Teach for America and the Dangers of Deficit Thinking


  • Ashlee Anderson University of Tennessee




Teach for America, Deficit Thinking, Postcritical Ethnography, Ethnography, Inequality


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.


Author Biography

Ashlee Anderson, University of Tennessee

Ph.D. Student, Learning Environments and Educational Studies