When I first met Daniel Bergerson, CC ’17, freshman year, I was perplexed by the way he could always be seen smiling a mysterious, slightly beatific smile, as if he were in on some wonderful secret. When we met in Brownie’s Cafe earlier this month, though, Bergerson was in “kind of a melancholy mood.”
“[I’ve been] student teaching and there was a fight in the classroom,” he explained. “I love student teaching and usually it’s more energizing than any- thing, but it’s been a long week.”
As part of the Barnard Education program, Bergerson spends 40 hours a week student-teaching at the Baldwin School, a progressive transfer school in Chelsea. Bergerson first realized he wanted to be a teacher after becoming leader of his high-school marimba band back in Minnesota (Bergerson grew up outside Minneapolis, “next to cornfields”), where he found he enjoyed the “personal relationship-building aspect” of teaching.
After taking classes on pedagogy and education policy in college, Bergerson also began to see education as “an intellectually interesting and important field of study as well as a civic institution that's part of the heart of the country.” Bergerson spent his junior year in Santiago studying, again, education, and the country's student movement. In Chile, where school privatization has resulted in what Bergerson calls “education apartheid,” or extreme school segregation along lines of socioeconomic class, education is the “foremost issue.”
“In the United States we can claim that educational inequality grows out of residential segregation so you can say that it reproduces inequality. But in Chile, their school system is so privatized that it’s not just reproducing, it’s really exacerbating the situation.”
After students at Bergerson’s university voted to go on strike, Bergerson was invited to teach at a student-occupied high school, where he led a workshop on the history of school systems in the US and Chile. Asked if he preferred teaching students who are forced to listen to him or students running their own school, Bergerson chose the former.
“Knowing they could kick me out if they found my discussion to be irrelevant forced me to determine what I had to offer and how that matters to a high school student in Chile,” Bergerson reflected dryly.
While Bergerson is passionate about education (sources report that Bergerson keeps a school desk in his room) he emphasizes that teaching for him is “a job. It’s not like a calling or a mission.” At a campus of aspiring policy-makers, where students treat teaching as “either as a stepping stone or as an invalid blue collar job,” Bergerson believes it especially important to shift this perception of teaching, which according to Bergerson, “has been used for a century to keep wages down and devalue [teachers’] work.”
When not teaching or thinking and writing about teaching (Bergerson maintains a Spectator column and a blog), Bergerson enjoys writing children’s picture books on education policy as well as “satirical jingles” on topics ranging from “low hanging fruit, such as Comcast and the NSA” to more “random” subjects “like sunscreen, hydraulic door closers,” and “Amazon’s casket products.” (Sample lyric: “When the time comes, I’m going out generic.”)
After graduation, Bergerson plans to teach high school history in his native Minneapolis. He’s found that his experiences at college have forced him to look at Minneapolis with “a new eye.”
“I’m excited to go back and actually participate in the community.” said Bergerson. Columbia “pre- pared me to go home.”
— Virginia Fu