After graduating from Yale, Sarah Sentilles joined Teach for America. But nothing in her limited life experience could have prepared her for what she learned when she started teaching in a run down elementary school in Compton, California. Beautifully written, charged with love and indignation, Taught by America is a powerful tribute to the young lives Sentilles witnessed. Through moving portraits of inspiring children, she relates a heartbreaking journey, as she learns about a troubled school system, the true meaning of poverty in America, and the strength children exhibit when they’re struggling just to survive.



“This is a poignant, touching memoir from a natural-born teacher. The education of Sarah Sentilles is something we can all learn from.”

Geoffrey Canada, author of Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun
President of Harlem Children's Zone, Inc.


“Sentilles gives a stirring description of working in one of our poorest school systems. Through her experiences, we get a glimpse of schools that are failing our children, of the real extent of poverty in the richest country in the world, and of how even in seemingly crushing circumstances, children can find small victories. [A] profoundly moving book.”

— Library Journal, starred review


"Taught by America is a book of 'teachable moments'--those surprising, unanticipated spurts of learning every teacher recognizes as both most authentic and most enduring. Here the most sparkling teachable moments belong to the teacher herself. Powered by idealism, Sarah Sentilles discovers the limits and potential corruption of a savior complex. Struggling to meet the vast needs of her students and their families, she comes to see that an indifferent and hostile system is a form of violence that can undo both good intentions and hard work. Hoping to be of service to the downtrodden, she discovers a deeper and more effective position in solidarity with the oppressed. Sentilles's journey contains an injunction: we must change our lives."

— William Ayers, author of Teaching Toward Freedom


Hauntingly eloquent, this memoir raises chilling questions about race, social privilege, failing schools and the loss of innocence. Sentilles’s reflections on her students, their families and the education they (don’t) receive stays with you long after her story ends. This is a wakeup call that we as a nation cannot afford to ignore.”

Janie Victoria Ward, author of The Skin We're In


“Taught by America captures the way one relentless woman confronts her own privilege, suggests the impact Teach for America has on schools struggling with the effects of poverty, and finally, most poignantly, illustrates how Sentilles’s students reveal her own search for justice as a kind of faith.”

Michael Johnston, author of In the Deep Heart's Core