Reflections on Carl Bereiter

Dr. Jeanne Bereiter, M.D.

Dr. Carl Bereiter’s daughter, Dr. Jeanne Bereiter, M.D., shares her father’s first feelings about parenthood which he often compared to those likely experienced by an American Shorthorn cow—a need to nurture accompanied by complete bewilderment! Jeanne admires her father for his “incredible ability to draw analogies from other fields and to explain complex subjects in simple ways that laypeople and professionals from other fields can understand.” Carl’s invaluable contributions to educational research have shaped the work of those both within the profession and beyond.

Joan Bereiter Meyering

Characterizing her brother, Dr. Carl Bereiter, as a “head in the clouds genius” and a very deep thinker, Joan Bereiter Meyering fondly recalls their shared childhood on a small farm in rural Wisconsin. As Carl’s only sister, Joan and her brother developed a special bond, despite their distinct memories of events from their youth. Both having attended a two-room country school through the primary grades, Joan remembers Carl as innovative and imaginative with “a wry sense of humor.” Displaying his propensity for conducting research at an early age, Carl created a “Feline IQ Test” and required the farm cats to “walk up and down an inclined board.” Joan comically admits that “no results were ever published.” Joan also credits Carl with inventing the first “word processor” by pounding large nails into a flat board on which he could arrange sentences written on paper. Although she cautions against allowing Carl to use a hoe in the vegetable garden, Joan praises his imagination and talent: “I always knew there was no limit to what he could accomplish in his life.”

Tom Bereiter

Recalling their father’s propensity for telling jokes, Tom Bereiter and his sister, Jeanne, fondly remember bedtime at home with Dr. Carl Bereiter. Sharing their father’s “little elephant joke,” the Bereiter children offer a fresh perspective on the world-renowned educational researcher whose family and friends have always enjoyed his creativity and sense of humor.

 Dr. Siegfried “Zig” Engelmann

Hired by Dr. Carl Bereiter without having an advanced degree or any formal training in education, Dr. Siegfried “Zig” Engelmann became one of several mavericks in the Bereiter Engelmann Preschool Program. The project, based at an academic preschool which had been opened by Carl and Zig and largely served at-risk African American students, succeeded in accelerating the performance of the participating students. By teaching “reading, math, and language, as well as singing and art,” Carl and his colleagues “increased the IQ’s of the disadvantaged preschoolers” over the course of the four-year study. Recalling Carl’s sense of humor in the classroom, Zig describes an incident after the daily music period whereby Carl attempted to loosen a wedged piano key to the delight of his preschool audience. Characterizing his friend and colleague as a “renaissance educator,” Zig highlights Carl’s contributions and critiques “in a wide spectrum of educational and psychological areas—experimental design and measurement; methods of training at-risk students; philosophy and practices in education, psychology, and early childhood education; models for teaching subjects such as reading and math; and models of cognition.” “Intellectually vigorous, prosperous, and unassuming,” Carl has served as a mentor, researcher, and scholar without “postur[ing] himself as an authority figure, but rather a guy who could apply his knowledge and skills to figure out things and to help others understand them better.”

Jean Osborn

Jean Osborn, a teacher and program developer, decided to join the Bereiter Engelmann Preschool Program after a colleague advised her that “a nut like you might get along with a nut like Carl Bereiter.” Credited by Carl with bringing sanity to the project, Jean is admired by her peers, especially Carl, for being “very level headed” and knowing “how to deal with the practical world.” Instrumental in indentifying students for participation and arranging their transportation, Jean assisted Carl and his colleague, Dr. Siegfried Engelmann, in their use of humor and “direct verbal instruction” to accelerate students’ learning processes.

Dr. Marlene Scardamalia

Dr. Marlene Scardamalia first earned Dr. Carl Bereiter’s respect as a researcher whose results demonstrated weaknesses in one of his research programs. Validating her conclusions through his own classroom observations, Carl has since collaborated with Marlene on cognitive and writing research for more than 35 years. Happily married for many years, Carl and Marlene have developed “knowledge building as a distinctive educational approach” and recruited scholars internationally to assist in their work, founding research centers in Italy, Finland, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Citing their knowledge telling model as the “single key piece of work” in writing research, Carl describes this model as a “marvelous system for doing writing assignments in school” in that students become “engaged in a process…where ideas [are] at the center…” Proclaimed by Marlene and other colleagues to be autobiographical, Mr. Sleeby is a character, created by Carl with the help of Marlene and others, who is featured in a series of thinking stories. Mr. Sleeby and his associates each suffer from a specific and often humorous cognitive deficit of one sort or another—Mr. Sleeby, for example, is the “ultimate concrete thinker who cannot handle abstractions” and also terribly forgetful! Praised by his wife, Dr. Marlene Scardamalia, for his recognition along with Piaget and Vygotsky as one of the Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education, Carl was selected for his desire to “extend the limits of the possible” in education.