Monday, January 29, 2007

The "Hidden Rules" to Ruby Payne's Success

"Freedom without opportunity is the devil's gift." --Noam Chomsky

Ruby K. Payne has been bilking tax-payers, school districts, as well as their administrators and educators for over ten years with little resistance. Payne is the founder and CEO of aha! Process Inc., where she publishes her own work: making academic scrutiny of her ideas and theories impossible. Payne will be speaking in Helena, Montana on Wednesday, January 31, 2007 where thousands of teachers, Title 1 workers and administrators from around Montana will converge to give her the tax-payer’s money. What will the thousands of dollars get them? A classist and racist perspective on poverty…oh yeah, plus her book!

If Ruby Payne is so bad, then how has she been able to get away with it for so long? An education professor from Illinois State University recently decided to do some of her own investigations of Ruby Payne since she had been hearing so much about her. Professor Anita Bohn thought that maybe the next Jonathan Kozol (Savage Inequalities) had arrived to the scene to help lead the struggle against poverty and education’s role in addressing it. Bohn’s initial search in her university library catalog yielded no results. A secondary search again turned up dry. However, as the professor’s story goes, “[w]hen I typed the name “Ruby Payne” into a Google search, though, I hit a jackpot.”

Payne has reached hundreds of thousands of educators across the country “and even in Australia and New Zealand,” yet she is virtually unknown in the academic world. Just to test this theory last night, I called two professors of education at Carroll College (Helena, MT) and the University of Montana (Missoula). Neither knew much of anything about her work. In fact, only I had read her book. By self-publishing, Payne avoids having her “evidence” scrutinized and—similarly—her “theories” steer clear of scholarly analysis. In sum, Payne’s work remains outside the academic pipeline which may help explain her phenomenal success.

Payne charges between $60 and $300 per individual registrant. Missoula County Public Schools is paying $60 per person. The Townsend School District is paying $150 per person. If Payne’s past success in drawing large crowds is an appropriate indicator, Payne can expect to rake in a cool $60,000-$200,000 for her one-day conference! According to Professor Bohn’s research, “[s]ince 1996, Payne and her assistants have been conduction 200 seminars a year training as many as 25,000 teachers and school administrators to work with children from poverty, making her the single biggest influence on teachers’ understanding of children from poverty in the United States.” According to these numbers, if Payne were charging every single registrant the low end $60/head, she is taking $1,500,000 a year from tax payers to misinform the public education system! Bohn asserts that the cost to attend a conference is $300 (at this rate the income would be $7.5 million). Perhaps Montana’s poor got a break from kind Mrs. Payne at $60-$150 per head! P.S. Ruby Payne's aha! Process, Inc. is not a non-profit organization!

In two days time, I will be attending Payne’s conference. I was invited by my school district along with two busloads of fellow teachers from Missoula. When I decided to go I had not yet read Payne’s work, but like hundreds of thousands of others, my interest was piqued by Payne’s catchy book title: A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Perhaps most misleading, however, was the title Payne gave herself—thanks in no small part to her ability to self-publish—“The Leading U.S. Expert on the Mindsets of Poverty, Middle Class, and Wealth.” Amazingly, that title was not given to her due to academic achievement or by accomplished educationalists within the field of education or sociology.

Having now read her book, I don’t know what is more disconcerting: 1) that Payne appears to have few detractors which means—for the near future at least—she will continue to exert her damaging influence on public education; or 2) that so many educators have failed to demonstrate the ability to detect the blatant racism, classism, and assimilationism she is being allowed to pontificate. It is a sad state of affairs either way. The academic community must be alerted to her demagoguery and the snake-charmer’s appeal her one-size-fits-all answers profess.

Should Payne be allowed to be heard? Absolutely. If we don’t believe in freedom of speech for those we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. However, Payne’s work has not been exposed to the rigors of true academia. Therefore, she should be judged by peers and professionals, before school districts imprudently dump tax-payer’s money into her coffers. A Framework for Understanding Poverty is overtly emotional and anecdotal making it extremely alluring and seductive to teachers looking for magical solutions to the overwhelming issue of poverty. However, instead of addressing the causes of poverty, she misdirects readers to understand the effects of poverty to be understood as causes. Instead of questioning how the richest nation in the world could have such abject and deplorable scenarios of poverty, she stereotypes poverty with anecdotal scenarios and offers as a solution that educators teach children how to think, act and aspire to be middle class. Give them kids some bootstraps to start pulling themselves up by!

Why should anyone aspire to transcend to the next class level if one had previously experienced that class as oppressive? Should it be a child’s goal to obtain the money and power to oppress those below them? Are we supposed to inspire kids by explaining to them that if they make it to our level they will no longer be on the bottom and then they can have someone else dig their ditches, or pick their fruit? Where is the debate about the legitimacy of maintaining a system that allows for poverty and oppression? Are we to teach kids that poverty is inevitable and that nothing can be done to distribute the “American Dream” equitably? Payne’s attempt to abstract “the hidden rules” of the class system from the unimaginably complex “bigger picture” of economics, society, culture, and politics for observation intentionally ignores our “me-first” society’s biggest dilemma: the equitable distribution of wealth. Instead of offering a solution to poverty, Payne is helping to maintain it. The poor need money, food, housing, health care, and education, not “hidden rules.”

  • To read the ONLY TWO scholarly critiques available (please do your own Internet searches and let me know if any other school’s of education are on to her) on Ruby Payne follow these links:

  • Montana educators should also be alerted to a recent Missoulian article expressing contentions that the UM Native American Studies department has with Payne’s work.

Please help save underfunded school districts money by forwarding this story.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Diversity of Opinion

I want to thank Che Bob for inviting me to Lonestone Revolution as a contributing author. I am truly honored. Although the bulk of my first post here is not written my me. I do think that it will serve the tone which Che Bob and the other authors have set here.

One of the big differences between myself and the some of other authors is how I arrive at my opinions. Che Bob believes that the crisis is the system, capitalism, and it is here now. My beliefs are more along the lines of; the system is the cause of a worldwide convergence of three crises, global climate change, peak oil, and over population, soon to come. We both agree that capitalism has run it's course and will soon be economic history, and that economies and governance will soon be localized and not global. When and how this relocalization takes place is another differance between us.

So in honoring that we both maybe right, I want to offer the following essay from Mike Ruppert. I believe that it portrays that the two camps of thought on which crisis we are dealing with, are not mutually exclusive and that the end goal is the same for both of us.


by Michael C. Ruppert

© Copyright 2006, From The Wilderness Publications, All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.

Cultural diversity is not only humanity’s hallmark of progress, but an insurance policy against extinction as a species. Diversity gives not only cultural and economic riches derived from different perspectives on natural resources and what it means to be human, but options to problem solving that are stifled in a homogenized society. When such a society is organized around economic goals that are measured by profit margins for private gain by powerful elites, where the demands of those who bear cash as the ticket of admission to the marketplace rule, rather than the needs of people, then those who are deprived – and those who have never been part of such a global economy – must necessarily suffer. The genocide of tribal peoples, therefore, is symptomatic of a deep malaise in the world’s metropolises. Indigenous peoples will suffer the most, but humanity as a whole will suffer the loss of some of its memory, not only of a unique knowledge of the natural world, but of its ability to cope with the future in various, diverse ways.

THY WILL BE DONE, The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, Gerard Colby with Charlotte Dennett

Harper Collins, 1995, p. 685
November 7th 2006, 4:39PM [PST] – Nature protects itself through diversity. It stands to reason then that when threatened – as it is now on so many fronts – Mother Earth will exert itself aggressively; enforcing rigid boundaries that ignore the lives of individuals – plant or animal – in order to preserve the diversity which protects all life. That human beings as a species also show such characteristics is proof of the connection between man and planet. In some ways this is not unlike the point in time when a child must break with parents in order to fulfill its own destiny, with its own unique life path, thus guaranteeing that the evolutionary process – life itself – is protected; that something better and new might follow.

All individual life ends so that that life as a whole may go on and evolve. As I have said in so many lectures, the human race is now being faced with a choice: either evolve or perish.

Americans tend to think of the Third World as “the frontier”, a place still open to settlement as if it were a divine right just for the willingness to endure a little hardship. With overpopulation and dwindling global resources, the “frontiers” are defending themselves to protect diversity in many ways; ways that are far more effective than any resistance to colonization in previous centuries. Global warming has been characterized as a planet developing a fever to rid itself of an infection. I believe that increasing global tensions might also be mirroring that process.

The human side of this resistance is also organic and, in Latin America, Venezuela is its heart. It has now taken solid root, emerging almost simultaneously in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. I do not think it can be stopped. It is an anthropological resistance.

Living in Venezuela has been an amazing, brutal, and illuminating lesson. It is a truly alien culture that I find simultaneously beautiful, hard, giving, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and definitely self-protecting to the extreme. That is why I am confident that Venezuela, and most of Latin America, will survive the coming crash of Peak Oil better than any other region of the world. I believe it is already starting to protect itself. It doesn’t need me or any outsider to survive. But as a general rule, only those who are native here will be protected by its blessings.

It is not just that I am blond haired and blue-eyed, which does get me a lot of double takes – some hostile. It is as though I am a fish used to swimming in a different kind of water. The way that I swim affects the other fish here, already swimming too much in a superimposed American cultural blanket that has been enforced by scores of coups, debt enslavement, colonization, exploitation, genocide and war over the course of the 20th century and into today. In order to understand this picture a British citizen trying to drive in super-crowded Caracan traffic where there are few rules. Under stress the Brit might instinctively react in a way that might tie up streets. Now change the image of traffic to a culture adapting to dwindling energy reserves, conflict or panic. The Brit would be singled out quickly and forced off the road so that the rest might “function” in ways they were accustomed to.

However, the powerful lessons and principles of human justice, sustainability, harmony with the land, freedom from the mandate of endless capitalist growth, openness, and localization contained in the Bolivarian Revolution led by Hugo Chavez are powerful survival tools that can and must be studied and adapted to other regions. If one reads Richard Heinberg, Matt Savinar, Megan Quinn, Post Carbon Institute, FTW, or any of the great sustainability writers, one will find those same principles; arrived at through different means.

Forget labels. This is what will work.

The Bolivarian Revolution is different from the main body of sustainability literature in one key respect. It is the practical, hands-on implementation of these principles on local, national and continental levels; something all European and North American sustainability advocates know little or nothing about. How could they? While US and European sustainability advocates write about “shoulds” the Bolivarian Revolution is an evolving process of actual doing. It must be watched closely by all who would learn from it.

The irony is that for the most part, the Bolivarian revolution does not see itself as a sustainability movement but rather as a political and economic one. Now for another of my trademarked quotes: Until you change the way money works, you change nothing. The Bolivarian Revolution is doing just that.


The Bolivarian Revolution and Venezuelan culture inherently knows that it cannot make too many exceptions to the rule that diversity must protect itself or else the rule will have no meaning. That’s exactly what I was asking it to do (though I didn’t know it) when I came here. I am not just one migrating gringo. Mike Ruppert could not be assimilated without changing something here: the Tao of politics.

That is why, after 15 weeks of waiting, after only one interview, a formal petition and a lot of pressure from influential Americans and Venezuelan-Americans (some with direct government connections) I have not heard a word on my request for political asylum. Venezuelans are inherently suspicious, let alone of a blond gringo who is an ex-policeman who came from a US intelligence family. It is possible that within the massive and glacially slow bureaucracy, some who are not loyal to Chavez have buried my request under a pile of papers. In Latin America things take much longer and I can see now that the waiting process, never guaranteed to be successful, is part of a natural selection.

My thirty year record of activism and sacrifice in the US means little in Venezuela. Those deposits were made in a bank belonging to a different ecosystem. There are no ATMs for that kind of withdrawal here.

The first real kindness shown to me by a full-blooded Latin American with government connections, came about two weeks ago as “Tano”, a bearded artist and long-time revolutionary who had worked with Salvador Allende in Chile, looked at me with true compassion and said, “Venezuela will run you through a gauntlet. It will ignore you. It will make promises and never call you back or fulfill them. It will mistrust you even if you have lived here for ten years, twenty years.”

It took me 12 weeks to get to Tano and it was not by a linear, logical path.

Tano is a famed artist and thinker knows Hugo Chavez personally. He has traveled with him. His kindness and sympathy was abundant and visible. Kittens slept on his massive belly as he spoke from behind a desk cluttered with papers. Two dogs gravitated to him as though he was a magnet. He offered to open doors and make some introductions in certain ministries. As opposed to many other unfulfilled promises since I have been here, he meant it. Promises are made quickly here and soon forgotten, even between native Venezuelans. But it was already too late. My health was gone, I could not make one important event and I had already been rejected like an invading organism; rejected by the differences in culture and an environment I had trouble adapting to.

I was introduced to Tano by my young Venezuelan friend Ivan, who, at 27, who had just quit his job as a trader at J.P. Morgan because it was too stressful. He was too Venezuelan to live the life of a Venezuelan posing as an American. Good for him.

It would be embarrassing to many people if I named the names of all of those back “home” who, learning that I had come here, told me that they had been considering the same move. They said that when things got intolerable in the States, or the UK, or Canada, they would just move here; or to Costa Rica, or to New Zealand, or to someplace else. My pains and troubles here will serve as an object lesson for all that the time to relocate in advance of Peak Oil has, for almost everyone, long passed.


The important distinctions about adaptivity are not racial at all. US citizens come in all colors. American culture is the water they have swum in since birth. A native US citizen of Latin descent who did not (or even did) speak Spanish would probably feel almost as out of place here as I do. They would look the same but not feel the same. And when it came time to deal collectively with a rapidly changing world, a world in turmoil, a native-born American’s inbred decades of “instinctive” survival skills might not harmonize with the skills used by those around him.

Another one of my trademarked lines is that Post Peak survival is not a matter of individual survival or national survival. It is a matter of cooperative, community survival. If one is not a fully integrated member of a community when the challenges come, one might hinder the effectiveness of the entire community which has unspoken and often consciously unrecognized ways of adapting. As stresses increase, the gauntlets required to gain acceptance in strange places will only get tougher. Diversity will become more, rather than less, rigid and enforced.

As energy shortages and blackouts arrive; as food shortages grow worse; as droughts expand and proliferate; as icecaps melt, as restless, cold and hungry populations start looking for other places to go; minute cultural and racial differences will trigger progressively more abrupt reactions, not unlike a stressed out and ill human body will react more violently to things that otherwise would never reach conscious thought.

Start building your lifeboats where you are now. I can see that the lessons I have learned here are important whether you are thinking of moving from city to countryside, state to state, or nation to nation. Whatever shortcomings you may think exist where you live are far outnumbered by the advantages you have where you are a part of an existing ecosystem that you know and which knows you.

If the time comes when it is necessary to leave that community you will be better off moving with your tribe rather than moving alone.

Evolution is guaranteed. Useful knowledge gained by ancestors is incorporated into succeeding generations. It may not be used in the same way that it was when acquired. It may lie dormant for years or decades, safely stored in DNA or the collective unconscious. But it is there, and it will always be available should the day come when it is needed.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Playing the Game

People are failing to appreciate the system that oppresses them and continue to believe—wrongly—that a politician such as Barak Obama is the solution. Obama is being called a "unifier," and people are swallowing this shit up. Obama smiles at us, and talks to us, and makes us feel all good inside, but we know nothing about his policies. And this is very intentional. This helps maintain the wide gap that exists between public opinion and public policy. Along with keeping the public out of the policy-making arena and leaving that business to elected elites, the American political system degenerates any possibility of making meaningful elections possible by engaging the public in a tense battle of voting for personalities and forgetting about the issues. So how do we narrow the gap and make the political system respond to our demands? Do we play the game and risk expending valuable energy and money on politicians or strike out in our own direction of local organization that can lead to powerful direct action? Do we need to take more personal risks in the spirit of civil rights activists from the 60s or turn of the century workers fighting for the right to organize, or do we sit back and wait for Obama, Clinton and Tester to “deliver us from evil”?

Just like Bill Clinton before him, people see this charming personality in Obama and hear his rhetoric of unifying a divided country, but the true divide exists not between conservatives and liberals, but between public policy and public opinion. Policies in this country are generally more conservative than the American public. A prime example is that Americans want universal—even socialized—health care by a wide margin (70%), but we can't get our politicians to even recognize this demand. When we hear politicians talk of “mandates” one is in danger of dying from laughter unless they say they have the mandate of the American people to institute universal health care.

Too many assumptions are being made that a woman (Hilary Clinton), an African-American (Barak Obama), or a Carhartt-wearing farmer (Jon Tester) are going to level the playing field, based deceptively on their roles as minorities or as members of the working class. However, we never hear their proposals, their policies, etc. We only hear about how they are going to unify a divided country, but they can’t put the slightest dent in unifying the rest of their fellow policy makers in D.C. with the majority of opinions held by Americans. Most Americans believe we shouldn’t be fighting a war in Iraq, that we should be respecting the Kyoto Protocol; paying teacher’s more money; protecting the border with Canada (not Mexico); engaging antagonistic countries through diplomacy not war; respecting the international rule of law; punishing crooked politicians the way they punish other criminals; investing in alternative energy in a meaningful way; reforming campaign finance laws; narrowing the gap between CEO and worker pay; etc.

An equivalent to an “activist” doesn’t exist on the Republican side of affairs; they are just called “the base.” That which would be considered the concerns of right-wing activists (were they to exist) are simply taken up by the Republican Party since they are in line with the American political spectrum that is shaped by the wealthy, property owning class. However, non-profit and activist causes from the left exist because of gaps in public policy and a system that fails to provide for its society. Therefore, activists must dig deeply to find politicians (even from the supposed “left”) to take up their causes, and since these causes from the left generally fall outside the accepted political spectrum a champion from within the political elite is hard to find. This reality results in social justice causes dividing their energy and money between their cause and a politician that they hope will risk mentioning it on the floor of congress. On the other hand, a right-winger simply gives their money to their cause through one easy-payment to the Republican Party.

Americans need to look at the system and critically assess their blind faith in the American political structure to bring about meaningful change. Included in this assessment should be the role modern marketing and money plays in shaping elections and political decisions. A deeper and more honest analysis would surely reveal the evidence and reason to demonstrate how social justice and the American economic and political system are irreconcilable. Depending on the coddling of our American founding fathers and “heroic” politicians has only served to perpetuate on-going violence and injustice. Making a sound decision to organize oneself locally in order to give a voice with power to public opinion is just a start. Consistent and creative organization that forgoes institutional dependency and seeks to maximize pressure on the system would serve two purposes: 1) reveal the illusion that American elections equals democracy, 2) that direct action and participatory democracy are the most effective means for meaningful social change.

Granted the question of protecting oneself, society, and the world from vile politicians such as Bush, McCain, et. al. by “playing the game” and helping to elect center-right democrats is a valid one. What do we risk if we fail to participate in elections, their campaigns, etc. while working on our genuine concerns? While working for social revolution how much energy and money do we give to helping elect more moderate conservatives such as Obama and Clinton? Giving/wasting donations on Tester, Obama and Clinton in order to toss out the neo-cons means donating to the system in lieu of donating to organizations that are seeking to change the system. How can we ensure that “playing the game” doesn’t become tantamount to perpetuating it? If you look at the places in the world with meaningful democracies such as Venezuela and Bolivia, one cannot ignore the roles extreme poverty, oppression, and violence have played in prepping that society for social revolution. What do we do with complacent and morally apathetic Americans? What will motivate them? Four more years of reactionary neo-con train wrecks? Or a “democratic” revolution that lulls us further back to sleep?