Teach for America and the Dangers of Deficit Thinking
This article details the findings of a thematic analysis of Teach for America’s (TFA) website in an attempt to add to the growing body of literature documenting the harmful effects of deficit thinking. The paper begins with a general description of the current U.S. education reform landscape, followed by a brief review of literature focused on ways deficit thinking maintains asymmetrical relations of dominance. Next, I describe my commitment to postcritical ethnography and how my positionality informed the production of the deficit theme, followed by ways that TFA implicitly and explicitly pathologizes the communities, families, and students who experience its corps members. After problematizing the savior mentality identified in my research, I conclude with a discussion of implications for students, families, and the communities where TFA teachers are placed, arguing that the organization is not necessarily the answer to the structures of inequality that persist in this country’s schools; rather, it works to perpetuate these structures through its adoption of harmful deficit models. I suggest students may be better served by educators who are able to locate and teach to their strengths.
Authors who publish with Critical Education agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).