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Photo of Michael Freeman

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When the edition of my college alumni magazine arrives in my inbox, I scan through it quickly and don’t often find articles that draw a personal connection. Today is different. Featured in one of the articles is a teacher I remember, even after all these years: Dr. Michael Freeman.

Unbeknownst to me, Michael Freeman, who taught computer information systems, is a renowned inventor whose technological developments include recorded voice messaging, interactive TV and educational toys. The article piqued my curiosity and I searched further. According to Wikipedia, his long string of inventions began at age 13 when he won first prize in a science talent search. Fourteen years later, he invented a robot that delighted a third-grade class in Bronx, New York where he conducted a demonstration.

Incredibly, I remember the day in college when he told our class about Leachim, the name he gave his robot, which he said was Michael spelled backwards (well, almost). The class was mystified by his description of the invention, unable to fully comprehend its capacity or the genius of the creator. We teased him that we didn’t believe he was that smart and he laughed along with us. We had little appreciation for technology back then and found it hard to grasp that this teacher standing before us, only a few years older than his students, could create a high-functioning machine. Thinking about our indifference to technology in the 1970s and our dependence on it today, I am awestruck at his vision and accomplishments.

Remembering him as a young and relatable teacher, I am not surprised to learn of his passion to build inventions to help children learn. Technology disguised as a robot, Leachim was programmed to continuously repeat information to children in response to incorrect answers and to reinforce correct answers. Unlike humans, robots do not judge, criticize or lose patience. Years later, I would be buying educational toys for my own children, never having a clue that my former teacher was the mastermind behind the marriage of education and entertainment, and an inventor who partnered with Sesame Street and The Walt Disney Company on interactive products he launched.

I spoke to the editor of the alumni magazine and she said Dr. Freeman is retired now and protective of his privacy. She indicated that once he was comfortable talking to her though, he was very engaging. She shared with me that his friends included Leonard Nimoy and George Lucas. He must have fascinating stories to tell. I am hoping he’ll write an autobiography one day so I can read them all. Oh, how I’d love to be his ghostwriter!

 

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