Reflections on David Berliner

Kenny Bergman

Although they attended different elementary schools, Kenny Bergman and Dr. David Berliner became “bosom buddies” within weeks of beginning the 7th grade together in New York City. Maintaining a close friendship through college, the two young men decided to become business partners at only 18 years of age by purchasing and operating a bar and grill. Still astonished that they actually made a profit, David notes that his summer entrepreneurial experience resulted in his changing his major from business to psychology. Still laughing at the memories of that summer, David cautions that when sitting at a bar, you “realize how crazy people are in this world!”

BethAnn Berliner

Characterizing her father, Dr. David Berliner, as an “ideas guy,” BethAnn Berliner describes the profound impact this “truly great person and exceptional father” has had on her life. Possessing a zest for life, her father displays “hearty passions span[ning] food and wine, the performing arts, and travel, as well junk mystery novels and being with his extended family.” Both generous and outraged by social injustice, David has entertained his children, BethAnn and Brett, with his Donald Duck imitations, Paul Boomer jokes, and guitar solos. BethAnn recalls her father’s selfless dedication to parenthood, remembering late night play sessions after he worked the swing shift and missed classes in high school to help him collect research data. Both BethAnn and Brett Berliner credit their father with having had tremendous influence on their lives—“our passions, our humor, our values, our searching curiosity, our career paths, and our parenting all have bits and pieces of him.” In addition to being “a big name in the small world of those in the academy who ardently and passionately work to improve teaching and learning,” their father “knows a lot about a lot and believes that through education we all stand a chance to make it in this crazy world.”

Dr. Brett Berliner

Dr. Brett Berliner also cites his father’s memorable passion for life as influential throughout his childhood. Brett recalls watching silent movies in San Francisco and attending ice hockey games on Saturday mornings with his father, Dr. David Berliner. As a professional, Brett has been most “impressed by [his] father’s continual intellectual growth.” In fact, Brett insists that “it should not come as a surprise to anyone that [he and his sister] are both in education, the family business!” David’s “incessant reading and willingness to entertain new ideas and pursue new avenues of research and advocacy should be a model for all academics.” Brett believes his father to be “one of the greatest recent champions of public education,” possessing an “infectious maturity in his life, his work, his advocacy, and his love for his family.”

Dr. Ursula Casanova

When characterizing the “very full and rich relationship” Dr. Ursula Casanova shares with her husband and best friend, Dr. David Berliner, she explains that they can “get in a good argument as well as share a deep enjoyment of the arts, the challenges of travel, and the joy of sharing [their] lives with friends and, especially with [their] blended family of five children and eight grandchildren.” Citing overlapping academic interests, David and Ursula have collaborated as co-authors, editors, and researchers. Respectful of one another both personally and professionally, Ursula admires David’s “ability to move from the depths of journal-driven academia…to his current role as a public intellectual where he applies his well-honed skills to issues of high relevance to the field.” Affectionately comparing David to a coconut, Ursula insists that he has a “tough hard to break shell that hides a sweet and sentimental soul…[h]e’s extremely loyal to friends and family and absolutely intolerant of injustice.”

Dr. Gene Glass

Dr. Gene Glass and Dr. David Berliner, colleagues at Arizona State University beginning in 1987, were expected by some in the profession to engage in a turf war as two “Alpha Males.” Developing a cordial relationship instead, Gene offered to mentor David in his new position as Dean in 1997. The two world-renowned researchers now exchange drafts of papers, “ensuring an audience of at least one for everything [they] write.” Refusing to identify a most significant accomplishment, Gene insists that David’s best work may be yet to come, referring to Ben Franklin, Grandma Moses, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Picasso as highly productive in their later years. Praising David for his seemingly two contradictory qualities—passion and integrity, Gene believes that his colleague “cares deeply, both for the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves and for the canons of scholarship that are the only sure path to better life.”

Dr. Lee Shulman 

Sharing both a love of hockey and healthy professional rivalry, Dr. Lee Shulman and Dr. David Berliner have been, first and foremost, dear friends for more than 35 years. With colleagues Dr. Rich Shavelson and Dr. Gary Fenstermacher, Lee and David have modeled affectionate and respectful discourse as researchers, scholarly activists, and friends. As the scholars’ research interests have expanded and evolved, Lee recalls spending “a great deal of [their] time laughing.” Lee admits that he and David missed much of a National Academy of Education meeting in New York so that they could instead snack on pastrami at the Second Avenue Deli. Lee also assumes that David has not forgotten “Judy’s pewter wine glass” that he was given to replace the crystal one he broke when tapping it “just so” on his front tooth, hoping to make that lovely sound. “Inspired by David’s model of the committed scholar,” Lee is convinced that “David is persistently advocating for the quality and worth of the U.S. educational system and the teachers who inhabit it.” In fact, “more than any other scholar,” David has made “a difference in the world.”

Dr. Frank Sobol

As a friend and colleague of more than 40 years, Dr. Frank Sobol first collaborated with Dr. David Berliner on a series of studies at Stanford University “based mainly on social learning theory to test alternative approaches to training pre-service teacher trainees” in the use of basic skills of instruction. Because the IBM 360-70 computer used to analyze the data required that the results be coded and key punched onto IBM data cards, Frank recalls that the data decks had to be run in the dead of night when the computer was readily available. Of course, the program often stopped due to data errors on the cards which Frank remembers correcting and resubmitting for processing. On one particularly late night, Frank admits that David became frustrated with a coding error, throwing cards all over the office floor. Professor McDonald later believed the university had been “attacked by vandals!” Particularly proud of David’s early studies through the Far West Lab (now WestED) and his consistent support of public education, Frank describes David’s “everyday life as marked by a deep commitment to provide love and support to his family and friends.” Further characterized as a “classroom teacher, researcher, data analyst, program administrator, [and] scholar,” David most impresses those who know him well, including Frank Sobol, with his integrity—“the honesty he applies to his work and what that work should mean in establishing, assessing, and revising educational policies and practices.”