RUBY PAYNE IS A PAIN!Posted: November 18, 2012
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 EdChange.org.
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.