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Revisiting Ruby Payne

By Anita Perna Bohn

Ruby Payne's reign as avatar of social class consciousness in America continues, or so a recent article in the New York Times Magazine would have one believe.

Payne is CEO of aha!Process, Inc., a multimillion dollar corporation that offers workshops to educators based on the "culture of poverty" premise. Payne's thesis and the validity of her "research" on poverty were critically examined in the Winter 2006/2007 issue of Rethinking Schools; those critiques are referenced in the June 10, 2007, New York Times Magazine article.

The Times article, written by editor Paul Tough, chronicles a day in the life of Payne as she presents her popular teachers' workshop on A Framework for Understanding Poverty to 1,400 employees of the Glynn County (Ga.) Board of Education, which closed school for the day and bused its teachers and administrators to hear Payne reveal the hidden rules of class. The Times article also offers readers a glimpse into Payne's private life and the circumstances and inspirations that led to her multimillion dollar enterprise. Tough's uncritical five-page infomercial for Payne's consulting company spotlights her already lucrative business in a publicity spread for which most companies would kill. It also dismisses Payne's critics as "a few angry assistant professors" who hound her "like gnats at a backyard barbecue."

Here are just a few ideas about poverty, social class, and valid research that were fit to print in the Times article:

Poverty is a choice. Poor people persist in certain behaviors that keep them in poverty: their "habits and styles and traditions... pose deep obstacles out of poverty."

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