Chloe Ahmann is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at George Washington University, and has also earned degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on risk, social movements, and the politics of intervention, touching on topics from school reform to environmental justice.
This article interrogates the discursive relationship between school reform and redemption in the United States by examining the personal narratives of Teach For America corps members. After tracing the history of Teach For America and describing the rites of passage in which teachers’ “redemptive stories” are told, I analyze the generic arc that underlies them and show that it mirrors broader processes of in-group socialization. In doing so, I argue that Teach For America’s brand of redemptive storytelling – in addition to crafting individual identity, contributing to group cohesion, and enlivening performance at ritualized events – also affects organizational authority. As corps members master their stories of reform and redemption, paralleling the path to becoming “master teachers,” they participate in a process of “becoming” that reproduces in micro-scale the maturation of Teach For America. More profoundly, these transformations represent a distinct response to traditions of American confessional storytelling and the accountability-based education movement. Redemptive stories thus bind the socialization of the individual reformer to issues afoot more broadly in the province of education policy.
Ahmann, Chloe. 2015. Teach for all: Storytelling “shared solutions” and scaling global reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives 23(45). 1–27.
Ahmann, Chloe. Forthcoming. Accountable talk: “Real” conversations in Baltimore City schools. Anthropology and Education Quarterly.
Apple, Michael W. 2006. Educating the “right way”: Markets, standards, god, and inequality. New York: Routledge.
Azimi, Negar. 2007. Why Teach For America. New York Times Magazine, September 30. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/30/magazine/30teach-t.html (accessed 27 January 2016).
Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1986. The problem of speech genres. In Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist (eds.), Speech genres and other late essays, 61–102. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bartlett, Lesley & Ofelia Garcia. 2011. Additive schooling in subtractive times: Bilingual education and Dominican immigrant youth in the heights. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
Bartlett, Lesley, Dina López, Lalitha Vasudevan, & Doris Warriner. 2011. The anthropology of literacy. In Bradley A. Levinson & Mica Pollack (eds.), A companion to the anthropology of education, 177–196. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
Bartlett, Lesley, Dina López, Lalitha Vasudevan, & Doris Warriner. 2011. The anthropology of literacy. In Bradley A. Levinson & Mica Pollack (eds.), A companion to the anthropology of education, 177–196. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.10.1002/9781444396713.ch11)| false
Elisha, Omri. 2008. Moral ambitions of grace: The paradox of compassion and accountability in evangelical faith-based activism. Cultural Anthropology 23(1). 154–189.10.1111/j.1548-1360.2008.00006.x)| false
Georgakopoulou, Alexandra. 2006. Small and large identities in narrative (inter)-action. In Anna De Fina, Deborah Schiffrin & Michael Bamberg (eds.), Discourse and odentity, 166–187. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Giddens, Anthony. 1979. Central problems in social theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Goffman, Erving. 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the prison notebooks. New York: International Publishers.
Hanson, Thomas J. 2008. Ira David Socol on Teach For America, KIPP schools, and reforming education. Open Education, December 8. http://www.openeducation.net/2008/12/11/ira-david-socol-on-teach-for-america-kipp-schools-and-reforming-education/ (accessed 26 January 2016).
Heath, Shirley Brice. 1983. Ways with words: Language, life, and work in communities and classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hornberger, Nancy & Sandra L. McKay (eds.). 2010. Sociolinguistics and language education. Buffalo: Multilingual Matters.
Kavanagh, Kara M. & Alyssa H. Dunn. (2013). Teach For America and the political spectacle of recruiting the “best and the brightest.” Critical Education 4(11). 48–65.
Kitchell, Anne, Erin Hannan & Willett Kempton. 2000. Identity through stories: Story structure and function in two environmental groups. Human Organization 59(1). 96–105.
Kitchell, Anne, Erin Hannan & Willett Kempton. 2000. Identity through stories: Story structure and function in two environmental groups. Human Organization 59(1). 96–105.10.17730/humo.59.1.b52j630n12v30364)| false
Laqueur, Thomas W. 1989. Bodies, details, and the humanitarian narrative. In Lynn Hunt (ed). The new cultural history, 176–204. Berkeley: University of California Press.10.1525/california/9780520064287.003.0008)| false
Lave, Jean & Etienne Wenger. 1991. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lawless, Elaine. 2001. Women escaping violence: Empowering through narrative. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
McAdams, Dan P. 2006. The redemptive self: Stories Americans live by. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McDermott, Ray. 1993. The acquisition of a child by a learning disability. In Seth Chaiklin and Jean Lave (eds.), Understanding practice: Perspectives on activity and context, 269–305. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mead, Sara, Carolyn Chuong & Caroline Goodson. 2015. Exponential growth, unexpected challenges: How Teach For America grew in scale and impact. Washington: Bellwether Education Partners.
Mehan, Hugh. 1993. Beneath the skin and between the ears: A case study in the politics of representation. In Seth Chaiklin & Jean Lave (eds.), Understanding practice: Perspectives on activity and context, 241–268. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Morgan-Fleming, Barbara. 1999. Teaching as performance: Connections between folklore and education. Curriculum Inquiry 29(3). 273–291.
Ochs, Elinor & Bambi Schieffelin. 1986. Language acquisition and socialization: Three developmental stories and their implications. In Richard A. Shweder & Robert A. LeVine (eds.), Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion, 276–320. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Paris, Django. 2013. Language across difference: Ethnicity, communication, and youth identities in changing urban schools. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Raymond, Margaret & Stephan Fletcher. 2002. Teach For America. Education Next 2(1). 1–6.
Sanger, Matthew N. & Richard D. Osguthorpe. 2011. Teacher education, preservice teacher beliefs, and the moral work of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education 27(3). 569–578.
Sanger, Matthew N. & Richard D. Osguthorpe. 2011. Teacher education, preservice teacher beliefs, and the moral work of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education 27(3). 569–578.10.1016/j.tate.2010.10.011)| false
Santoro, Doris A. 2011. Good teaching in difficult times: Demoralization in the pursuit of good work. American Journal of Education 188(1). 1–23.
Sawchuk, Stephen. 2016. At 25, Teach For America enters period of change. Education Week, January 20. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/15/at-25-teach-for-america-enters-period.html?tkn=NQUF55Gac1DJ%2FQz3EQexGy%2FVokT fo8%2BQofPG&print=1 (accessed 26 January 2016).
Schieffelin, Bambi. 1990. The give and take of everyday life: Language socialization of Kaluli children. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shenhav, Shaul R. 2005. Thin and thick narrative analysis: On the question of defining and analyzing political narratives. Narrative Inquiry 15(1). 75–99.
Shore, Cris & Susan Wright. 2000. Coercive accountability: The rise of audit culture in higher education. In Marilyn Strathern (ed.). Audit cultures: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics, and the academy, 57–89. London: Routledge.
Slotkin, Richard. 1973. Regeneration through violence: The mythology of the American frontier. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Sprain, Leah & Jessica M. F. Hughes. 2015. A new perspective on stories in public deliberation: Analyzing small stories in discussions about immigration. Text & Talk 35(4). 531–551.
Teach For America. 2016. Our History. https://www.teachforamerica.org/about-us/our-story/our-history (accessed 26 January 2016).
Wayne, Edward & Paul Vitz. 1985. The major models of moral education: An evaluation. Washington: National Institute of Education.
Winerip, Michael. 2010. A chosen few are teaching for America. New York Times, July 11. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/education/12winerip.html?_r=0 (accessed 15 March 2013).
Wortham, Stanton. 2006. Learning identity: The joint emergence of social identification and academic learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wortham, Stanton. 2008. Linguistic anthropology of education. Annual Review of Anthropology 37. 37–51.