like there are different rules for when one plays baseball or football, there are different rules for home and school. I teach my students this and it helps them learn how to function successfully in school. As a teacher of students in poverty, I am always looking for strategies to better connect with my students and in turn help them achieve and be successful. Ruby Payne’s work gives me practical, useful information to do just that.

  21. I have been teaching at risk high school students for 10 years and I feel like any other new hot topic, book or strategy in education that there are aspects of Payne’s work that are beneficial and parts that are not so beneficial. My goal is always to assess what I can learn and take away from each new fad to better help my students and their families. It is true that she makes a lot of generalizations and that she mainly offers strategies for helping students and not combating the larger issue of families but she has valid information and relevant strategies for helping. There will never be a one size fits all idea, strategy or tool and all will need tweaked to fit individual students and circumstances. If we entirely disregarded all new movements that didn’t address the problem in its entirety or in ways that were adequately fair to all there would never be forward movement and reform.

  22. After doing some additional research, I found it interesting that others within the field find Payne’s framework a form of deficit thinking. I don’t agree that Payne is “blaming the victim” for deficits in intellect, linguistics, motivation, and moral behavior. However, I do feels others have valid points when they discuss Payne’s failure to look at external factors such as organization, funding, and policies and practices that can negatively affect school performance. It was interesting to step back and take a moment to think about the effects of No Child Left Behind. As educators, I believe we have always been aware of those students who come from poverty. In recent years, however; have we “rediscovered” the poor because they are now a subgroup we are held statistically accountable for when looking at overall school performance and how a school is “ranked” or “graded”? Something to consider. It was suggested in one article that Payne’s framework negatively affects teacher’s beliefs and results in lower expectations of students who come from poverty. I don’t find Payne’s work to lower my expectations of students. I find her work to substantiate what I see with students on a daily basis. It confirms patterns that educators can associate with and describes how to work within those patterns toward success. Information gathered through the daily practice of relating, reframing, and repeating is worthy. Daily practice allows us to see and learn about patterns in education. Payne’s framework relates on a personal level, hence her popularity. I would be interested in hearing Payne’s views on some of the external factors that affect school such as funding and policies like No Child Left Behind. I do agree with comments that we need to change the system that perpetuates poverty. But is this solely the job of the educational system? Sometimes it feels like it. It is unfortunate that we cannot merge both subjective and objective thoughts and data on the issue of poverty to bring about change. If there is anything we know as educators, it is that a situation is rarely black or white. I don’t feel there is one right view of poverty. A change in the system is going to have to come from a mutual respect of all of the work done within the field.

  23. “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” is just that, a framework for educators and practitioners to use when filling in the essential parts of the whole, relative to their own unique circumstances. It is a practical approach to this issue, useful to the people on the front lines of this struggle when trying to produce tangible results. If something works, use it. The hidden rules have always been in place through the millennium, and Payne finally had enough intestinal fortitude to expose them for all to see. They could be called the “secret rules” by the middle and upper class in that many people do not want anyone below them to move up and invade their territory. The big picture is, and always will be; the health, education and well being of our children to further and strengthen our nation and future generations.

  24. There were many moments while reading her text that I had “aha” moments. She does bring up many points that I had not yet thought of in my very few years of teaching. Some argue that what Payne has written is not credible due to her sources. We must remember that what Payne has written is merely a framework on poverty in which we should be familiar with. I think as with any reading, workshop or professional development, we must take it and try to apply things to our own students and the population in which we work with. I believe the goal here is to be able to help all our kids be academically successful no matter what their story is.

  25. I have just fished reading Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” for a class. I thought the author made a lot of good points throughout. I learned a lot about poverty and how it affects students. Payne makes a thoughtful connection between what her ideas are and what teachers see all the time in our classrooms. It was great to see a solution or strategy for all of the problems that come with poverty. She actually help me see what a student living in poverty will deal with on an everyday basis. The quiz, “could you survive in poverty” was eye opening. These are survival tactics students grow up with. They cannot change their situation and they do not experience the same situations someone in the middle or upper class does. If they have never had these experiences, how would educators expect them to succeed at them. I appreciate Payne’s interventions. I think this is a book everyone teaching students living in poverty should read. Educators and all staff need to respond to these students’ needs.

  26. While there are a lot of concerns about her text and methodology, I do think her book has inspired a lot of educators to think closely about their low SES students. While her stereotypes and reasons for undesirable behavior did not sit well with me, I understand that they were just stereotypes and personal observations/guesses. As an educator, I know that one shoe does not fit all.

  27. I just finished reading Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” for a class that I am taking. As a teacher in a school where at least 70% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, I found this book to be somewhat of an eye-opener. The information Payne includes about those living in poverty helps me to better understand my students and find other ways to help them succeed. To be honest, I was unaware of many of the “hidden rules” among poverty-stricken. And it was quite interesting to take the quizzes that related to the “hidden rules.” I understand that there are many critics of Payne’s work, but it has provided me with a better understanding of those in poverty and given me a framework of ways to help those in poverty be successful.

  28. I believe Ruby Payne is knowledgeable in the area of poverty. I think she has some good ideas that teachers can utilize in the classroom. When she speaks of teaching the hidden rules of the middle class, I’m not sure that all students need to learn them. I think many children who are living in poverty may have already been taught some of them. I think each family has a set of rules that they teach their children. Some rules that are taught may have to do it with their poverty level, but I think some have to do with their culture. Each family teaches their children different values. Teachers as well as their parents need to teach children how to be respectful, caring, and hard-working no matter what their socioeconomic status is.

  29. I have just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book, “A framework for Understanding Poverty.” I work in a poverty school and I understand some of the things that she was referring to in her book. It was still an eye opener for me. Ruby does a good job at going into detail about what poverty is all about. Having the “hidden rules”
    is something that will help me in teaching. The big thing is getting everyone on board to help out the students that need the help so they can succeed.

  30. I have read Ruby Payne’s book “A framework for Understanding Poverty” for a summer class that I am taking. The hidden rules I found that all of us should be teaching is respect, caring and perseverance . Does that mean that I don’t believe the other hidden rules should be taught also? No of course not. But I wonder again how much of the rules are being placed on the teacher again and not on the parent.
    Though this book has given me some real understanding on the behaviors I see in these students that I teach. I really struggle with students that are unable to afford food always seem to have the latest Iphone or the best clothes. It troubled me to not know why a parent would get this for the child instead of providing a roof over their head and still have this entitlement pushed onto us. The book gives me a true eye opening to how people in poverty need the entertainment factor in their life as they have no other outlets to provide them happiness.

  31. I am also taking the course “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” This class was really eyeopening and found a lot of useful strategies that I can implement. The registers and hidden rules of poverty was very insightful in understanding how children living in poverty function. It also made me realize the importance of teaching children the hidden rules of the middle class. The quiz giving in book-“Can you survive in” was also very interesting. It made me realize the huge differences in poverty, middle class, and wealth. I do believe this class will influence how I work with students in poverty.

  32. I just read Ruby Payne’s book, “A framework for Understanding Poverty”. I found her observations and insights mostly appropriate. I think that the critics take it in a way that she is generalizing every person in poverty. I took it more lightly in the thinking that she was referring to the characteristics to be more common among people in poverty. Of course, not every single person that is poor will own every one of these attributes, or even some of them. I grew up in an impoverished neighborhood and attended an impoverished school. I lived it. I know that the hidden rules ,and other characteristics she gave the poor are worthy. I liked the book because I feel it helped other people that did not come from that background to gain insight and understanding as to where kids in poverty are coming from. It does affect them socially, cognitively, and behaviorally. Out of my 2nd grade class, only 2 of us went on to college. Only half of us graduated high school. If these strategies and the hidden rules would have been suggested and implemented in my school, I believe our percentages of academic success would have been elevated.

  33. I am completing a summer course where I was required to read Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and Eric Jensen’s “Teaching with Poverty in Mind.” The past two years I have taught in a school with a high poverty rate. I found some of Payne’s information to be right on with what I have experienced when dealing with some families; however I was uncomfortable with the extent to which it seemed stereotypical, judgmental, and negative.

    I believe educators should gather information from many sources when dealing with difficult topic such as this. This is just one source. Even though I was saddened by some of the generalizations, I was still able to gather pieces of information that are valuable. I truly believe it is essential for teachers of all students to work on relationship building. This begins the minute we meet the student and his/her family. We work hard each day to fill a child’s “relationship bank account” making deposits as often as we can. Building that child’s confidence and self-esteem can be crucial to his/her success in school and ultimately in life. I also believe it is key for educators to know the families they work with. Understanding backgrounds and situations will change the way we deal with issues that may arise. Payne gets educators thinking about success in school when working with families in poverty. Whether or not an individual agrees with her idea that there are “hidden rules” to understanding and being successful in each economic class, one can walk away from this text with thoughts and ideas on this topic. Hopefully educators walk away with a motivation to be sure each child is being reached regardless of economic class. Educators can work to understand each child instead of feeling frustrated and helpless.

    In summary, this book states common behaviors and attitudes that Payne has observed. While some of these may seem stereotypical, they may still get educators thinking about the topic of poverty and searching for ways to do better our schools.

  34. It interests me that virtually every comment on this site praised Ruby Payne’s book, yet the author of the blog raised concerns with the book. Supporters rely on personal experience, and I saw few references to research.

    Are there any readers who support Larry Ferlazzo and others who raise concerns about Payne’s work? One might suspect that this site has been spammed by trolls.

    I wonder if Mr. Ferlazzo cares to respond to the overwhelming support for Payne? Or did he simply decide to throw in the towel?

    • Jeff,

      I agree with your analysis of the comments. The links on my post say everything I have to say (and better than I could say it). I wonder how many of the people who left comments even took time to visit just one of them? Or, even, if all the comments are really left by different people? Who knows? I acknowledge that I don’t have a monopoly on the truth, but I’ve got more pressing matters to attend to than to get caught up in this kind of debate….


      • I will add that students in my Multicultural Education course are being encouraged to take a more critical approach to the book.

  35. I believe that when considering the points of Payne, there are some arguable topics that can be tested by many educators and students in poverty. I do feel though as a teacher myself of students in poverty (95% in our school receiving free or reduced lunch), that those of us in education do need to examine all viewpoints when it comes to bringing change and success to our students.

    No matter where you teach and who you teach, we all have one collective goal and that is to assist our students the best we can in their journey to success. While we may not agree completely (nor would we want this to happen) we do need to agree that we are doing all that is possible to help the innocent ones (the children). While Payne does put a lot of emphasis on non poverty individuals on taking ownership for the cycle of poverty, she does raise a point that we cannot completely expect individuals to come out of these situations on their own completely.

    As research always shows, there is strength in numbers and if you still have a hard time believing this then I do ask you to think about a child and ask yourself if they can really break this cycle on their own.

    Certainly you do not feel that they feel this way and if not you do at least find value in helping children out in the process of breaking this cycle. While it is much harder to do, you can at least know that by helping students out that you have planted a seed that has the potential to one day sprout and grow to its fullest potential of a person outside of the realms of poverty.

  36. While many people argue that Ruby is one-sided. I agree with many of the posts that we still need to look at that side. Much of what Ruby says seems pretty accurate. She makes good points and gives valuable suggestions, but there must be more. I like the addition of brain research given by Jensen. I do not believe there is only one way to look at this problem. We as teachers need to be prepared to try several strategies. We need to work together as a staff to do what we can in the classroom and as a school we need to work to engage the community, which would benefit all learners. This isn’t a problem that is going away.

  37. Payne provides her reader with the “what, when, where, who, why, and how” behind poverty. It could be said that Payne writes in a manner that enables readers to see through a student’s lens. I think this makes sense—as an educator, I want to attempt to understand someone’s behavior/habits/attitude in order to know how to better it. I appreciate that Payne offers a perspective of what the student’s life is like at home, and also what the student’s experience is at school, and ultimately addresses the difficulty that a student has when transitioning between those two very different worlds each day. Her research is what teachers need to “buy in” to the idea that we as educators can make a difference.

  38. I think that Payne’s use of too many generalizations of poverty households. I grew up in a house that I would consider at a poverty level for much of my childhood. However, the hidden rules and mental models are a bit of a generalization. I think that saying that houses in poverty are focused on relationships, middle class focused on achievement, and wealth focused on connections is a bit of an overstatement. When I looked at these wheels from my lens as a child and my lens now, i see many connections in various wheels. I also thought the “could you survive” quizzes were a little presumptuous. I only selected two think of the 25 for could you survive poverty, but I think I did just that. I lived in a poverty lifestyle, paid $0.10 for school lunches, but according to Payne, I would not survive poverty.

    • As a speech pathologist, I could get behind the Payne’s concepts of the casual/formal register and hidden rules. I often work with students who exhibit social pragmatic weaknesses, and I explicitly teach them the “hidden rules” of the classroom and how to monitor their topic choice/word choices for conversations based on their audience. What made me uncomfortable about Payne’s assertions was the idea that those in poverty believe everything is fated- there is no point in changing their actions because this is their destiny. This is not what I see where I work. Our school is at 53% poverty, with many students on free and reduced lunch. I work with numerous students who live in the projects whose parents push them and encourage them to complete high school and go on to college, so that they do not have to work endless hours in a factory for minimum wages. I see hope in many of my students- hope and goals beyond what our small blue collar town can offer.

      Having grown up in a low income home, I saw this in my own family. My mother struggled to make ends meet when my father was laid off, going on food stamps and heat assistance and praying the car would run. But she never lost hope- she pushed me to apply for each and every scholarship, and insisted I apply to as many colleges as I could. She did not consider this her destiny, nor my destiny.

  39. I work at a Title 1 school, as s special education teacher. I recently read both Ruby Payne’s and Eric Jensen’s books.
    These books are both thorough in their research of the development of the whole child living in poverty. As a child who grew up in poverty myself, I absolutely did not get the feeling that either of these authors were “blaming the victim.” O can appreciate many of the descriptions of the midset and behavior of adults and children living in poverty, because I saw and experienced it first hand.
    My only criticism were a few “collar-tugging” moments when reading Jensen’s book Teaching with Poverty In Mind. On page 29 he says “..It is the cumulative effect of all these stressors that often makes life miserable for poor students.”
    It read insensitively and harshly at times. As a child who actually grew up in poverty, I wasn’t always miserable.
    My suggestion to Payne and Jensen would be to devote more time educating educators about how so, so many of the children living in poverty feel unimportant and invisible, and what steps educators can take to not let this happen.

  40. As an educator who works with children who live in poverty, I found value in the works of both Payne and Jensen. While both have downsides, both also try to educate readers on how to best help children from impoverished backgrounds. I felt that Payne’s explanations of the language registers, the importance of relationships, and the patterns of generational poverty will help educators better understand their students and their families. If her views are able to help educators have a more comprehensive understanding of children, she met the goal by providing a framework for understanding poverty.

  41. While I do agree with Payne’s critics that she appears to stereotype those who are living in poverty, I can honestly say that after reading her book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” I have gained much knowledge on working with those who live in poverty. Being that I am a social worker in an inner-city Title 1 school, I thought I knew most that their was to know about working with these students, but I was wrong. I think that if Payne went about presenting her information in with a more positive spin she could really shed some light on how to help. Because of the way she generalizes, and speaks in a negative tone about people living in poverty, like all are lazy and milking the system, this does (and did for me as well) leave a sour taste in her reader’s mouths.

  42. I do believe the critics of Payne, such as Paul Gorksi, do have a merit. Throughout my reading of Payne’s work it was often that I felt uncomfortable with what I was reading. I do think she perpetuates stereotypes of the poor, and in my mind I believe she is often stereotyping African Americans (thinly veiled).
    I would say, however, that I think Payne is working to try to improve the plight of the chronically poor. I think that Payne believes that it must be done by helping the poor learn how to function, or assimilate into, the middle class world- I agree that this should be part of the strategy.

  43. I just read Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” for a class I’m taking. At first, I was blow away by all of the information she gave about the different classes of people. It reminded me of what I teach, ancient history, a time period in which people were divided into different classes based on their jobs and/or social status. But as I continued to read through her book I didn’t like the strict social divisions that it seemed she had divided our student populations into in our schools. I have plenty of students living in poverty that are doing well in school. I also have students who live nowhere near the poverty level that do little to nothing on a daily basis and get poor grades.

    I do however, feel that she wanted to share the hidden rules of different classes with educators specifically so that we would be able to step outside of our comfort zone and imagine what it is like to live in a different class than the one in which we live. Many teachers are not living in the same situations as their students. We can say we understand what it would be like living in a different class after reading about it, but we can’t really know it unless we live it. Even if Ruby only provides all educators a glimpse of what the other side looks like without us experiencing it, it can be helpful to us and our students.

    I do wish that Ruby Payne’s book would have provided more strategies on how to help students living in poverty. At times while reading her book, I felt somewhat helpless. I felt like I had a better understanding of what poverty looked like, but I still wished that I had some practical and easy to implement ideas on how to help my students that are living in poverty. It would have been especially helpful to have some quick and easy ways to teach formal register during the school day. I don’t necessarily need a bunch of packaged lessons, but quick and specific tips on how I can build this into my teaching each day would have been very helpful.

  44. I am an elementary teacher and have just read Ruby Payne’s and Eric Jensen’s books. After reading both texts, my eyes have been open on how poverty can affect my students. I took the quiz that Payne includes in the chapter on “hidden rules” and realized that I don’t know much about poverty. She gave me insight on why many of my students don’t complete their projects or homework. I just find it hard to keep all my students on the same page in completing their work. She did provide me with some strategies in which I will implement into my classroom.

  45. My name is Stephanie and I recently read Ruby Payne’s, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” for a class I am taking. I am a middle school teacher in St. Louis, Mo. I have worked in school districts where the population was mostly lower socioeconomic class citizens. I don’t know why so many disagree with her. People from poverty are the victims. If she is blaming anyone, it is the parents and the next generation that cannot provide a stable environment for their children. It is the truth, not a theory. You get what you put into something. You work hard, you receive a compensation. You don’t work hard, you get nothing. Seems fair to me. If you never came from poverty, you would never know how you felt when your parents were arguing all the time, felt a loss of control because you couldn’t do anything about the situation you were living in, couldn’t buy certain things because your food stamps didn’t allow it, or have to wear donated and hand me downs that were given be neighbors and friends. Ruby Payne’s explicit work on the details of poverty and the “hidden rules”, gives us the teachers an idea, or a reminder, of the challenges our students face from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep. This analysis is not one of negativity. I think Payne’s is giving us the message that lower socioeconomic citizens are in a bad situation. The children have to suffer. What happens to the children? They have to grow up fast and learn the ways of survival fast as well. Some become sensitive, some because angry, and some become depressed. The answer? They first form belief, then the form, hope, and finally they develop a drive to wanted to get out of the situation they are in. Most people started with little and worked their way up. It’s about the journey along the way, the lessons you learn, the mistakes you made, the people who upset you, the people who made you feel special, and the people you always tried to prove yourself to. Ruby Payne’s book is passionate and is filled with the concept to never give up even though at the present time it may seem like it’s the end of the world, but it really isn’t. I don’t think she deserves any criticism at all. It’s her opinion that she formed from her own research and findings. She is trying to help teachers get an understanding of what it is like to walk a day in the shoes of a child who lives in poverty and she does it very well.

  46. I am a middle school reading and language arts teacher. I just finished Ruby Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. I liked the 3-part quiz in Chapter 3. I felt it was an interesting way to present the “hidden rules” within SES.
    The hidden rules then made much more sense to me. Seeing where priorities are and why certain things are valued more than others was very interesting to me.
    Payne’s ideas may be controversial because she uses everyday language and personal experience. She does not include a lot of scientific research. Her ideas make sense to me. I will be using information from Payne’s book to find different ways to help children living in poverty.

  47. Payne’s framework is just one piece of the poverty puzzle. It is imperative to take into consideration the work and opinions of others, such as Jensen and Gorski. These are just a few contributors to an immense topic. To make a cultural change, it is our responsibility to build our own knowledge and sift through the information to draw our own conclusions. Each contributor adds another layer of understanding.
    While Payne has been heavily criticized for her stereotypical/’deficit’ model, I was exposed to new insights about students of poverty. Additionally, I do not wholeheartedly agree that it is essential for students to be taught hidden rules to rise up out of poverty.

  48. Kool Aid. Payn’es work reinforces white middle class values and that’s why we like them. Her work is devoid of discussions of structural inequities and the history of how low income housing was designed to enforce and rationalize those inequities. No discussion on oppressions and how they work. Here’s the kicker – her work is a mandated training in my community. How ridiculous! Not too many folks would show up, let alone mandate a training on racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc.

    The impact is not just in education, either. It is in service delivery of social service programs and we who work in that arena are happy to never talk about it, let alone get out of our cushy work to examine our own mindsets – because we are right, of course. SAD.

  49. I was first introduced to Ruby Payne’s work about 10 years ago. I had my eyes opened wide to her ideas of people in poverty. I had not really taught many students in poverty at that time, and so much of what she was saying was very new to me. At times I thought that some of what she was saying seemed stereotypical. Ten years later and teaching in a school with a high poverty rate, my thoughts are very different. I have seen first hand situations that she has addressed in her book “a framework for Understanding Poverty”, and can say that her ideas on poverty are very accurate. I have found her book to be of greater importance to me now, now that I am dealing with students of poverty on a much larger scale. I believe her book to be very beneficial to teachers in my position who need to know more about the “hidden rules” of poverty in order to help our students succeed.

    • B. Meiner,

      I was also introduced to Ruby Payne’s work about 10 years ago in a multicultural education class in college. Up until that time, I have very little understanding of poverty and the challenges for students raised in poverty. I was raised in a very small, farming community in Nebraska and while rural poverty was present it was not identified as such. My student teaching assignment landed me at a very large, urban high school in our capital city. I am forever grateful for that teaching experience as all staff participated in a poverty simulation activity based on Payne’s work. For a young professional, it was eye-opening, interesting and helped me gain a greater understanding for the needs of my students. Currently, I had the opportunity to read the updated edition of her “Framework” book as part of a summer continuing education class. While I didn’t have as many “a ha’s” this time, I still benefited from the experience and the opportunity for reflection. I understand the argument that as teachers we should be learning how to teach our students with a “classless” mindset, avoiding generalizations and focus changing the deeper issues associated with poverty. From Payne’s work I can continue to believe in the importance of helping schools develop trust, support parents and students, form healthy relationships, instill hope in their classroom experience and offer engaging instruction for all students.

  50. I just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” for a class I am taking. After doing some research I found that there are many people who criticize and challenge Payne’s work. I am by no means an expert on the topic of poverty. I am a kindergarten teacher in a rural area with many families who live in poverty. I am not saying that I agree or disagree with Payne’s work. I will say that I learned a great deal about the lifestyle of people who live in poverty and why it is so hard for them to get out. I believe that I will be a better teacher for reading this book and I can now help my students who live in poverty be more successful.

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