Last night I learned, accidentally, from a random Facebook post by yet another person who admired him, that
MIchael Josefowicz has died. I met him only a few times and, in this year of much loss, I’m finding this news very hard.
I met Michael in 2009, when I was writing “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Change the Way We Live, Work, and Learn” (2011) I met him on Twitter–he was constantly posting the smartest, wisest references to active, radical pedagogy of anyone on #AcademicTwitter.
I asked this person I knew as “ToughLoveforX” if I could interview him and I conducted a number of interviews by phone and then profiled him in my book in the optimistic and upbeat chapter on Cognition and Aging–as an object lesson to us all: learning is possible at any age. I learned that the Twitter name stood for “Tough Love for Xerox”: at the time, names could only be so many characters and he decided he liked it being “X” (all that would fit) instead of “Xerox.” Typically, before he retired, he had protested some of his beloved companies labor practices. That was the kind of moral, bold man he was.
Michael not only told me that he went through a period of feeling despondency after he retired as a master printer but encouraged me to write about this. My book is probably the most positive book out there about how technology becomes part of the air we breathe and, cradle to grave, we are changed by the technologies we are changing, whether the wheel, the steam engine, the telegraph, the radio, the television, the internet, of social media. I follow the impact of technology from cradle to grave, literally there’s a chapter on “how to build a baby” (about the socio-economic-cultural determinants that precede us) and another on old age. Michael wanted other seniors not only to see the glorious new role he had found for himself post-retirement but the devastation of losing that thing for which you are known and admired, that skill and craft you have perfected for a life time. He encouraged me to write about his transition so others could feel inspired by it.
After a time, he decided to act on his lifelong interest in kids and learning. He volunteered at a high school in Brooklyn, then realized teaching wasn’t his gift and, instead, dedicated himself to reading everything about learning and sharing it with educators on Twitter. By the time I met him, over 3000 of us followed him. He kept us up to date on the latest books, articles, and talks and loved “Twitter Tennis” where he and other educators debated ideas in public so others could join and learn–a practice I continue to this day. This alone would be a remarkable story–and was remarkable enough to be one of the key profiles in my book.
But that was just the beginning for this amazing 70+ year old man.
When I moved to NY, Michael came to the Graduate Center to meet me and came again two or three times, once to hear a talk I gave, another time to sit in on one of my classes, still another time I invited to speak to the students.
And then he told me something amazing. Partly because he was featured in my book, because my portrait made him feel proud and bold, it helped, along with many other factors of course, to take his goal to teach young people to levels I could not even imagine possible. He felt he’d gotten a new lease on life. I’ve never seen anything quite so spectacular. He started a new career, in his early 70s, creating a nonprofit company The Printernet Project, training, mentoring, and helping to organize a consortium of printers in Africa online. He worked with mostly with young African men and women, including a number of well-known artists who allowed his printers to reproduce their prints and sell them around the world. I bought one as a gift for a beloved colleague who directs a CUNY Peer Leaders and Mentors program.
Extraordinary! Michael’s skill, kindness, intelligence, generosity, commitment, and dedication were truly inspiring. I know from Facebook that he has left behind many in people in Uganda, Burandi, Malawi and perhaps other places who felt he had helped change their professional lives, given them new careers, helped them to find new ways of making a living, communicating to others, teaching.
His family came to the US as immigrants, Holocaust survivors. It was important to him that his history was part of the story, something, too, for others to learn from.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever met anyone more extraordinary than ToughLoveforX, Michael Josefowicz. I feel so very lucky to have known him and extend my sincerest, deepest sympathies to his family, his friends, his loved ones, and to all he taught and reached on his own extraordinary, exemplary journey. I know I am a better person for having known this incredible, inspiring, deeply thoughtful and kind person. He was my friend. I am very sad and very sorry for this loss.