stephanie jones

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

More on Ruby Payne…and research

In classism, families, family-school relations, poverty, professional development resources on September 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I still have numerous conversations with educators about the work of Ruby Payne. These conversations started about ten years ago, and they continue as if no time has passed at all. While I am surprised at the weight her work still carries, I am also sensitive to the fact that many educators are introduced to her through “Professional Development” opportunities at their schools as “The” authority on issues of poverty. Such an introduction, or “orientation,” toward poverty and schools is often very influential indeed.

Recently a teacher-colleague wrote a thoughtful email message that included an example of a family-based scenario from R.P.’s most in/famous book. The scenario was used as an example, in this email, to show me that R.P. was writing from the perspective of family members – not, as I was claiming, from her own classist perspective.

I respect this colleague a great deal, so I won’t share any more about the correspondence, but I will share my response to her here:

I know that you – and many, many others – do think about some important things from R.P.’s book. And I am glad that “poverty” has become a common topic of discussion in schools as a result of her book and professional development offerings. I would never take that away from you – the important thinking and self-work you have done in concert with her writings. And I am so grateful that you – and so many others – are thoughtful and contemplative and turn your thinking into valuable practice in the classroom.

It’s funny – the example that you use from her book strikes me as another example of how her unbridled assumptions about people and circumstances perpetuates negative stereotypes throughout the book. I realize you were using this example as one that shows some value, which reminds me, too, that we are simply reading this book from very different perspectives. This happens with all texts – the meaning we make is particular to the kind of meaning available to us based on all the funds of knowledge we bring to a reading.

Here is one reason, as a researcher and scholar, that these scenarios are so bothersome for me: they are fictional. If R.P. interviewed folks, had focus groups, did home or school observations, and used that “data” to create scenarios such as these, that would be one step in the right direction. In other words, if her work were research-based, we would be having a very different discussion. But it’s not, and she hasn’t – they are fictional portraits created out of her (from my perspective) naive and stereotypical images of people in her mind. This makes it so much worse for me. And even if she has attempted to write the scenario from a character’s perspective rather than her own, the use of derogatory names and negative stereotypes within those fictional scenarios is not productive – in fact, it’s only hurtful.

Everything in education has to be “research-based” now, except for the way we think and talk about working-class and poor children and families. R.P.’s book is often held up as “research” but it absolutely is not. There are scholars who have been conducting incredible research for decades about working-class and poor kids and families and what schools can do to make sure they succeed. Their solutions are complex – R.P.’s are simple (and don’t hold true based on decades of research). That’s the best way I know how to explain why her non-research-based book has been taken up by districts across the country. She writes about poverty in ways that people already “assume” exists – so it’s more palatable for folks to read and believe. And she offers very simple solutions that don’t get to the heart of how things such as classism and pro-poverty policies operate.

I truly appreciate you writing to me about this, and I would welcome the opportunity to talk more in person. I respect you a great deal, even from just one week of getting to know you, and look forward to getting together very soon!


Poverty in the Papers

In communities, democracy, Education Policy, families, family-school relations, justice, politics, poverty on September 28, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Check out this op-ed piece related to poverty and education…

Pedro Noguera talks about ongoing issues and his collaborative efforts in Newark, connected to the Promise Neighborhoods federal grants competition. A similar effort is being waged in Athens, Georgia under the name “Whatever It Takes.”

Student Teachers and First Year Teachers working for Change

In anti-bias teaching, critical literacy, NCLB, professional development resources, teacher education, teacher education resources on September 24, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Hi all – this is on the “Student Teachers and First Year Teachers For Social Justice” page, which I’m not great at updating, but I’ll share it here.

You can see other questions/responses on the Page.

Another question from students out in the field:

Will I have to do what every other teacher does?

The email went like this:

*** and I have been placed in a *** grade classroom at ****. We haven’t been very impressed with the lesson plans and overall atmosphere of the classroom thus far. Yesterday we sat in on a *** grade team meeting about L.A. The teachers were discussing their lesson plans and how they all need to have the same lesson plans and do everything the same. It really concerned me that not only my teacher was teaching non-engaging lessons, but that the entire grade level was doing so as well. I asked if they were allowed to deviate or do their own thing if they see fit, and they expressed how they’re required to be on the same page and that if the principal were to walk into their classrooms at any given moment, they should all look the same.

After all of the things we discussed last semester, especially the Reading Workshop model and critical literacy activities, I was wondering what a teacher would do in a situation like this. If I were a new *** grade teacher at that school this year, would I be able to deviate from the group and incorporate meaningful, engaging activities? There didn’t seem to be much wiggle room for different ideas, so it concerned me. I would hate to work in a place that made me conform to the (sometimes inferior) ideas of my colleagues when I become a teacher.

Any insight on the matter? Sorry, I know this is a long email, but it really does concern me. Given the lesson plans and the way they are implemented, it is no wonder that the students are so miserable. I would just hate to think that there was nothing that an effective teacher could do. Thanks for your time! I miss your class already!
My Humble Response:

I don’t know the particular situation that you’re talking about, but I will tell you this.

I work with incredible teachers in various schools across *** who are engaged with community, developing learning around students’ interests, and explicitly teaching their students critical literacy practices to use in and out of school. In some of these schools it seems there are groups of teachers who all do the same thing (meaning attempting to “look” the same when a principal walks in) – and in some cases, believe that they must do the same thing. It’s extremely complicated to understand why teachers will agree to completely conform even when their students are miserable.

Teachers have agency – they can make change. When you interview, you will ask the principal about how much power you have over developing curriculum that students are interested in and that meets their needs. If the principal says “none,” and you have other possibilities for earning a salary – I personally wouldn’t take a position where someone was going to dictate what would be happening in my classroom without knowing my students, families, and the learning theories I know all too well.

You are right to be concerned. Whether or not they actually have ‘wiggle room’ I don’t know. Whether or not they have the responsibility to educate the children in front of them is no question. That’s the bottom line – children have  a right to a deep, broad, and expansive education – not a narrow and limited one.

It sounds like you are using your critical literacy lenses well;) Good for you. You are a powerful person who will be incredibly well prepared for learning from and teaching children from diverse backgrounds. You are an intellectual who will seek out answers when you bump up against something you don’t understand in your classroom. You are exactly the kind of teacher our children deserve. Sometimes you may have to do some things you don’t agree with (I even have things like that in my job at times…), but you will make sure you and your students create powerful spaces together where learning, curiosity, and exploration will be unlimited.

Use this as an opportunity to be an ethnographer to see how different teachers might handle this situation differently. Perhaps you can do some short observations in multiple classrooms, watch them on the playground, listen to how they talk about children and families and education and administration. Learn everything you can about what’s happening – think about it from multiple and critical perspectives – and imagine creative ways you might handle the same situation.

I wish you were in a better situation – I hope you can make this an important learning experience.


In communities, democracy, discourse, Education Policy, families, family-school relations, films for teacher education, freedom, high-stakes tests, justice, NCLB, politics, professional development resources, social action on September 24, 2010 at 5:54 pm

“Race to Nowhere” is a film made by a mother who became increasingly concerned about her children’s and family’s emotional well-being resulting from pressures at school, loads of homework, and family time that was decimated by requirements from school.

This concern intensified and catapulted the making of the film when a 13-year old “perfect” child killed herself in the community over a bad math grade.

A 13 year old killing herself over a grade in school?

What do we expect?

We are guilty of allowing school’s competitive nature to infiltrate the bodies and psyches of our children (and even parents).

We are guilty of abusing children who are pushed to stay up late at night finishing  homework and who cry and complain of headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, and depression all related to school.

We are guilty.

Who is we?

Educators, parents, citizens.

All of us.

Can we finally come together around protecting children’s right to a human existence inside and outside school?

Can we finally coalesce around a fundamental belief that children are human beings who do not exist in the world to “produce” for adults?

Go see this film – and then find a way to order it – and then find a way to get as many people as possible to watch it.

Then change how our children are experiencing the world.

Race to Nowhere Website,  Film Trailer, and Organizing Ideas

Million Teacher March

In democracy, Education Policy, freedom, government, high-stakes tests, justice, NCLB, politics, professional development resources, social action, Standing up for Kids on September 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Check out the SOS Million Teacher March blog where lots of local activities are being organized as well as a national Million Teacher March in D.C. planned for July 30, 2011. Here’s a great press release from the group.

Rolling over is not an option!!!

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