iOS app Android app

John Thompson
John Thompson was an award-winning historian, lobbyist, and guerrilla-gardener who became an award-winning inner city teacher after crack and gangs hit his neighborhood. He blogs at and is writing a book on 18 years of idealistic politics in the classroom and realistic politics outside. A former oilfield roughneck and hitch-hiker, a current backpacker and Obamamaniac, he is a "people person" who seeks compromises, while defending the principles of the liberal arts and constitutional democracy. He is a nonstop memo writer and enthusiastic basketball player, believing that education is an affair of the heart not a narrow part of the intellect.

Entries by John Thompson

Hillary Is Right About Charter Schools!

(0) Comments | Posted November 10, 2015 | 9:40 AM

Charter school supporters can't deny that Hillary Clinton is factually correct in saying, "most charter schools ... don't take the hardest-to-teach kids. Or if they do, they don't keep them."

Even the most doctrinaire true-believer in school choice is not likely to claim the opposite, and say that...

Read Post

Protecting the Clash of Ideas in Higher Education

(0) Comments | Posted November 7, 2015 | 4:19 PM

My first post on the New York Times Magazine's special issue, "Collegeland," explained how the rise of corporate power has shifted the balance in higher education between students getting a good return on their college investments and their opportunities for "building your soul as much as your skills." It drew...

Read Post

Xavier University's Way to Keep Higher Ed From Becoming the Next Victim of Corporate Ed Reform

(0) Comments | Posted November 7, 2015 | 3:15 PM

As Kwame Anthony Appiah reminds us, universities advance great science, literary culture, and the educated citizenry necessary for a democracy, and they do so by bringing a diverse set of conflicting ideas and ideals into a learning culture. The same could be said about the New York Times Magazine's special...

Read Post

How Should Educators Respond to the Obama Administration's Concession on Test and Punish?

(2) Comments | Posted October 24, 2015 | 8:03 PM

The outgoing secretary of education, Arne Duncan, now admits, "I can't tell you how many conversations I'm in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking." Duncan does so as...

Read Post

Can Reading and Writing Overcome 'The Beast Side?'

(0) Comments | Posted October 19, 2015 | 5:36 PM

D. Watkins's The Beast Side has a lot in common with Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me. Both grew up in Baltimore during the 1980s crack and gang years. Neither were violent people although both share the story of their one violent act. Unlike Coates,...

Read Post

It Was a Bad Week for Education Reform at the End of an Awful Era of Corporate School Reform

(0) Comments | Posted October 16, 2015 | 7:43 PM

The title of Jeff Bryant's Education Opportunity Network piece says it best: Education Reform's Very Bad, God-Awful Week. Bryant reviews the resignation of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama's apology for contributing to over-testing, and the stagnation and even the decline of the reliable NAEP scores after...

Read Post

"The Beast Side" and "Chasin' the Gram"

(0) Comments | Posted October 14, 2015 | 4:58 PM

Being an inner city teacher, my favorite part in D. Watkins's great book, The Beast Side, is the chapter with the ironic title of "Chasin' the Gram." Watkins is a former drug dealer, so it would be easy to assume he is writing about cocaine. Instead, Watkins is...

Read Post

Dale Russakoff's The Prize and How Corporate School Reform Failed in Newark

(0) Comments | Posted September 23, 2015 | 3:47 PM

Dale Russakoff's The Prize is a wonderful account of the way that Cory Booker, Chris Christie, Christopher Cerf, Cami Anderson and other corporate reformers largely squandered the $200 million opportunity created by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to improve the Newark schools. The subtitle of this invaluable book is "Who's...

Read Post

Kristina Rizga's Mission High and the Twenty-First Century Schools We Need

(0) Comments | Posted September 15, 2015 | 3:28 PM

Want to feel 40 to 50 years younger? Then, read Mission High by Kristina Rizga.

On virtually every page in Rizga's great book, I relived my idealism of the late 1960s. She tells the story of a school that embodies the ideals which schools should exemplify. Schools...

Read Post

A Teacher's Labor Day Plea to School Reformers

(5) Comments | Posted September 5, 2015 | 7:21 PM

Even an oil field rookie, "a worm," knows that his life is in the hands of his tool pusher. So, in my first day as a roughneck in the oil patch, it was unnerving to hear Dwayne shout into the radio, "Frack after dark! Frack after dark! Call Western! Eddy...

Read Post

Greg Toppo's The Game Believes in You Can Give Us Faith in Schools

(0) Comments | Posted September 4, 2015 | 10:59 AM

I've never played a video game and I've always shunned competition. So, my only preconceived opinion in reading Greg Toppo's The Game Believes in You was that, sooner or later, game-building would play a large, constructive role in building better public schools.

Toppo not only...

Read Post

Ta-Nehisi Coates and the History Our Kids Need to Contemplate

(1) Comments | Posted August 24, 2015 | 1:52 PM

Toni Morrison rightly compares Ta-Nehisi Coates to James Baldwin. I hope all high school students read Coates' Between the World and Me, "The Case for Reparations," and/or his other journalism. I have my doubts that enough students are reading Coates in class, so I'll offer some...

Read Post

Are We Seeing Light at the End of the Re-Segregation Tunnel?

(0) Comments | Posted August 20, 2015 | 12:35 PM

Are we seeing light at the end of the resegregation tunnel? The work of Nikole Hannah-Jones, Chana Joffe-Walt, Alana Semuels, and the scholars who help inform their journalism provides hope, as does the first episodes of David Simon's and Paul Haggis's new HBO miniseries, Show Me a Hero.

Read Post

Why Can't the America that Creates 'This American Life' Also Integrate Our Schools?

(4) Comments | Posted August 11, 2015 | 7:58 PM

Paul Tough, formally of the New York Times Magazine, wrote that school reform was the result of "liberal post-traumatic shock" from supposedly losing the War on Poverty. Believing that it was too hard to fight poverty, trauma, segregation and the other causes of education underperformance, reformers sought a...

Read Post

Project Fatherhood Builds On Strengths

(0) Comments | Posted August 4, 2015 | 9:10 AM

It is not just the education sector that seeks simple solutions for complex, interconnected social problems. Schools aren't alone in hoping that cheap and easy silver bullets will solve intertwined challenges so that we can avoid difficult discussions of uncomfortable dilemmas. But I read Jorja Leap's Project Fatherhood...

Read Post

Oklahoma PTA Votes to Boycott State Tests

(0) Comments | Posted July 14, 2015 | 5:42 PM

Nate Robson reports in Oklahoma Watch that the Oklahoma Parent Teachers Association (PTA) has voted to boycott all non-federally mandated tests "in an attempt to pressure lawmakers to cut back the number of high-stakes tests students take." The PTA also asked that the state Department of Education not...

Read Post

Jonathan Kozol's Death at an Early Age Is Still a Must-Read

(0) Comments | Posted July 5, 2015 | 12:55 PM

Rereading Jonathan Kozol's Death at an Early Age on the 50th anniversary of his firing from the Boston Public School System is to be forced to confront the unrelenting horror of school segregation. Its subtitle is The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the...

Read Post

Why Not Commit to Win-Win School Improvement?

(0) Comments | Posted May 25, 2015 | 6:29 PM

NPR Marketplace's Amy Scott, in "The Changing Role of Advanced Placement," explains that the number of students in North Country High School, a working class school in the Baltimore suburbs, has more than tripled in the last five years. Scott reports that students who ordinarily would not be...

Read Post

Robert Putnam's Our Kids and Reclaiming the American Dream

(0) Comments | Posted May 21, 2015 | 10:31 AM

Robert Putnam, in his seminal synthesis Bowling Alone, recalls the first two thirds of the 20th century, when "a powerful tide bore Americans into ever deeper engagement in the life of their communities." In Our Kids, Putnam describes the 20th-century boom that produced increases in both absolute and...

Read Post

How Testing Is Driving More Oklahoma Teachers, and Other Educators Across the Nation, Out of the Classroom

(0) Comments | Posted May 13, 2015 | 4:21 PM

KOSU's Emily Wendler reports that Robyn Venable taught for 31 years. She is one of the wave of Oklahoma teachers who are reluctantly leaving the profession. Ms. Venable loved teaching, but she is retiring because "[t]he testing is just ridiculous, the paper work is growing by leaps and...

Read Post