A boy made a clock and took it to school. I’m sure you’ve heard the story. Ahmed Mohamed makes a clock, and in his excitement to show it to his teacher, takes it to school. The school dramatically overreacts, the child is arrested, and the country responds in either outrage or racism, depending on your side.
This case has been on my mind constantly, both as an educator and a parent.
I taught a lot of students in the ten years I worked. I taught preschool to college-aged students. I taught children of many races, many faiths, many backgrounds. I’ve had many Muslim students, including Hassan, who, at six, told me he wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon when he grew up. All of my students, all races, all faiths, brought me a myriad of things. They brought me things they baked, things they colored, and things they built. They brought me machines. It never, in all my years, would have occurred to me that any of them were a bomb. Ever. I’m sure someone out there would say that would get me blown up someday. Maybe. I don’t care. I trust my students. I know them, I get excited about their learning, and I’d be thrilled to have any of them bring me a clock.
I can’t imagine what Ahmed went through. As a teacher, it makes me sick. I can’t bear the thought of any of my kids–yes, even the dangerous ones, and I had several–handcuffed and afraid in an office. Interrogated without a lawyer or his parents. Teenagers are still children. I’ve taught them myself, and every high school teacher I know agrees. They’re big children, but they’re children. They want to be loved, trusted and protected. They look to their teachers for that when they can’t find it anywhere else. No learning can occur without that trust. School needs to be a safe place, and this school failed miserably.
Also, the school clearly didn’t take it seriously as a bomb threat–my schools have had them, and when the administration genuinely thinks there’s a bomb, they evacuate immediately and call a bomb squad. All they did here was terrify and interrogate an innocent child. He’ll never trust teachers the same way again.
I watched the news the night it happened, and M, my amazing, science-loving girl, said, “What happened to that poor boy?”
I explained it to her as best as I could, and as I did, I felt my heart sink as a parent. I’m the parent of a minority child. I’m the parent of a minority child who loves science, who loves to build and create. A child who loves to back her creations in her backpack and take them to show to the teachers she adores. What do you do, as a parent? Do you tell her to stop, because someone might look at my girl’s creations and think she was dangerous?
I don’t, but it’s because of a reason that makes me angry. M is in the “acceptable minority.” (I’ve touched on this before here) She’s Japanese. The stereotype works in her favor. If she came to school with a clock, it’s likely no one would say a word, because there’s a stereotype that she’s smart and “safe.” So, I can let her continue, probably, without penalty, but the inherent unfairness infuriates me. Ahmed didn’t deserve any of the vile treatment he received. No child does.
I think about Hassan. I think about a child with the huge, dark eyes, bright smile, and lofty aspirations. I think about his kindness and sweet soul, and I wonder, now that he’s at the age to enter medical school, what racism he’s had to overcome. If he made it, or if the system and the people around him crushed him.
In Ahmed’s case, it’s wonderful that there’s been outreach from the president and major social figures. It is. Yet it eclipses the greater evil afoot, the casual racism with which we treat our children, and the paranoia that leads to the arrest of a frightened child. Why one child seems inherently safer than another. Those are the questions that need to be answered.