Teach for America and the Political Spectacle of Recruiting the "Best and the Brightest"

Kara M. Kavanagh, Alyssa Hadley Dunn


Each year, approximately 8,000 corps members work in schools. This paper illuminates the political spectacle and master narratives that allow TFA to thrive as a silver bullet in urban school reform. This work utilizes neoliberalism, political spectacle, and master narratives. Political spectacle suggests an “onstage” rhetoric and a “backstage” reality that the public doesn’t see. This onstage rhetoric is turned into a “spectacle” perpetuated by media (Edelman, 1970). The spectacle is a political symbol aimed at accomplishing a political goal or solving a problem. TFA may divert public attention from important issues or solutions (Smith, 2004).The use and influence of master narratives related to TFA is discussed. A master narrative, (Lyotard, 1984) portrays common sense ways of understanding experiences that reflect and influence understandings of power and society (Aldridge, 2006). This paper illuminates TFA as (1) a political spectacle; (2) a cause and consequence of failed urban school reform; and (3) a temporary solution to systemic problems. We argue TFA perpetuates master narratives of teaching, learning, and educational equity, contributing to a false understanding of what teachers need to know and be able to do. Implications are significant for policymakers and urban communities.


Teach for America; Spectacle; Social Justice; Teacher Education; Education Reform; Urban Education; Narratives

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education