Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Poverty and Payne Supporting Teachers to Work with Children of Poverty: Preparing Teachers to Support Students Who Live in Poverty Begins by Helping Teachers Understand How Their Own Values and Experiences Might Differ from Their Students'

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Poverty and Payne Supporting Teachers to Work with Children of Poverty: Preparing Teachers to Support Students Who Live in Poverty Begins by Helping Teachers Understand How Their Own Values and Experiences Might Differ from Their Students'

Article excerpt

As conversations about students who live in poverty begin to become more commonplace, we are seeing two things. First, on a positive note, teachers and administrators are awakening to the reality that not all students embody white, middle-class values, experiences, and cultural norms. This is leading schools and districts to seek professional development experiences for teachers to help them grapple with yet another form of diversity in their classrooms. There seems to be agreement on many fronts that teachers need better models, practices, and frameworks for teaching students from a multitude of backgrounds, especially if the students represent cultures and social classes that are different from the teacher's.

Second, children from poverty are being identified and labeled with grossly overgeneralized, deficit-laden characteristics that put them at risk of being viewed as less capable, less cultured, and less worthy as learners. While we do not want to underplay the stresses on some children who live in poverty, we do want to advocate for a perspective that sees these children and their families as historied and cultural beings, full persons with dreams and aspirations of success, with abilities to use language with sophistication, and with intelligences that may be underappreciated in schools as institutions.

If we want to help teachers develop awareness and pedagogies that are sensitive to children who live in poverty, we must first challenge the misinformation that is being disseminated and set a new course. This new direction should have three key features: 1) an emphasis on children's competency, 2) a focus on the teacher's cultural identity, and 3) a professional development model based in ongoing collaborative work among teachers.

REJECTING STEREOTYPES OF THE POOR

Ruby Payne (with her company, aha! Process Inc.) is perhaps the most visible educator providing materials and workshops about poverty for teachers and principals. Payne has been featured in high-profile news outlets, including the New York Times (Tough 2007) and Education Week (Keller 2006), and her materials are used in teacher education programs across the country (Osei-Kofi 2005). According to her web site, Payne and her certified trainers, consultants, and employees conduct 800 to 1,000 workshops and seminars a year in the U.S. and Canada; and the book with which she launched her business, A Framework for Understanding Poverty (2005; hereafter, Framework), now in its 4th edition, has sold over a million copies.

Reviewers of Payne's Framework have noted the ways that she stereotypes people living in poverty (Gorski 2006; Ng and Rury 2006; Osei-Kofi 2005). In their recent, painstaking content analysis of Framework, Bomer et al. (2008) found that Payne's claims about the poor are unsubstantiated in her text and contradicted by mountains of research in education, anthropology, sociology, and related fields. They conclude that Payne's work is a classic example of "deficit thinking," where "students who struggle or fail in school do so because of their own internal deficits or deficiencies"(Discussion section, para. 1).

To give you a sense of this stereotyping, we share the complete list of what Payne calls "behaviors related to poverty." According to Payne, poor children:

* Laugh when disciplined as a "way to save face in matriarchal poverty";

* Argue loudly with the teacher;

* Make angry responses;

* Make inappropriate or vulgar comments;

* Physically fight because they "do not have language or belief system to use conflict resolution";

* Always have their hands on someone else;

* Cannot follow directions because "little procedural memory is used in poverty" and "sequence is not used or valued";

* Are extremely disorganized because "planning, scheduling, or prioritizing skills" are "not taught in poverty";

* Complete only part of a task because they have "no procedural self-talk" and "do not 'see' the whole task";

* Are disrespectful to the teacher because they "may not know any adults worthy of respect";

* Harm other students, verbally or physically;

* Cheat or steal because of "weak support system, weak role models/emotional resources"; and

* Talk incessantly because "poverty is very participatory" (pp. …

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