Boys in Poverty

Boys in Poverty: A Framework for Understanding Dropout by Ruby K. Payne and Paul D. Slocumb


Most of this book was already somewhat familiar to me, as I had already read Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty in an education graduate class. In many ways, this book is simply a more specific application of the ideas in that one, focusing on boys in particular rather than all low-income students. I think the first book superior to this one because it’s more broadly applicable.

I was somewhat skeptical of the parts of the book that I thought made too much of small sex differences, suspecting gender essentialism and stereotyping. I think culture explains most of these differences, not chromosomes, hormones, or brain structures. I do agree that in many ways boys seem to be struggling more than girls in schools right now (I see it in my classroom every day), and I blame our culture’s limiting construction of masculinity more than any other one thing. I think that the culture of poverty works with that destructive construction of masculinity to severely limit options for boys and in some cases send them down the wrong path. The book is at its best when it describes specifically how these cultures work and what teachers can do to turn them in more positive directions. Concentrating on essentialized differences feels less useful because there are fewer things teachers can do to help if this is “just the way boys are.”

The parts of the book that are probably the most directly useful for teachers are the tables at the end of each chapter that suggest specific interventions for paticular age groups, and the appendix, which includes a personal resource assessment as well as three activities for students to use to understand consequences and plan for their futures. Teachers should also keep in mind that most of the interventions recommended for at-risk boys would also be effective for girls.


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