Matthew Freedman had his students in mind when he won a prestigious Fulbright Distinguished Teaching Award this year, enabling the Hudson Valley–based high school English teacher to study education in Finland.
He was particularly interested in the Nordic nation as its renowned education system struggles to adapt to the recent influx of refugees. He wanted “to conceptualize something that might help immigrant students back in New York,” he says. Freedman, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from Brooklyn College and an M.F.A. in poetry from The New School in 2003, is focused on creating culturally diverse and inclusive curricula; the student body in his Newburgh, New York, school district is nearly 50 percent Latinx or Hispanic.
“It’s my experience that underserved schools demand a more aggressively holistic solution; to effect positive change we need to address the entire person, not simply the person as student,” he says, noting that this approach has helped break some of the institutional paralysis that he’s encountered in his teaching career.
Freedman credits his time as an undergraduate with shaping his approach and worldview. “Brooklyn College was a godsend! My first teacher was Allen Ginsberg; he helped me look at learning as an opportunity to change the way we think as humans, not simply as intellectuals or academics,” says Freedman. “And Professor Wendy Fairey showed me that we all learn differently, at our own pace and in our own space…I teach to her idea that every space in our lives is a place for learning—home, school, the community—and that the more we actively think about the hierarchy of learning that exists in spaces, the more we are able to break free from that structure and learn our way. Wendy allowed me to see that great things come from this.”