What a Way to Spend a Life

Today was a special day.

Stanford is a special place. I came here to study education policy and to try to figure out how I can make a positive impact on Oregon's education system for Oregon's kids. That's my goal and my focus, my northern star. That's my purpose for being here -- and I haven't had a bad day since I arrived, because I know how fortunate I am to have this opportunity.

This week, I was assigned to read a piece by Dr. David Berliner, one of the leading minds in the education policy world., for a class. He graduated with his Ph.D. from the Stanford College of Education in 1968. On Thursday, he sat in on one of my courses, Leading U.S. Schools, and raised his hand throughout our class discussion to contribute ideas and questions -- just like the other students in the room. This morning, he gave a wide-ranging guest lecture in my Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies seminar about the most pressing issues in the education policy world and his fundamental criticisms for how most policymakers approach education. I sat in the front row, feverishly taking notes, and even got to ask him a couple of questions.

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Then, tonight, just shy of his 80th birthday, David received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award at the Stanford Graduate School of Education's Alumni Excellence in Education award ceremony in front of a collection of alumni, faculty, and students. He was introduced as "the leading educational psychologist in the world."

I was sitting in the back row of the lecture hall, on a Friday evening, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of this giant as he reflected on a lifetime of work. 

What a treat it was.

It's funny, this morning, in his presentation to my cohort, he spoke about how poorly we do as a society of honoring teachers. "How often does the local service organization honor or recognize a teacher?" he asked. More often, it's a principal or a superintendent. 

I was thinking about his critique today as I watched this kind, thoughtful, generous man receive an award for a lifetime of working in an under-celebrated field that's all about people -- not money. He's right of course, that we do a poor job of honoring our teachers. But we do a poor job of honoring education more generally. What a shame it is that more people outside of the education world don't know about the contributions of David Berliner -- or Linda Darling-Hammond, or Larry Cuban, or David Labaree -- all minor celebrities at Stanford. These are good people who committed their professional lives to the field of education. To making things better. To people.

In his speech this evening, David mentioned a long list of names -- teachers and mentors, but mostly friends -- who had been with him throughout his journey. There is a group of friends -- each of whom is well-known in the education world -- that originally met at Stanford University, some 40 years ago, and still meet up to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other occasions. David mentioned a few small anecdotes, with a big smile on his face, about his adventures with these friends over the years -- publishing books, writing and allocating multi-million dollar budgets, doing groundbreaking research -- all in the name of improving the way that we educate people.

What a way to spend a life.

At the reception after the ceremony, I told a friend in my cohort how cool I thought that was. What an amazing thing, to have the privilege of not only altering -- even in some small way -- the field of education in America, but then being able to celebrate and reflect upon your contributions with your closest friends. All these decades later, still friends, and still doing important work in the field that they all love.

Without hesitation, he looked at me and said, "That's going to be us someday, dude."

I hope so. What a way to spend a life.