Alice Mercer alerted me to a lively discussion going on about educational consultant Ruby Payne over at the Dangerously Irrelevant blog.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m pretty critical of Ms. Payne’s “deficit” approach to low-income students.

You might find it interesting to visit the conversation going on at Scott McLeod’s blog. For what it’s worth, here’s the comment I left there:

I’m coming to this conversation late (it IS Christmas break, after all!), but as a longtime critic of Ruby Payne (and an admirer of Paul Gorski for being an even earlier and far more insightful critic than me) it’s certainly an engaging one.

I’m also coming to it after a nineteen year community organizing career that has preceded my newer career (five years and counting) as a teacher in Sacramento’s largest inner-city high school.

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.

Larry Ferlazzo