By Rose Garrity

Hundreds of workshops are held all over the country, sold by a company started by a woman named Ruby Payne. She calls the workshops “Bridges Out Of Poverty, and sells them to school systems, companies, not-for-profit and other organizations.

Those organizations that purchase this workshop for their constituents are, I am sure, well-intended in their desire to share with their employees, volunteers, and constituents helpful information to better serve folks who are poor.

The intention of the Payne company, however does not seem well-intended at all. In fact the thousands of people who have taken the Payne workshops (and are still taking them as you read this) are fed misinformation that probably sounds intuitive and common-sense to many. To those who have studied, researched and practiced anti-oppression work such as anti-racism, economic justice and other work that deconstructs the myths and misleading propaganda we have all been fed, the Payne workshops are frightening in their insistence on delivering the same old racism and poor-blaming myths and allegations we all have heard most of our lives.

Ruby Payne was a classroom teacher. She wrote a book called A Framework for Understanding Poverty and other books and pamphlets, and started her for-profit company called aha!Process, Inc. in Highland, TX.  Through this she became a highly influential voice in education across the country. Clearly organizations were hungry for helpful information and many hundreds turned to her and her work.

Payne’s books and workshops frame poverty as a personal deficit and use racist and classist stereotypes. Her work has been roundly criticized by activists and scholars as well as anti-racist educators across the country, yet she has remained unmoved to stop making huge amounts of money by simply pouring more fuel on the fires of blame, hatred, myths and misinformation about poverty and race.

She cites right-wing and conservative writers such as Thomas Sowell in her work, and she has donated a great deal of money to politicians like George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee. She teaches that poor people are poor because they do not know how to act, and they should learn how to adopt the values of the middle class. She names the realities of living in poverty, such as poor housing, academic struggles, parental employment status and earnings, parental education, family structure, etc. as the cause of poverty and seems to have no clue that these things are instead the impact of poverty.

Working from that basic error (or deliberate interpretation) you can assume how far off the workshops are from anything helpful if we want to address the real cause, nature and impacts of poverty and racism. Payne says all poor people have a certain mindset, and that is the cause of their poverty. She never addresses inadequate and unequal access to education, healthcare, housing or basic services. She does not seem to know that all poor people are not alike as she claims, but are as diverse as any other grouping of people.

“Payne”, says Paul Gorski,* “grew up middle class, worked predominantly in wealthy schools, and now annually conducts millions of dollars worth of “anti-poverty” workshops through her for-profit business. It may stand to reason, then, that instead of naming and addressing classism, she falls in line with the kinds of inequities that ensure her privilege rather than disrupting — or even mentioning — them”. Gorski goes on to describe Payne’s offensive and ignorant words on ” Katrina and the Role of Poverty in the Gulf Coast Crisis”, (2006).  He says “In just a couple of paragraphs Payne manages to exploit nearly every stereotypical ‘deficiency’ of high-poverty communities: violence, drug use and distribution, crime, and prostitution.”

A visit to the aha! Process, Inc. website today will show the vast array of products and workshops they are selling, and will give a picture of them having their tentacles out across a vast network of organizations and areas. Stunningly they have trained in CAP agencies, the old anti-poverty programs that came out of Lyndon Johnson’s era in the 1960s. These programs used to have a pretty good sense of the politics of systems, poverty, classism and racism. Apparently all of that is now gone and they may as well be departments of social services.

I attended one of these “Bridges” workshops a few years ago and came out of it almost apoplectic. The young presenter was not talented, and had one agenda… to spill out the rigid “canned” messages she had been trained to  use. She was racist, and she was rude and offensive to any question asked. She gave some terribly wrong information about domestic violence. When I told her I was a domestic violence professional for many years and wanted to engage her in a conversation about what she was teaching about just that topic she shut me off and walked away. I have never seen such arrogant ignorance in a presenter.

There were about 100 people in that audience in the small town where it was held. (I can bring in the highest level celebrity to talk about domestic violence and not get that many folks.)  The way these Payne events are filled up is that the sponsoring organization sends all of their employees, and often invites those from sister programs in neighboring towns and counties.

What a racket! When I learned of a Ruby Payne workshop being offered locally last month I wrote an email to the few whose contact information I had regarding the workshop and my concerns. I received one phone call in response from someone who said “I got this very long, complaining email about this workshop and I do not know who the writer was…,”  I did return her call, telling her voice mail that I was the writer of the email, and about ten days later I called her again, leaving another voice mail. She still has not gotten back to me. Just for the record my email was a short and reasonable piece expressing concern that I wanted to share about the workshop to be presented here. Apparently no one cared, except for a few local allies who had pointed the workshop notice out to me.

With work like this gaining huge popularity, and excellent work like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States finding far fewer adherents it is hard to have much hope for our future.

*Paul C. Gorski is an assistant professor in the graduate school of education at Hamline University and founder of




For those hearty souls who may want to learn more about Ruby Payne and her destructive work there are a number of resources:

Gorski, P. “The Classist Underpinnings of Ruby Payne’s Framework,” Teachers College Record, Feb. 9, 2006           

Ng, J. and Rury, J. “Poverty and Education: A Critical Analysis of the Ruby Payne Phenomenon,”, Teachers College Record, July 18, 2006.

Osei-Kofi, N. “Pathologizing the Poor: A Framework for Understanding Ruby Payne’s Work, Equity and Excellence in Education 38(4), pp. 367-375.


There is alot more out on the internet and in academic circles about Payne and her empire. Some, of course, love her, and others have written strong critiques of her and her work. She has obviously found great success for herself in cementing myths and stereotypes about a class of people about whom she seems to know little.

If you want to learn the truth about the causes of poverty and or racism there are many dozens of wonderful books available, and most of them can be purchased for pennies on Amazon or other book selling sites. I have written a few bibliographies of some titles that are among the best examples. If you would like to receive copies of the bibliographies please let the publishers of this paper know and I will get them to you.

Rose Garrity



16 Comments on “RUBY PAYNE IS A PAIN!”

  1. Jen Wallis says:

    I am currently taking a course and we had to read one of Ruby Payne’s books. It is interesting to compare her point of view with Paul Gorski’s. We had to review an article by him as well. I am sorry to hear you had a bad experience with her workshop. I am a social worker and have also worked with domestic violence so I can understand your frusteration with false information.

  2. Jonathan Balderas says:


    I am interested in the list on books to learn more about poverty and racism.

    Thank you,

  3. Lynnae says:

    I am currently a teacher and have just take a class that uses Ruby Payne’s Framework as well as Eric Jensen’s book, “Teaching with Poverty in mind.” I have been teaching in a school district for 13 years. The students in my school district come from Upper-Middle class, Middle class and low SES classes. My school itself is not run-down at all. It is located in a pretty upstanding area. My low SES students still struggle and fail. They are given the same opportunities as their middle class counterparts. Ruby Payne’s book is not to explain the causes of poverty but to help educators understand those students who come from poverty. I can completely relate to a lot of what she says of the “hidden rules” with my own students who come from poverty. I have gotten to know them and their situations at home and a lot of what she states it true. While I was talking with one student this year, he told me that school wasn’t important because all he is going to do is be a “lawn – mower.” When I mentioned that to his mom and siblings at conferences, they laughed at it and I felt they didn’t find it appalling. After reading her book, their response went along with the hidden rules that she mentions in her book. I am not saying everything in her book is golden and it is the end all to how to help students, I am saying that much of what she explains in her book, I see in my own students who come from poverty. It has helped me gain a better understanding of where the might come from and different ways that I can help my students become more successful in school.

    • dd says:

      Dear Lynnae: You need to reread the Eric Jensen book AND research what the critics are saying about the PAIN book. Apparently you have never truly understood how the life is of the poor. You did not even recognize that your parent showed up for conference which is not a typical parent of poverty behavior that PAIN described. How dare you make light of this child’s career selection. He was young and you apparently have not exposed him to different career choices. I am disappointed that you once again blamed them and not the way the education, curriculum, and teacher have delivered the education. Reread, research, just like you tried to in college. Be smarter than the framework book.

  4. Jane says:

    I have been a special education teacher for close to 25 years. I am currently enrolled in a course where I have to read books by Ruby Payne and Eric Jensen. Both deal with the topic of poverty and “best practices” when dealing with students of poverty. After finishing both books I have some concerns. How does poverty affect special education students? If the students’ deficits were addressed early on, would the child still qualify for special education services? Is “poverty” more realistic label for most of our special education students? Sure, having special education services may provide services children wouldn’t normally receive…but couldn’t receiving services also be interpreted as “dumbing down” a child’s curriculum?

  5. TLP says:

    I am completing a course which uses Payne’s “A framework for Understanding Poverty” and Jensen’s “teaching with Poverty in Mind”. It was interesting to read both texts and Rose Garrity’s article. I teach in a well off public school district but was raised in a struggling one where a good portion of my relatives were teaching including my mother. There were some things that did not sit well with me in Payne’s text. I felt as though there were a lot of concrete stereotypes. While her research defends her stereotypes however in my experience I do not find her explanations for the behaviors in low SES students and families to be accurate.

  6. Cindy says:

    I am also taking a course, In the Face of Poverty. I have read Payne’s “A Framework of Understanding Poverty” and Jensen’s “Teaching with Poverty in Mind”. The statistics on children in poverty are unbelievable! As educators I believe we have a responsibility to help these or any child to succeed, but for it to work successfully, the responsibility must be taken on by the entire school district or system. I realize Payne may not be correct about all poverty children, but the information she has given makes since. There is another aspect to this as a teacher. Teachers must receive support to make this all happen in the classroom. The past few years there has been an extreme workload handed to teachers that there are not enough hours in the day. I am concerned about schools having to take on so much responsibility for our students. Many of the things my parents taught me at home are to be taught in school. Payne’s book explains the reasons behind some of this. Teaching children that they can succeed and to believe in themselves is empowering to all.Growing up in a small town and a middle-class home, I was unaware of the extremely difficult lives of children in poverty.

  7. Haydon says:

    This entire class was downright offensive! I have never felt more pandered to in my life! They tell you to ignore every preconception you have about poverty, yet they bring up these stereotypes and exploit them as much as they can. They make anyone who grew up even in the lower middle class out to be downright evil and spoiled, while those who are poor have hearts made of gold. This is not a class problem this is a people problem. We need to stop perpetuating the stereotypes through this class, and give Ruby Payne the curtain call!

  8. Erin says:

    Maybe I’m too much of an optimist, but as a school counselor, I find the work of Ruby Payne to be a valuable resource for the teachers in my district. We are a small, rural town in Wisconsin that, of course has some students who live in poverty in our schools. However, they are a definite minority. In addition, the majority of the staff are living in and have come from white, middle-class families. We NEED resources like this to help teach us about the differences in the lives of these families (and our students) who are living in poverty. Ruby Payne may stereotype these families, but we can still take away some information and better understanding of our student population. Adults typically think we know what’s best for children. However, when we have such concrete differences (or hidden truths, as Payne calls them), a tool like Payne’s work can help us to make better educational decisions for these students. Someone above (dd) mentioned that the education, curriculum and the way the teachers deliver the education should carry the weight of making the changes in the culture of poverty. I believe educators (and education systems) have influence in changing the cycle of poverty, but cannot be held completely responsible. LIke Cindy (above) references, in recent years, the school systems have become responsible for taking care of much more than just reading and math. In my opinion, educators can do their part to influence change, but we cannot be held solely responsible for breaking the cycle of poverty in our students. We can influence change by instilling a sense of hope, providing supportive services, and simply understanding the lives of the students we work with. That is precisely where Ruby Payne’s work can positively influence our work as educators.

  9. Ashley says:

    I am currently taking a course titled In the Face of Poverty. The requirements for the course were to read Payne’s “A Framework of Understanding Poverty” and Jensen’s “Teaching with Poverty in Mind”.
    I am a teacher in a large urban school district. Our middle school campus is one of the largest middle school campuses in the state. The teacher/staff population make up is predominately white, middle class. The student population is made up of approximately 55% white/Caucasian and the remainder of the students are minorities. 40% of our students qualify to receive free or reduced lunches. We also have a lot of crime in our area, such drugs, gangs, and murder rate. Ruby Payne’s book was both valuable and invaluable to me. It provided some great insight on the causes of poverty and ways to help me, as an educator, understand and relate to those who come from poverty. We are now through two thirds of the way through the school year, which means that I have gotten to know my students pretty well. I must admit, some of my students have some pretty bad home lives. For example, one of my students was the witness to his mother’s murder.
    I feel that as an educator, I have an influence in changing/breaking the cycle of poverty, but it is not my job to do it alone. Responsibility is also on the backs of the school district and government. In recent years, our budget has been cut substantially. We have been faced with many staff cuts and are forced to work with a limited amount of resources. With this in mind, there is not enough of me to go around, as I am already spread thin. I would love to provide my students of poverty with all the support that they need, but it is a 24 hour job and unfortunately, my personal bank account is not bottomless. I can only do the best that I can with the resources that I have.
    One MAJOR issue that I feel Payne has neglected is Special Education. I would love the opportunity to engage her in conversation on this topic. I am curious as to how many students have been misidentified as special education, simply because they are of poverty? Students who come from poverty do not have the same parental support and involvement as those students from middle/high class families. Parents of poverty do not know enough to advocate for their child. Therefore, the school district does not place them at the top of their priority list because they know that the parents are not involved and the district does not see them as a potential lawsuit. I am just curious as to what the academic outcome would be if parents of poverty knew enough to push for early interventions for their child. Would the student be classified as “special education” 2-3 years down the road? I would love to pick Ruby Payne’s brain on this issue. Especially since our school district has a high percentage of students with IEPs.

  10. kimberly says:

    I have just finished reading Payne’s book and Jensen’s book. I am not a fan of either of these books. I think they focus more on theory than they do on actual teaching. There were a few ideas that I think that I can use in my classroom but my school district has had so many cut backs that I find it virtually impossible to implement them. Also, a lot of these activities take a lot of time planning. At this point in my career I don’t have a lot of time. My plate is already full with all of the initiatives that my district has put on my plate. My question would be how long have either of these author’s taught. Plus, the fact that Payne has made such a successful bushiness out of taking about poverty. I truly would like to know how many of her ideas she actually has tried herself when she was teaching.

  11. kimberly says:

    I just finished reading the books by Payne and Jensen. I did find some things that I would like to try. However, the problem that I have is that my district has gone through so many budget cuts that there is absolutely no money for anything. Plus, I have had a pay cut for the last six years so I do not have any extra money to be spending on school supplies. The district has also loaded our plates with a ton of new initiatives which takes up a lot of time. In the perfect world it might be nice to try a couple of these ideas but I have my doubts. When I read that Payne was making a ton of money off of this program it really made me wonder where her heart lies. That tells me that she is just out for the money and not to improve anything. Then there is the fact that her book is loaded with so many stereotypes. This really makes me think that she is just out for the money and not to change anything.

    • Don’t know how many years Payne taught – I think she did spend some time in the classroom. I believe she was also an administrator, until she found “training” so lucrative. Her books are full of stereotypes which is very problematic. Her questions about – Could you survive in poverty? were used in a few teacher training sessions. That was pretty enlightening for teachers. Never used any of her other stuff.

  12. Stephan Charles Hergatt says:

    I respectfully disagree with your opinion regarding Payne’s work. I do not feel the work is racist. Her work does not make use of race to promote her ideas on poverty and its effect on behavior. She does not advocate that specific behaviors will only be found in certain races. If she is not advocating one race as superior to another, or certain behaviors are race based, then her work cannot be considered racist. While the reader may substitute his or her own stereotypes into the interpretation of the reading, Payne makes no argument of race being a determining factor for the observed behaviors. Rather, her work uses generally observed behaviors which serve to maintain an individual’s social position and offers strategies to help individuals move from poverty into the middle class. While this does indicate classism, this critique of Payne’s work operates on the premise that classism itself is as detrimental as racism. Clearly, to say that certain behaviors are only evident in certain classes is wrong, but that is not the argument she makes. Payne uses class to show how specific behaviors affect a person in poverty and what behaviors will lead to success and which will lead to stagnation or failure within society. I feel this work is beneficial regardless of its use of classism. In order to make a difference in the life of a student of poverty, it is important to understand where they are and what they need. Therefore, I understand the need to generalize the classes, and the supposed dominant behaviors in each, to provide a starting point for providing support.

  13. Lauren says:

    After reading Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I found it be exactly that, a framework. She uses her own experiences and stories told to her about children living in poverty to offer an understanding to educators. I didn’t read this book expecting to become an expert on poverty and to walk away having all of the answers as to why some of my students live in poverty. I do however, now have a greater understanding of poverty and the “hidden rules.” This knowledge and understanding will make me more aware of the students in my classroom and I have new strategies I can try to better help my students. I found her explanations of student behavior and suggested interventions to be very beneficial because I could think of students that exhibited all of these traits. With my new knowledge from A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I feel better prepared to help guide and support my students living in poverty.

  14. Ms. T says:

    Payne’s framework poses interesting insight into her perspective of poverty. Through her observations and research, she interprets how poverty can affect a child’s education. She also offers intervention strategies to help boost academic success. However, her theories and solutions are not the be-all and end-all. She is missing many gray areas such as identifying those who fall between the three classes: poverty, middle class, and wealth. Regardless, I do think her theories are somewhat in the ballpark and moreover, it also gives me some insight into how her socioeconomic status may view others. Personally however, what I think is the best support for my students right now is funding, funding, funding.

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