What do you think?

12 07 2007

I just finished reading “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby K. Payne. There was a big article about it in the New York Times a couple of months ago and have had it on my Amazon wishlist since then. So when it arrived in the mail last week, I picked it up immediately and read my way through it. It’s not long, 100 or so pages of writing, followed by just as much reference material and bibliographic stuff.

Ruby Payne is this woman who is touted as the country’s leading expert on the mindset of poverty and she has toured school districts giving lectures about her book and her research (which really comes from teaching and from being married to a man for three decades whose family had been in situational poverty.) It was not groundbreaking work and much of what I read I could have generalized myself based on what I’d seen in my own classrooms in Providence and in New Haven. There were some interesting things I’d learned from the book, such as reading kids’ eye movements to figure out where they are trying to gather their information from (are they visual, emotional, or aural learners, in other words), and there was a case study that was interesting to me about how to talk to kids to find out what their problems are. However, these most interesting things came from research Payne had cited, so actually, the really interesting stuff wasn’t even hers.

But that’s not even the point of this post. In the Amazon shipment I received in which Payne’s book lay, there were three more: two novels by Nigerian writers, and Irshad Manji’s open letter to Muslims. Those three other books each were either $12.95 or $13.95. Not a super huge investment, considering their length: Manji’s book is 234 pages, the novels well over 300. Not to mention the fact that Manji’s book is brimming with incredibly meaningful, powerful, and critical messages to the Muslim community, and she places her life at risk by doing so, while the novels are full of imagination from the minds of the authors.

Ruby K. Payne’s book, on other hand is hear-say, broad generalizations, other people’s research, and stupid stupid stupid diagrams that make me embarrassed to read it. And how much did it cost? A whopping $22.95. And it’s about poverty. Go figure that the one American author I pick up charges the most for her book and makes it least accessible to those people it’s about. Manji has put her entire manuscript up on her website for FREE in three languages simply so that her writing and ideas can be accessed.
Payne talks incessantly about kids not having resources, families in poverty not having financial, emotional, physical resources and how that makes success an impossibility. Yet she’s charging an arm and a leg for a stupid book that those same people without the resources will never be able to access. It’s like it’s some kind of “secret” book about “THEM” the “OTHERS WHO DON’T KNOW WHAT WE KNOW.”

So that’s my gripe for today. Am I being unfair in my criticism?


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