About that table of “hidden rules among classes”

The following table has been circulating recently. I sourced it to Framework for Understanding Poverty: A Cognitive Approach by Ruby Payne, PhD, who sells educational materials and consulting services through her company, aha! Process.

POSSESSIONSPeople.Things.One-of-a-kind objects, legacies, pedigrees.
MONEYTo be used, spent.To be managed.To be conserved invested.
PERSONALITYIs for entertainment. Sense of humor is highly valued.Is for acquisition and stability. Achievement is highly valued.Is for connections. Financial, political, social connections are highly valued.
SOCIAL EMPHASISSocial inclusion of people they like.Emphasis is on self-governance and self-sufficiencyEmphasis is on social exclusion.
FOODKey question: Did you have enough? Quantity important.Key question: Did you like it? Quality important.Key question: Was it presented well? Presentation important.
CLOTHINGClothing valued for individual style and expression of personality.Clothing valued for its quality and acceptance into norm of middle class. Label importantClothing valued for its artistic sense and expression. Designer important
TIMEPresent most important. Decisions made for moment based on feelings or survival.Future most important. Decisions made against future ramifications.Traditions and history most important. Decisions made partially on basis of tradition and decorum.
EDUCATIONValued and revered as abstract but not as reality.Crucial for climbing success ladder and making money.Necessary tradition for making and maintaining connections.
DESTINYBelieves in fate. Cannot do much to mitigate chance.Believes in choice. Can change future with good choices now.Noblesse oblige.
LANGUAGECasual register. Language is about survival.Formal register. Language is about negotiation.Formal register. Language is about networking.
FAMILY STRUCTURETends to be matriarchal.Tends to be patriarchal.Depends on who has money.
WORLD VIEWSees world in terms of local setting.Sees world in terms of national setting.Sees world in terms of international view.
LOVELove and acceptance conditional, based upon whether individual is liked.Love and acceptance conditional and based largely upon achievement.Love and acceptance conditional and related to social standing and connections.
DRIVING FORCESurvival, relationships, entertainment.Work, achievement.Financial, political, social connections.
HUMORAbout people and sex.About situations.About social faux pas.

Those hidden rules have circulated (often unattributed) around the internet. The book they were first published in has been released in at least five editions, and the content has been adapted and reused broadly. Example: this a questionnaire about class published by the American Psychological Association.

However, Authors Randy Bomer, Joel E. Dworin, Laura May, and Peggy Semingson take issue with Payne’s work. In Miseducating Teachers about the Poor: A Critical Analysis of Ruby Payne’s Claims about Poverty, published in Teachers College Record (bibliographic record, and PDF full-text), they conclude: “We found that her truth claims, offered without any supporting evidence, are contradicted by anthropological, sociological and other research on poverty. We have demonstrated through our analysis that teachers may be misinformed by Payne’s claims.” Here I quote at length their rebuttal to the “hidden rules”:

Hidden rules

According to Payne, people in poverty are mostly identifiable by their adherence to the “hidden rules of poverty” (9, 38, 41, 42, 44). Payne defines hidden rules as “the unspoken cues and habits of a group. Distinct cueing systems exist between and among groups and economic classes.”(37). She provides examples of three hidden rules in poverty, informing us that: “The noise level is high (the TV is always on and everyone may talk at once), the most important information is non-verbal, and one of the main values of an individual to the group is an ability to entertain” (9). Payne offers no citations for any statements about hidden rules. She does not inform the reader how these hidden rules came to be revealed to her, nor does she explain the means by which they are supposed to be hidden, or from whom. This “hidden rules” approach is central to Payne’s perspective and an area in which she claims special expertise. However, Payne has not conducted any research regarding hidden rules nor does she offer any evidence to support them.

Payne contrasts hidden rules amongst people living in poverty and those living in the middle class. According to Payne, poor people view money as something to be spent, while to people in the middle class, money is something to be managed. For the poor, “{m}oney is seen as an expression of personality and is used for entertainment and relationships. The notion of using money for security is truly grounded in the middle and wealthy classes” (44). Personality for the poor is “for entertainment” (42) and a “sense of humor is highly valued,” (42) while for those in the middle class, personality “is for acquisition and stability” (43) and “achievement is highly valued” (43). Views of time are also quite different, where, Payne tells us, those in poverty view the “present most important” (sic) (42) and “decisions are made for moment based on feelings or survival” (sic) (42), while for the middle class, “future most important” (sic) (43) and “decisions made against future ramifications” (sic) (43). Education is “valued and revered as abstract but not as reality” (42) by the poor, while for those in the middle class, it is “crucial for climbing success ladder and making money” (sic) (43). Payne claims that one of the biggest differences among the classes is how the world is viewed. “Middle class tends to see the world in terms of a national picture, while poverty sees the world in its immediate locale” (44). As far as we can tell, these descriptions of the attitudes of both the poor and the middle class are completely baseless. We trust that we may be excused from providing evidence that many middle class people enjoy entertainment and have a sense of humor, or that many people who live in serious financial insecurity think often about their futures.

Payne’s purpose in leading teachers to an understanding of hidden rules is so that the rules of the middle class can be taught explicitly to students, (45). The teaching of middle-class norms is necessary, according to Payne, because these rules are important in schools and businesses (3). Payne offers another possible explanation of hidden rules’ importance when she writes, “An understanding of the culture and values of poverty will lessen the anger and frustration that educators may periodically feel when dealing with these students and parents “ (45). Payne seems to be saying that once teachers and other educators comprehend the ways of the poor by knowing their hidden rules, they will feel less frustrated with them because it is in their essential nature to have values and behavior different from those in the middle class. It is through her conception of hidden rules that Payne places the onus on the children and their families, characterizing them as deficient. Though she uses the term “culture,” our examination of her truth claims reveals that, in every instance, she pathologizes the “culture” or “rules” of the poor and valorizes the “culture” or “rules” of the middle class. She never considers the alternative, that social, economic and political structures—not their own behaviors and attitudes—have provided barriers to success in schools for poor children. As Tozer (2000) has written:

…The knowledge, language, and practices of one class are dominant and valued; those of the other classes are subordinate and devalued. Instead of a cultural deficit explanation for persistent school failure of low SES children, we can see the possibility of a cultural subordination explanation that is grounded in relations of domination and subordination in the economic and political order of society (p.157).

Payne does not examine the ways in which schools and society have been structured in the interests of dominant classes. Those who may not fit neatly into the dominant groups’ ways of being are defective, lacking in ability, and in need of being re-made so as to better resemble those from the dominant classes.

It is because of this deprecation of every characteristic she falsely and without basis attributes to the poor that we claim Payne’s book represents a “deficit perspective.” Individuals who subscribe to deficit perspectives do not actually use the term to describe their views. It is an analytic category that can be applied when certain conditions are met, and we think that Payne meets those conditions. Our critique of Payne’s deficit perspectives is also supported by others who have written about her work (see Gorski, 2006; Ng & Rury, 2006; Osei-Kofi, 2005).