Ruby Payne: Stereotyping Class

For some time now school districts across the country have been using Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty and other resources for training teachers about class.  Paul Tough of the New York Times Magazine explains that Payne and her proponents “believe that poor people share certain habits and behaviors that help keep them in poverty.  Recognizing and changing those behaviors . . . will help poor people to succeed.” However, critics of Payne’s work say that she relies on a deficit perspective of students living in poverty and makes numerous unproven claims about class.  Her perspective also fails to account for systemic factors influencing poverty and inequality in our county.  While many schools and educators feel that Payne has helped them better understand and work with low-income students, others feel that her work negatively stereotypes students from low-income homes and offers only a limited understanding of their lives.

The following resources provide a more detailed critique of Payne’s work and its impact on schools:

Savage Unrealities: Uncovering Classism in Ruby Payne's Framework
Beware of Outside Consultants?--Part 2, Ruby Payne
Author's Poverty Views Disputed Yet Utilized

After reading through these resources, consider the following:

  1. Has my school used Ruby Payne materials for training?  How was the information perceived by my colleagues?  How did I perceive it?
  2. Why might school districts prefer Ruby Payne over other trainings that include information about how institutions create and maintain class disparities?
  3. How does Payne’s work form a deficit perspective of students from lower class backgrounds and what impact might such a perspective have on teachers?  What would a strengths-based perspective of these students look like?
  4. What resources and information might I introduce to my school that would provide a more nuanced and accurate understanding of class?

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