Responding to Payne’s Response
Teacher College Record, July 19, 2006
A response to Payne's response. The author states that Ruby Payne’s identification of
atism as her theoretical lens and her connecting argument that this lens
instructs her to focus squarely on the “practical” are telling indicators that largely
support his critique of her work.
Ruby Payne’s identification of economic pragmatism as her theo
retical lens and her
connecting argument that this lens instructs her to focus squarely on the “practical” are
telling indicators that largely support my critique of her work. In this identification she
plays into one of the great myths of education reform
: that large
scale change can happen
through small shifts in practice, even if a broken system remains steadily in place. The
dangers of this myth are exacerbated in reform efforts meant to address poverty, class,
race, and other equity issues. This is par
ticularly true in today’s
sociopolitical context, wherein
is replaced by Taco Nights and
learning about “other” cultures
, wherein No Child Left Behind, while ignoring classist
inequities in our education system, punis
hes schools in the poorest communities for an
achievement gap that is largely the result of those inequities. All of the minor shifts in
practice one can muster mean little if classism and racism continue to pervade our
schools and classrooms unchallenged.
This, in part, is what constitutes what I describe as
Payne’s conservative frame of reference. As long as we focus on the practical without an
explicit connection to the context in which we’re practicing, the status quo of classism
and racism stay intact.
Moreover, by framing her approach this way Payne slyly dodges the most widespread
critique of her work: that it overflows with oppressive and unsupported stereotypes.
Regardless of theoretical lens, attempts to make small shifts in practice will not
unteract the classist and racist prejudices that Payne’s work encourages in teachers.
Similarly, Payne responds to my assertion that she fails to address systemic educational
inequities by suggesting that her work is about educating teachers on the pract
how to address these inequities. This, again, demonstrates a lack of contextual
understanding on her part and a sly conservative reframing. Belying her claim, Payne
class inequities in
A Framework for Understanding Poverty
never mentions funding inequities, inequitable access to experienced and licensed
teachers, inequitable access to educational resources like science labs, inequitable access
order thinking pedagogies, or policies and practices like the No Ch
Behind, tracking, high
stakes testing, and the increasing socioeconomic segregation in
schools, that disproportionately affect the most economically disadvantaged students.
How, exactly, is she speaking to how teachers can address these inequities
doesn’t even acknowledge that the inequities exist?
Perhaps the most interesting section of Payne’s response is the one regarding deficit
theory. In my original essay I argue that her framework is steeped in the deficit
perspective. She address
es this in her response by saying that my identification of deficit
theory in her work is based solely on the fact that “individual behaviors are examined.”
Here, again, is an illustration either of Payne’s misunderstanding of the sociopolitical
her own work or a purposeful attempt to avoid a popular critique of that work.
One identifies deficit theory, not merely by the fact that somebody examines individual
behaviors, but instead by determining where somebody identifies the “problem” under
ideration. In other words, while Payne’s exploration of the “values” and “mindset” of
poverty are classist and racist, her attempt to look for cultural patterns in certain groups
does not, in and of itself, constitute deficit theory. What does constitute d
eficit theory is
that she locates the
of poverty in the behaviors of the people oppressed by it
while ignoring the oppression itself. While it may be true that individual behaviors are
shaped, at least in part, by one’s environment, the environment
s in which many
economically disadvantaged students, students of color, lesbian and gay students, English
language learners, female students, and students with disabilities live and attend school
are shaped by racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, lingui
cism, and other oppressions.
To ignore this reality is an act of privilege and complicity with the very inequities Payne
ostensibly teaches teachers to “minimize.”
Payne’s final point, in response to my contention that her work is fundamentally
ve and not transformative in nature, is that her work does, indeed, transform.
Perhaps I should have specified that her work isn’t
transformative, as I
actually agree with her statement: “To educate
to transform.” But we have a choice. Do
we transform toward equity and justice or toward inequity and injustice? Do we
transform toward anti
classim or toward support for the growing economic disparities in
the US? Do we transform in ways that distribute privilege and power evenly or in ways
t secure our own privilege and power?
If we hope to transform toward equity and justice, toward anti
classism, toward a more
equal distribution of privilege and power, we must develop a much deeper and more
accurate, and less classist and racist, underst
anding of poverty than can be found in
Framework for Understanding Poverty
and Payne’s other books.
Here are a few sources to get you started. I particularly recommend
Schooling in the US
by Sue Books, which transcends the entirety of
its first two chapters.
Dividing Classes: How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage
by Ellen Brantlinger, 2003 (Falmer Press)
Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality
ed.) by Jeannie Oakes, 2005 (Yale
Poverty and Schooling in the U.S.
by Sue Books, 2004 (Lawrence Erlbaum and
The Shame of a Nation
by Jonathan Kozol, 2006 (Three Rivers Press)
The War Against the Poor: The Underclass and Anti
by Herbert Gans,
95 (Basic Books)