….it just might exist


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Matthew Freedman, the pre-eminent New York educator, poet, photographer, and activist whose candid accounts of the classroom and harsh criticism of a bureaucratic educational system changed the academic landscape for generations to come, died yesterday at Kuopio University Hospital in Central Finland. He was 92 years old and split his time between upstate New York, and Finland. He is survived by his wife, the poet Alana Reynolds, son Lowell Spencer, daughter Willa Reid-Freedman, and three grandchildren.

His son Lowell said the cause of death was complications of dementia, contradicting the autopsy performed by Finnish authorities claiming that Mr. Freedman had suffered a massive stroke after attempting to break Finland’s long held Under 99 Nordic sauna record.

Born the son of a doctor and teacher, Mr. Freedman grew up in Oakland, California, devoting his time and attention mostly to the sport of rugby instead of the books. His passion for the game was unrivaled by any other activity in his life. He was fond of saying “give blood, play rugby,” to which his mother, an avid critic of rugby, would respond, “You’re a damn idiot for playing that barbaric game!” It was their often rocky relationship that would be the inspiration behind his prize-winning first book of poems, The Neuralgian.

Tragically at the age of sixteen Mr. Freedman would lose his older brother to Leukemia; it was this loss and his sudden rise to fame, he admitted to the NY Times in 2035, that gave him a greater understanding of what he called “life’s temperamental ebb and flow,” a term he made famous in his last book of poems, Predictable Surprises. It was the loss of his brother to which he often attributed his obsession with human behavior: “Man lives in a state of fear if he lives without a sense of urgency.”

Mr. Freedman graduated from Brooklyn College, received his MFA in poetry from the New School for Social Research, and then took the hardest English job he could find in NY City’s public schools. It was at Park West HS in Hell’s Kitchen that Mr. Freedman experienced for the first time how truly segregated and broken the institution of education was in America. It was there that he immediately began accumulating the experiences that would fuel his lifelong advocacy for student’s rights in America.

In 1999 Mr. Freedman quit his job as a teacher, filling instead the job of screenwriter for a friend’s documentary about the religious sect of Indian men known as Sadhus. It was on the banks of the Ganges that Mr. Freedman began reading the works of Rab Tagore, the 20th century Hindu mystic, poet, and thinker that would have an everlasting effect on the way he perceived the pains of the world. However, this job was short-lived, as Mr. Freedman suffered severe injuries from a bus crash in northern India. It was this experience which inspired the poem “Patankot,” the city from which he’d departed:  Chewed over / Like decomposed steel / the value of life wanes in the eyes of your taker.

After a long and grueling rehabilitation, Freedman took up teaching again, this time in Brooklyn. A year later he married Alana Reynolds, his long time partner, editor, and fellow writer. In 2004 Ms. Reynolds gave birth to their first child, Lowell, introducing into his mind for the first time the possibility of moving out of the city. In 2006 Mr. Freedman relocated his family to Beacon, NY, taking a job teaching English at Newburgh Free Academy in Newburgh, NY. The following October their second child, Willa, was born.

In 2018 Mr. Freedman received the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching to Finland. It had been his dream to move his family for a year to a Nordic country, an area so completely removed from what he called his “American habit” that he would be given a unfiltered glimpse into the ever-evolving chaos of education. It was in a Finland where Mr. Freedman performed his ground-breaking research on what he called “3 Space Humanitarianism”, and began to compile a body of work that would eventually take the name of The Paradigm House. It was this collection of essays and photographs that brought Mr. Freedman international acclaim as a writer and educator, and ultimately job offers from numerous institutions around the world. Over the next twenty-five years Mr. Freedman taught at such institutions as UC Berkeley, the University of Helsinki, Howard College, the University of Chicago, and Brooklyn College where he held the prestigious Albert G. Whiteside chair in Social Visual Media.

On top of being a guest professor and lecturer, Mr. Freedman won numerous awards for The Paradigm House, the most prestigious being the MacArthur Human Rights Award. Initially, this attention and financial security brought him much gratification, though it soon became a distraction, and ultimately the reason he stopped teaching altogether. “Success,” he once wrote, “shackles the mind and spoils the soul.” The last teaching position he held was in a small village in upstate NY. He was 67.

Not much is known about Mr. Freedman’s life after teaching, but it’s been well-documented through the poems and photographs he published up until his death that student and teacher rights were two dominant themes in his work. Of his family even less is known. Mr. Freedman was deeply private in his later years, sharing only the smallest of details with his students and co-workers.

His eccentric hard-boiled sense of humor, cutting intellect and devotion to basic kindness will be missed.



First off, I have to admit that I have been assigning “The Exit Interview” for over 10 years, and for over 10 years I’ve been interviewing someone different each year. It’s been fun…I’ve interviewed fellow teachers, old friends, the woman that sells me coffee, dead literary figures! However, I’ve never interviewed my dear, sweet, darling mother….and that left me with a profound sense of guilt! To give you an idea of who my mother is, I need only utter two words: “loyal” and “loving”. Deana Kalman Freedman is intense, devoted, sincere and intelligent; she is the type of person who will always consider your question like it’s the only thing in the world at that moment. She is also an ex-teacher, so she is religiously prepared and rarely does anything without a goal in mind. When I was a teenager, she was always there to listen, but she was also there to act as well. Deana Freedman has never lived life from the sideline….she is always in the game.

So, a few days ago I texted mother Freedman (“Bubbie” to her grandchildren) and asked her to let me interview her….and, of course, like the doting mother she is, she immediately texted me back with the sweetest of replies:

See the need to be prepared!?

Jump forward to that evening…post dinner, post children’s homework, post soccer practice…the plan was to record the Facetime conversation on my son’s phone. My expectations were low (concerning the technology of this plan)…and I was pleasantly surprised.

Being who I am (verbose <- SAT word), I prefaced my questions with a loooooong reminder of how it went when I graduated and quickly moved out.

Her answer was perfect mom – a sprinkle of nostalgia, a splash of the old testament, a dollop of realism:

My follow up got her thinking about how I understood and applied her message…whether she feels it got through…and how moving out, college (and life in general) was influenced by it.

I concluded with a simple request. I wanted something specific and directly aimed at my seniors…something they could take with them.


I loved this experience (even though my kids bugged me through the whole thing!).

If I’m being truly, truly honest, unlike the other ten times I did this, there was a deeply personal obligation to really hear my subject, not simply nod and listen and “get the gist.” There is no fooling my mother – not that I tried to fool her or my previous subjects – and that informed not only what I asked her but how I asked her. She’s my mom….I suppose there are only so many ways I can speak to her without love influencing me. I loved her advice; it was smart and sensible and definitely true to who she is and how she lives her life.

It is funny: it doesn’t matter how old you get, how many arguments you’ve had, how many birthdays or anniversaries you’ve missed, your mom will always be your mom….and moms always love their kids….and speaking with her for this assignment was truly one of the perks of being her son.


When I was a kid, I wanted to live my life recklessly, irresponsibly, defiantly…because I thought that was how one eventually lived peerlessly.

When I was 21, I wanted to live my life unconventionally, autonomously, misanthropically…because I thought that was how one eventually lived artistically.

When I fell in love, I wanted to live amorously, fervently, vulnerably…because I thought that was how one eventually lived happily ever after.

When I realized I wanted to be an educator, I wanted to live intellectually, authoritatively, pedagogically…because I thought that was how one eventually taught.

When I began gardening, I wanted to live organically.

When my children were born, I wanted to live paternally.

When I began getting middle age chubby and sedentary, I wanted to live calorie-less-ly and aerobically.

When I…when I…when I.

When the world began to turn on itself, to stop listening, to continue killing, to ignore the promise to pursue truth and instead commit to righteous ignorance, I began to live silently, distrustfully, cynically…because I thought it all too much…

When I knew there could be no more when…I learned to live.


Okay…full disclosure: Sitting down a moment ago to write you all a reminder for this assignment, I was struck by the realization that this blogging prompt is the only one I’ve never answered myself. Usually I get pretty excited about writing model posts for blogging prompts that I create, but I guess subconsciously I simply did not want to answer this prompt. Is my name that traumatic a topic? Is its origin, its story, something I cannot bear to hear? No it is not. That said, I don’t know how this one flew under the radar, but here it goes.

So, according to a text from my dear old mom, both my brother’s name and my name were taken from the Old Testament; my brother “David” (meaning “beloved” in Hebrew) after King David who slayed Goliath with a sling and stone, and little old me, “Matthew” (meaning “the gift of God”, also in Hebrew), after one of the 12 apostles. (By the way, my guy was a tax collector…my brother’s a warrior king – I got the coolness shaft on that one.) On top of the religious reasons (I come from a Jewish family), my brother and I were named after my parents’ friends that were killed in Vietnam. While this injects a dose of sorrow into our names, I like knowing that life, in some form, can come out of tragedy. 

So, what is my impression of my name? First off, this is completely detached from the meaning and history of my name, but I have to admit that I have a bit of a meh/hate relationship with it…or at least I used to.  When I was young I went through periods of either not caring about my name or abhorring my name, and that seemed to be the roller coaster of emotion that I was on through high school. When I was in middle school I frequently romanticized changing my name to something formidable and dramatic like Artemis or Leopold or Spike – but honesty, I probably would not have had the courage to change it back then, even if I could have.  

I think if I were to change my name at this point in my life it would just be confusing and awkward. But, if I had to – like for the witness protection program – I would definitely choose Spike. Spike Freedman! It has a comically ironic ring to it, like an 8lb chihuahua named Bonesaw.  All that said, the truth is that at 51 I have become quite resigned to the name “Matthew” – I suppose that’s why I prefer to be called “Freedman”. 

Not to use what some call “lazy logic”, but it is what it is! Matthew is my name and I’m indifferent to that reality. Sorry Mom and Dad (but you could’ve named me Spike).

FFF (Fun Final Fact). Since 1880, more than 1.6 million Americans have been given the name Matthew. That’s the population of Philadelphia…or should I say, Mattdelphia!


Image result for you're lateIt began when I woke. The thick, oppressive eyelids of a long, summer hibernation. The feeling that a lead apron had been dropped over my face. Then, limited focus. Not a blur, but the unwillingness to wake and be conscious. Then, the heavy head. Then, the inhospitable air. Then, the face, not mine – unsmiling, though not angry – muted with the look that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That face, that look…that was my mother. It was the first day of my senior year, and I was late.

The first day began inauspiciously: late to Mr. Waxdeck’s first period biology class, one black dress sock and one purple rugby sock, summer assignment incomplete, no believable excuse at the ready. I had been warned about this, too: Mr. Austin, guidance counselor, smiling in disbelief as I performed my “no college, only work and travel” monologue at the end of my junior year. “You know, Matt,” he said with that irritating “I know what’s best” look, “the pursuit of college will keep you in line your senior year. Without that Grail you will be without purpose. I don’t recommend it.” First off, I don’t like Holy Grail metaphors; but here he was comparing my senior year, which had not even begun, to the search for the cup Christ supposedly drank out of, and it really hit home….and not in a good way. “But I’m Jewish,” I blurted, and shrugged my shoulders, and walked out.

Image result for sleeping in class black and white photoSo, sitting in Waxdeck’s class, listening to him drone on about his precious syllabus, the California fog rolling in through the Eucalyptus trees, the first period of the first day of the last year of my high school career, Austin’s words echoing in my head, I began my “pursuit” in a slightly different way than Sir Launcelot: I fell asleep.

I would like to say that after that imprudent and unpromising start that I pulled myself together, screwed my head on straight and banged out the last nine months of high school like an academic rock star, but I can’t. My senior year was hard! Unforgiving! And seemingly never-ending!!  And to this day I still remember the mistakes I made in 1988 as if they were an unappetizing snack from an hour ago; and to this day I still remember the apologies uttered and the looks of disappointment I earned from my teachers and parents and friends who pleaded with me to right the ship and finish. That, I won’t lie to you, was not fun to bear.

And now for the happy part: 

I graduated….and with a hideous dent in my overall GPA…but….I graduated wiser, more mjfgradconscious of how I dealt with stress, challenges, expectations, closure…the whole bag. I learned way too many things about myself that year to consider it a waste or a failure. And to this day I gladly share this story with my 12th graders because at one time or another over those potentially dangerous last nine months of high school, their senior year will challenge the complete human, not simply the academic, and finding themselves in that middle ground between those two identities is the best graduation present they can give themselves.