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Savage Unrealities

By Paul Gorski

Despite common misperceptions, Payne's work is inspired by many right-wing politicians and pundits most hostile to economically disadvantaged students and their families. The result is a framework more concerned with conserving the status quo than with dismantling systems of power and privilege.

For example, Payne remains an outspoken advocate of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) even though she lives in Texas, where its precursors proved devastating to students in poverty. She's written a four-part series of essays supporting the legislation (see www.ahaprocess.com/Downloads. html). The scholar she cites most heavily in these essays is Thomas Sowell, senior fellow of the right-wing Hoover Institution and ultra-conservative critic of progressive social and education reforms. Payne not only supports President Bush's education policies, she also supports Bush himself. She has contributed thousands of dollars to his presidential campaigns and the Republican National Committee since 1999, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Consistent with this pattern, Payne's work is replete with conservative values. One of the key tenets of her work is assimilation — the notion that economically disadvantaged people must adopt the values and behaviors of the middle class in order to achieve academically.

In order to make this argument Payne contends that people in poverty share a "mindset" or "culture" different from that of upper- and middle-class people. In actuality, a single mindset of poverty no more exists than a single mindset of blackness, differently-abled-ness, or woman-ness. Can we assume, for example, that poor white U.S. citizens from Appalachian West Virginia share a mindset and culture with poor Somali refugees who arrived in Minnesota last month?

In another classic conservative reframe, Payne muddles the relationship between the causes and effects of poverty. She writes, for example, "Poverty is caused by interrelated factors: parental employment status and earnings, family structure, and parental education." But parental employment status and parental education do not cause poverty. They reflect the impact of poverty.

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