Paul C. Gorski is an assistant professor in New Century College, George Mason University. Gorski’s work and passion is social justice activism. His areas of scholarly focus include anti-poverty activism and education, critical race theory and anti-racism education, and critical theories pertaining to women’s rights, LGBT rights, labor rights, immigrant rights, and anti-imperialism. Gorski is an active consultant and speaker, working with community and educational organizations around the world—such as in Colombia, Australia, India, and Mexico—on equity and social justice concerns. Gorski founded EdChange, a coalition of educators and activists who develop free social justice resources for educators and activists.

In my view, the challenge of educational inequity is not, as many assume, that too few people care about creating learning environments that work for all students. The challenge, despite an overwhelming desire among most teachers and administrators to serve the needs of all students, is that we generally have very little understanding of the depth and complexity of the problem.

Consider, for example, the monster we commonly refer to as  the “achievement gap”. I use this example because a vast majority of education equity attention today is focused on this “gap” as measured in standardized test score comparisons. Over many decades, even before today’s term for it was coined, school leaders have attempted myriad strategies for redressing “achievement gaps” among and between students across race, language, class, and other identities. But we’ve made so little progress. Why?

I have spent a lot of time in schools examining what teachers and administrators are doing in the name of educational equity. Of all of the conditions that commonly impede real progress toward equity, one has stood out to me: an institutional culture that increasingly values the pragmatic, the quick fix, the simple, practical solution over a more contoured and deeply-informed approach to rooting out inequities.

Let me be clear: I understand the pragmatic tug. I spend hours digging through websites, attending workshops, looking for a tool or two that will help me immediately. We contend daily with the reality that tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, we will stand before groups of young people eager to be engaged in invigorating ways. What’s more, the weight of high-stakes testing ratchets up the pressure. The practical is essential. But, just as the practical is essential, a reliance on pragmatism without ample critical reflection can be dangerous, especially when we assume something is useful just because it is practical.

One benefit of spending time in a lot of different schools is that I have an opportunity to see trends—to monitor the ways schools adopt equity programs and practices. Of the many troubling trends I have witnessed, three stand out as examples of how a culture of pragmatism contributes to the adoption of supposedly “equity”-oriented programs and practices which, however well-intentioned, do not make schools more equitable.

Identity-Based “Learning Styles”

Many schools and districts have adopted a pedagogical approach focused upon identity-specific notions of “learning styles.” Oftentimes, these learning style models are based around race and ethnicity or gender, suggesting that there exists a predictable and consistent African American learning style, Latina(o) learning style, female learning style, and so on. Attend professional conferences or diversity workshops most anywhere in the U.S. and you likely will find sessions on “Teaching Hmong Students” or “Interacting Effectively with Asian American Families.”

Certainly we should learn about the cultures of our students. However, there is no evidence that we can know anything about a student based on a single dimension of her or his identity. In fact, despite popular belief, there is no evidence of a consistent and predictable African American learning style or male learning style. In the case of gender there is evidence of some minor trends, but trends become mere stereotypes when applied without a more complex understanding of identity.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

Unfortunately, sometimes all it takes is for a couple of people to write some books on a catchy topic. PLCs, one of the trendy responses to all sorts of education problems, have been implemented in schools and districts all over the U.S. in recent years. Although some research on the effectiveness of PLCs shows that they can improve teacher morale when implemented in particular ways, there exists no evidence whatsoever that schools adopting PLCs are any more equitable for, say, LGBTQ students or teachers than schools not adopting them. As with many programs and policies, the point is not that we shouldn’t put resources into PLCs. The point, instead, is that we should not divert resources meant to make our schools more equitable into PLCs.

The “Culture of Poverty”

It is amazing and troubling to think that the “culture of poverty” model continues to dominate professional development on poverty and learning in the U.S. After all, the culture of poverty hypothesis was rejected by social scientists more than forty years ago. Just as there exists no singular Latina/o learning style, there exists no singular culture among all poor people. Regardless, schools continue to invite Ruby Payne, today’s most active purveyor of the culture of poverty myth, to provide workshops to teachers all over the country. What is most unsettling about this is that, as several studies of Payne’s materials and its effects on those who attend her workshops show, not only is her work full of inaccuracies, but it deepens the stereotypes of people who consume it.

This, perhaps, is the ultimate trouble with an over-reliance on pragmatism. After all, Payne’s work did not spread like wildfire because it had been proven independently to be effective at eliminating class inequities in schools. (It hasn’t.) Instead, despite its inaccuracies and oppressions, it blankets the education milieu today because it is practical and easily digestible. We should all be concerned that what we know of its inaccuracies and oppressions have had little mitigating effect on its popularity in our schools. Thus is the danger of unbridled pragmatism.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if I have a practical solution to this trouble.
I don’t. But I do urge us, as a community of educators, students, parents and other caregivers, and interested citizens, to be just as vigilant about consciousness as we are about finding practical solutions. We must demand evidence of what this or that practice or program does before implementing it. It’s not enough that Payne’s work “rings true” for some folks or that the district next door is doing PLCs. What matters is that we resist tripping into an institutional culture that privileges immediate, practical measures, regardless of whether or not they have proven effective, over the sort of deep, informed change that moves us closer to social justice and equity.

As educators, we have a responsibility to examine new programs, pedagogies, and policies with a critical lens toward their relevance, effectiveness, and impact on the learning of all students before implementing them. We must commit to allocating our precious equity resources in ways that we know will make a real difference. This is a matter of consciousness as well as a matter of pragmatism.

But most of all it’s a matter of equity.

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36 Responses to “Education Equity and the Trouble with Pragmatic Decision Making by Paul Gorski”

  1. Lisa Lacy on 2/28/11 11:15 PM US/Eastern

    I went to a presentation today at the Equity Forum, Donna Ford, PhD. commented that their is a “African American”learning style. She is not the only researcher to make this claim. Apparently, there is some disagreement on this topic, is it based on race or research methodology? Or is the tension rooted in the race and socio-economic background of the researcher?

    Lisa Lacy
    Doctoral Student ,ASU

  2. Paul Gorski on 3/1/11 3:07 AM US/Eastern


    I respect Donna and her work greatly. She was one of my early inspirations for doing equity work. I wonder if there are some complexities in what she and I both are saying that might knock into each other a bit.

    My question would be, if there is an African American learning style, what, exactly, is it? Once it’s named, I would ask what percentage of African American people associate with that learning style? What percentage must share a precise learning style in order for it to be attribute to an entire group of people based on one dimension of their identity?

    But also this… If I named six or eight learning styles and asked everybody in a roomful of diverse folks to organize themselves into those learning styles, would you expect to see all African Americans go to one group, all white people go to another group, all Latinos go to another group..? Of course not. Nor would you see all boys and men go to one group and all girls and women go to another group. That’s because the range of ways in which the diversity of people in the group “African American” learn is the exact same range of ways in which people in the group “white” learn.

    Certainly there may be contextual kinds of factors that might be a bit more consistent with one group than another group, but I think it’s dangerously reductionist to say that all I need to do know about somebody is that she or he is African American and I can know how she or he learns or anything about her or him, other, perhaps, than that they are adversely affected by systemic racism.

    Finally, ask yourself this: if I observed any one dimension of your identity — you choose what it is: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, language — would you feel that I could predict how you learned, what your needs are as a learner, how you communicate, or anything else about you based on that variable alone? Would you feel OK about me making pedagogical or curricular decisions based on that assumption?


  3. Lisa Lacy on 3/2/11 1:09 AM US/Eastern

    Thank you, for your prompt reply to my question about learning styles being linked to one’s racial group. Your points were clearly made, in that there is a wide range of learning styles and contextual factors that may play a role in certain learning characterics being displayed by one group over another.

  4. Donna Brody on 3/2/11 9:18 AM US/Eastern

    I’ve attended many professional development sessions that have been inspirational, fun, and full of ideas that I could implement the next day. These are the types of professional development I like to attend because they are directly related to the work I do in the classroom. The work around race, gender, and poverty is not as much fun to learn about. People get uptight when the topic is brought up, and there are never any ideas given about ways we can teach these kids. We have conversations about differences, but it seems we never learn anything new. We’re stuck in a rut. I would like to help my minority students do better, but don’t have a clue how to teach them any differently than I have been for the past 20 years.

  5. Paul Gorski on 3/6/11 6:24 PM US/Eastern


    I hear you. I’ve felt that need at every level at which I’ve taught. Problem is, there is nothing anybody can tell you about how to teach “those kids” that will work for all of “those kids.” Additionally, I think some people struggle with the notion that practical strategies are good or tested practical strategies. My issue isn’t with good strategies; it’s with bad strategies that people adopt because they’re practical even if they have no potential to improve conditions. “10 strategies for teaching all African American students” might sound useful; problem is, they don’t exist.

    Here are some strategies for reaching low-income students, which have been tested and examined and refined and shown to make some difference:

    (1) Be sure opportunities for family involvement are accessible to low-income parents and guardians, who are more likely to work evening jobs, who are less likely to have paid leave, who are more likely to be unable to afford transportation or child care, and so on. What are you, as a teacher, doing to be sure such families aren’t locked out of involvement opportunities simply because they don’t have the same resources as other families?

    (2) All students learn better when they see themselves reflected in the curriculum. Often we talk about this in regards to race and gender; rarely do we talk about this in regards to class and poverty.

    (3) Be thoughtful about how you assign work and how you communicate with families. Low-income families do not have access to computers and the Internet at nearly the rate of their wealthier counterparts.

    I could go on. Notice, though, that there are no specific curricular or pedagogical strategies that work with all or even most low-income kids. They learn the same way everybody else learns.

    So although the practical is less uncomfortable and more immediate, the bigger part of the “achievement gap” appears to have little to do with practicalities and a lot to do with practices that are based on faulty assumptions. In other words, they are more about consciousness than practice. Keeping context in mind, good teaching for rich kids also is good teaching for poor kids.

    My experience has been that teachers do have the strategies to teach students in their classes, however diverse. They have the strategies, but they don’t tend to have the understanding of context, so the strategies are applied in ineffective ways (low expectations and such).


  6. Jeni on 3/8/11 6:57 PM US/Eastern

    Thank you for your thoughtful blog Dr. Gorski. When I began reading, I was challenged to eschew the notion of pragmatism because I often align my epistemological stance with pragmatism when I conduct mixed-methods research. However, as I continued reading, I agreed strongly with your points about learning styles, PLCs, and the abhorrent work of Payne. I feel strongly that a reductionist perspective fails to account for the multiple complexities in learning and schooling, and particularly for communities of students and families that are marginalized. My research interests examine teacher preparation for inclusive settings and I am reflecting on the ways that I teach students in teacher education programs. There appears a juxtaposition because I receive the best evaluations from those sessions that are of practical orientation. It is thus rewarding and reinforcing to engage in these kinds of sessions. I also wonder how to begin transformative practices at both the macro and micro levels that critically examine complex relationships and then move beyond reflection to praxis.

  7. Paul Gorski on 3/9/11 6:40 PM US/Eastern


    Many thanks for your comments. You know, I think you hit something there… I also am “rewarded” for doing the more pragmatic stuff at presentations and workshops and even in classes. So the temptation is there. And I know that the practical stuff often is the most effective “hook,” but I also know the implications of unthoughtful application and I know how many resources have disappeared into practical models that proved ineffective.

    By the way, much of my research these days also focuses upon the preparation of teachers. However, my “angle” is looking at this through the dispositions, practices, and philosophical frameworks of those who are teaching teachers in courses related to multicultural education, cultural diversity, social justice education, and so on. I’d be happy to hear more about your related work…

  8. dyford on 3/9/11 7:08 PM US/Eastern

    Lisa (and others), I was rather surprised that you have not heard of cultural differences in learning style, including for Black students. Do you think Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans (esp. first generation to U.S.) learn in the same way as White students? I would hope not. In other words, culture matters in teaching and learning. More to the point, and this is a major point of frustration for me when it is not seen by teachers — YES, Blacks, like the above groups also have learning styles, and our culturally-induced profile does not always match with how teachers (mostly White and female) know how to and want to teach. Rather than try to explain or justify this, I refer you to a number of RESEARCH-based works, and my own. See A. Wade Boykin, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Jacqueline Irvine, Asa Hilliard, Barbara Shade, Janice Hale, to name a few.
    I agree that the issue is complex and a blog won’t resolve it for you/readers. I hope the scholars listed can be of assistance. And I hope that more people will accept that Blacks, like all other groups, are a cultural group.

  9. dyford on 3/9/11 7:37 PM US/Eastern

    Addendum: regarding the tension that Lisa questioned, I think I understand what you are asking. An explanation of your question would be helpful. Nonetheless, let me give my initial response…the majority of Blacks I know and read about who study culture and/or anthropology and/or sociology, etc.,agree that Blacks have a culture and that it is identifiable and legitimate. And many of us rely on the works of Boykin first and foremost, along with the other scholars/researchers I listed (and did not list) in previous posting. Frankly and perhaps unfortunately, most studies of culture (be it on/about Blacks, Asians, etc.) DO NOT examine income or socio-economic differences. As an African American who works in MANY contexts and has extensive experience with Black students (P-12; undergraduates and graduates), as well as low-income and high-income, low SES and high SES, and regional, I always see similar patterns in styles at work consistently. Be clear — I am talking about patterns relative to the notion of propensity. ALL Blacks are not totally homogenous (no group is, including Whites); there are always exceptions.

    As for the comments of Donna Brody, I feel and share your frustration. To say that I am fed up with and confused by people’s uptightness/tension when talking about differences, is an understatement. At least for me, this is one major reason we have Black students in particular not doing well in school. Cultural clashes are at work (see Oberg for model and definition).

    Race and culture matter — differences matter, but are treated like the proverbial elephant in the room. People see it (re: differences) but wish to ignore it/them under the terribly impossible and irresponsible notion of ‘colorblindness’ AKA cultureblindness. I am Black and proud of it. I have a culture and am proud of it. Those who disregard culture in teaching and learning are in serious jeopardy of being ineffective with their students. As Meriwether said, if you don’t manage diversity, diversity will manage you. And as I say in my work, the less we know about others, the more we make up. Finally, given that most of what has been done in the name of teaching Black students has been ineffective, I think it is time to try something new — why not start with learning about culture and being culturally responsive??!!

  10. Donna Brody on 3/10/11 12:11 PM US/Eastern

    I wish all people could read and understand what is being talked about here. I feel like some of the terminology being tossed about is way beyond what most people understand. Does anyone know of an online translation program that serves to translate PhD talk to everyday English?

  11. Paul Gorski on 3/11/11 2:46 PM US/Eastern

    Great conversation!

    Donna Brody — it’s interesting, but when I read Donna Ford’s posts, they don’t sound overly-theoretical or academic. They seem pretty straightforward. I wonder how you’d reframe her comments to make them more accessible.

    Donna Ford — I think you touched on something critical here, that this is extremely complex, and the models that people try to use to explain some it are not very complex. For instance, I’m white. My mom’s peoples are Appalachian (from the mountains of western Maryland and West Virginia–several generations of extremely poor coal miners) and, although Appalachia is racially diverse, most people think of Appalachian white people as a distinct “culture.” My dad’s peoples are working class urban white people, going back generations in Detroit. I grew up largely in white middle class suburbia outside DC. White, white, and white. But I would argue that there are few cultural consistencies across these three groups of white people. Certainly there are sociopolitical consistencies–they share the experience of not being the targets of systemic racism, for instance–but even this is inconsistent, as certainly my Appalachian grandmother’s “white privilege” is nothing like my white privilege. But even at the basest cultural levels, these three groups don’t share the same music (hip hop is among the most popular music genres in white suburbia, but certainly not in white Appalachia and I’m not sure many white people in urban Detroit are listening to blue grass), wear the same clothes, speak the same, eat the same foods, and certainly they don’t all learn the same way.

    Certainly I have read much of the literature about African American culture and learning styles. Part of what has struck me has been that much of the learning styles models don’t seem to be talking about certain populations of African Americans, such as those in Appalachia or those who are creole in Louisiana or those living in the islands off the Carolinas or those who are adopted and raised by white families. I was talking about the learning styles thing during a keynote address last year and I did an experiment. I started asking people to stand if they had certain learning propensities: if you need stillness in order to learn, if you need silence in order to learn, that sort of thing. I went on to a different model: auditory, visual, etc. I then used one of the common 4-style learning style models (based on the Myers Briggs) and asked everybody (a room of about 500 folks) to organize themselves by these learning styles in the four corners of the room. And what we found was that people identifying with different racial identities were distributed fairly proportionately around the room with different learning styles.

    So part of the problem may be that the most popular learning style models or typologies are not meant to differentiate across a single identity or by “culture” as defined by a single identity. (Should I assume that somebody of Peruvian ancestry whose family has been in the U.S. for five generations, who grew up speaking English, who is a Protestant, who is wealthy, who lives in San Francisco is the same culturally as somebody of Salvadoran descent whose family immigrated six months ago, who is just now learning English, who is a Catholic, who is poor, who lives in rural Texas? Can I assume that, based on one dimension of the person’s identity? Should I assume that they learn the same way or that their racial identity is a marker of their learning style? In the same way, should I assume that all I need to know is that one’s ancestors come from a parcel of land as big as, say, Asia, to know how they learn or what they need from me as a teacher?

    I don’t think any of the authors Donna Ford listed would advocate such an approach, but because of the obsession with pragmatism, I think that’s how most teachers–perhaps especially white teachers–interpret, and then apply, learning styles models.

    It’s also important to note that there is a growing body of research showing that teaching directly to specific learning styles is not effective for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the temptation of simplification–of applying what might be a fairly modest trend universally, as Ruby Payne does in her work. (Well, Ruby Payne actually makes up things that aren’t actual trends, but that’s a topic for a different conversation…)

  12. Paul Gorski on 3/11/11 2:53 PM US/Eastern

    Also, I think Donna Ford is right on in terms of color-blindness. I actually think that white teachers’ temptations to simplify something like “learning styles” to a single dimension of identity for students of color when they’d never think that all white people learn the same way is a symptom of white supremacy and systemic racism. Similarly, I think the tendency for middle class teachers to buy into Payne’s stuff when they’d never think all middle class people learn the same way is a symptom of systemic oppression–that they’re playing a “buffer” role to protect the interests of the elite. Similarly, those who think all girls learn one way and all boys learn another way are playing into simplistic sexist notions that often elevate patriarchy. To me, this goes back to the need to resist pragmatism for the sake of pragmatism. That a model or framework makes sense does not make it accurate and, given the ways in which people in the U.S. and elsewhere are socialized into certain views, a model “ringing true” for me might be the best evidence that I should be suspicious of it. “Color-blindness” makes sense to a lot of people. And who is protected by that?

  13. Mary Sue Hamilton on 3/11/11 3:43 PM US/Eastern

    I really appreciate the involvement of so many voices with such varying perspective; it really makes for rich conversation.

    This idea of learning styles is so tightly linked with identity, and just as all people’s identities are layered learning styles share that element. There is no one size fits all answer, only many pieces of information that need to be taken into consideration when educating students.

  14. dyford on 3/11/11 3:52 PM US/Eastern

    Try as one might, it is naive to expect to get complex questions and issues addressed on a blog. For me, information and recommendations are shared, and then readers need to take self-initiative to learn more. We need theories, paradigms, etc. to give us order ad to make (some) sense of things… Take courses on these issues. Clearly, the best learning takes place outside of the classroom and laboratory settings — in the real world. If curious about a race and culture, immerse yourself in that group, in their environment. It will be impossible to not see culture — similarities and differences — at work!

    As for Dr. Groski’s one comment — NO one is homogeneous/pure blood, clearly. Culturally, I am Black, females, formerly low-income and inner city, now upper income, highly educated. ALL of this matters…however, a few of these cultural identities trump others — race is first for me.

  15. dyford on 3/11/11 3:53 PM US/Eastern

    Excuse the typo of your name in previous post, Dr. Gorski!!

  16. Elaine Mulligan on 3/11/11 5:46 PM US/Eastern

    Wow — what a GREAT discussion between two very well-respected and practitioner-grounded professors! I think I learned more about navigating the difficult balance of cultural responsivity vs. stereotyping in this discussion than I did in my entire Master’s program! I would love to see this exchange turned into a ‘dialogue’ that could be used in schools for professional learning. (And I’d LOVE to be in a room with Drs. Gorski and Ford for a single seminar!)

  17. Lisa Lacy on 3/12/11 3:48 PM US/Eastern

    I appreciate all the voices that have contributed to this rich and vibrant blog conversation regarding “cultural learning styles.” Dr. Ford, is correct, one can use the limited space of a blog to initiate a conversation and maybe explore the matter only so far. Further investigation into the idea of learning styles being linked to culture can take place in other environments: college courses, selected readings, and/or immersion into a particular culture setting, just to name a few.
    In addition, I will take Dr. Gorski’s comments into consideration ( and others) as I continue to stretch my thinking in this contested and complex issue ( cultural learning styles), and use the resources that were generously provided by Dr. Ford as a starting to point to further my development in this area.
Lisa Lacy

  18. Michelle Kaufman on 3/13/11 1:40 AM US/Eastern

    What an interesting take on PLCs, ethnic/gender/racial learning styles, and about the “culture of poverty.” Do you recommend any school based programs to look to as an examplar from your experiences in the field of education of what is working?

  19. dyford on 3/16/11 3:18 PM US/Eastern

    Hi Lisa. I like your ‘attitude’ and self-reliance. Too often, I find that many/some people, educators VERY much included here, want to be spoon-fed strategies without understanding WHY the strategy is needed. Likewise, too many people want easy and quick fixes to extremely COMPLEX issues and problems. This is a sure recipe for disaster…at any rate, we need to marry/wed research and theory with experience and common sense!! And when working with ‘minority’ or culturally different students in particular, a colorblind/cultureblind approach is rarely effective. If the approach we are taking now is not working, what sense does it make to refuse to change? So much change is needed…and it begins with attitude. Take care, dyf

  20. Mary Sue Hamilton on 3/21/11 1:00 PM US/Eastern

    I understand that a blog is simply a small piece or starter to a much larger conversation. Where do these larger conversations take place? When are the opportunities for scholars, practitioners, students, parents and other stakeholders in education to all sit down together and take this conversation beyond talking? When do the action steps begin to take shape and motion?

    I have been working in education for a relatively short time, and I feel honored to know that there are so many people out there doing incredible work, but when do personal agendas get trumped by student need? We still have the majority of our youth not completing high school, let alone pursuing higher education. How can we unite our voices for our children and work to make a better future for them and us?

  21. Paul Gorski on 3/22/11 11:09 AM US/Eastern


    Many thanks for your comments! I “hear” your sense of urgency very clearly!

    I would argue that action steps are happening. There are great teachers and administrators doing great things all around us. Unfortunately, because of the political climate around education, some are being demonized for it. Also unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are taking “this conversation beyond talking” in ways that, despite good intentions, are making matters worse. What percentage of “diversity” resources in schools are going to things like Taco Night, the international food fair, and other programs that have nothing to do with equity?

    I would like to direct you to an organization that has combined teachers, teacher educators, activists, students, and other stakeholders and are very active as well as being grounded in the reality of what has been shown to work: NYCoRE, the New York Collective of Racial Educators. Rethinking Schools also started as a group of concerned teachers.

    So I certainly “feel” your desire for action steps. Problem is, not all action steps were created equal. And some action steps — inviting Ruby Payne to do a workshop and provide more action steps, for instance — have been proven to actually move us backward rather than forward. (New piece on this was just published in the journal, Multicultural Perspectives.) So action steps, yes. But informed action steps. And just as action without consciousness is dangerous and gives us things like Ruby Payne, consciousness without action is useless and gives us nothing more than meaningless pontification, in my opinion…


  22. Mary Sue Hamilton on 5/4/11 4:00 PM US/Eastern

    Hey Paul,

    I came across this video of a TFA recruits teaching struggles and I found it to be quite interesting, especially in relation to what you discuss in this blog.

    What are your thoughts?

  23. Genrepo on 5/10/11 2:40 PM US/Eastern

    I have read Ruby Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” and although she cites a lot of evidence, she just seems to be perpetuating stereotypes. A “culture of poverty” seems to have had a resurgence. “Culture of poverty” seems to be a blanket for problems that many people do not want to face.

  24. Paul Gorski on 5/11/11 6:12 PM US/Eastern

    Thank you for the comments, Genrepo. I wonder how you’d characterize “the problems” that people are avoiding facing by using the “culture of poverty” paradigm. Are you referring to more structural inequities?

  25. Dr. Carolyn Clarkj on 8/10/11 9:04 PM US/Eastern

    In today’s culture there are many terms coined to cover up passivity and irresponsibility. I think part of the solution to the “gap” is a matter of conscience.

    The question to be asked of all educators and every stakeholder in the process of providing education is this, “am I giving my best effort to educate or enhance the education process for ALL students?

    Countless dollars are spent on education and the results of education do not correspond to the dollars spent.

    I think that instead of investing in and implementing programs and procedures that are still not working,all involved should look inward to determine if there are impediments to providing quality education or assistance with the same.

    Perhaps the problem is a lack of conscience or caring about the “gap” on the part of some who might be able to make a difference.

    I am African American and I have never heard of such a thing as an “African American learning style”. Yes, each individual regardless to ethnicity, learns in different ways, most of which are common to all groups.

    However, I personally feel there have been neglect and irresponsibility when it comes to the education of certain ethnic groups, which I think, is due in part to a lack of understanding of the cultures of the groups.

    There is very little assistance I can provide to an individual whom I do not understand and whom I am unlikely to try to understand.

    There are a few dedicated souls that fight to educate the underserved, underprivileged, culturally diverse student and I applaud them.

    I enjoyed the reading, thanks…


  26. Paul Gorski on 8/15/11 7:43 PM US/Eastern


    Thanks for your comments. I agree that we need to do some self-reflecting. I just wrote something else about that:

    I actually don’t believe that the neglect you describe comes down to the “cultures” of student ethnic groups and teachers not understanding them. I think that is a symptom of something much bigger: systemic racism. Individual teachers don’t decide to disproportionately send students of color to the most dilapidated, under-resourced schools. Starting with prenatal care certain groups of students (particularly poor students who are disproportionately students of color) are denied all sorts of opportunities afforded their wealthier peers. That goes much, much deeper than understanding “cultures.” Of course I agree that we all should work to understand the cultures of our students, but I think it’s dangerous to link that specifically to ethnicity, leading to assumptions that all I need to know is somebody’s ethnicity and I can know what their “culture” is.

    Gloria Ladson-Billings wrote a great article about this — I think it was based on a talk she gave. The title was something like, “It’s Not the Culture of Poverty, but the Poverty of Culture.” Her central point is that, in education, we’ve become so obsessed with mythical, stereotypic, notions of “culture” that we too often ignore inequity and injustice.

    So when I work with teachers and others, I say it’s important to understand the individual cultures of our students. But it’s just as important to understand insidious inequity and how it creeps into our classroom practice….


  27. Ariel Gordon on 9/25/11 3:55 AM US/Eastern

    I really enjoyed the article. The school that I work at is currently struggling with the problems addressed in the article. We are trying to find a program to help us raise the test scores of our ELD students. I am concerned that our school might pick a program that offers a quick fix because of the pressure of getting high-test scores and the desperation of the teachers to find an answer. I am hoping that instead, our principal will lead the staff in critically analyzing our current test scores to determine the strengths and the needs of all of our students. Then I hope we will use this data to find a researched based program that is equitable, practical and fits our needs.


  28. Mike Koegle on 9/26/11 1:00 AM US/Eastern

    Over the course of my career, I have been vexed with the issue of “instant gratification” demands – not in our students, but in ourselves, their educators. Why is it that as planners and pacers, we feel the necessity of immediate resolution to a century-old education hot topic? Why do we seek the remedy in the form of a band-aid rather than much-needed surgery? Quite simply, the answer lies in a test. (Well, to be perfectly fair, it is a series of tests.). The very clock that we are racing to beat in the quest for proficiency is the same timekeeper that intimidates against gathering sound, longitudinal, substantive data. You know, the type of data that drives decisions and ultimately, change! The luxury of practicality should be earned and unfortunately, the currency of exchange is time. Nonetheless, in light of the recent changes to some infamous, federal educational legisltion, I am optimistic for a much-needed window of opportunity…

  29. Kim Fisel on 3/29/12 1:50 PM US/Eastern

    I recently read Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty for a class that I am taking. I was confused by the book because I was questioning some of the theories and ideas as I was reading it. It just did not seem right to me. I have read several of your articles and have enjoyed them. It made me realize that their are other views on this issue that still need to be discussed. I think schools often jump to quick to incorporate a model to follow so that they can say see look what we are doing. I have been teaching for sixteen years now and I am simply let down by the fact that my school district does so many of the little things that do not support children that live in poverty. I am also disappointed in myself that it has taken me this long to get my feet wet on this topic. I say that because I recognize that I have an enormous amount of ideas and practices to change. I need to continue to read and learn more about poverty and how we can best enrich the education of these children and both socially and academically. One area that I still struggle with is how do we get the government to implement other testing strategies? Testing strategies that can reach the true potential of all children.

  30. Paul Gorski on 4/3/12 7:12 PM US/Eastern


    Thank you for responding. I very much appreciate your humility and self-reflection. The truth is that all of us have ideas and practices that could use some changing; the challenge often is in recognizing that reality, even if we generally are “aware.”

    As for getting the government to implement other testing strategies… First, I would argue that we need less standardized testing altogether; that the sheer volume of testing is oppressive and a barrier to deep and complex learning. I would like to see a network of teachers come together to advocate for ways to assess schooling that would make sense in the context of their teaching.


  31. Rebecca Sauber on 6/29/12 4:00 PM US/Eastern

    Hi Gorski,
    Thanks for all your research you have completed. You give educators hope to helping children who live in poverty. You are an advocate for all students. I could not agree with you more, all students should have equal access to a excellent education. Thanks for not stereotyping people. We are all the same!

  32. Jessica on 7/22/12 12:14 PM US/Eastern

    I am just finishing a class where Ruby Payne”s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty was a required read. I found it interesting, yet confusing in parts. As one of the class requirements we had to read one of your articles “The Myth of the Culture of Poverty”. I found that a very interesting read as well. Obviously your view of teaching student in poverty is different from her’s. Since I am just starting my journey on teaching children in poverty, I was wondering where or what you think I should start with to be more affective in the classroom?

  33. Tamara on 1/25/13 1:49 PM US/Eastern

    I would like to know about your thoughts on PLC’s and poverty. My district has implemented PLCs in the past few years and I believe it is part of a district goal. I too am taking a class in poverty and have read the Ruby Payne book and the Eric Jensen book. I am becoming more aware of the poverty that exists in my community and how it plays a role in my school district.

  34. Kellen on 3/25/13 12:04 PM US/Eastern

    As I read A Framework for Understanding Poverty I found myself making specific and personal connections between Payne’s points and people or experiences I have encountered in my life. So at first I really thought Payne was on to something and everything I read in her book was making a lot of sense, but after reading through several of your articles and reading through the discussions on several websites I feel like without even realizing that’s what I was doing I was reinforcing negative stereotypes and taking specific examples and making unfair generalizations out of them.

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  36. Bo Dagres on 8/31/19 3:08 PM US/Eastern

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