“…And that’s why I Teach For America”: American education reform and the role of redemptive stories

Chloe Ahmann 1
  • 1 The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
Chloe Ahmann
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  • 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.
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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.

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