Social media are ablaze with the story of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a student at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas. On Monday morning, the amateur inventor brought a home-made clock to school to show to a teacher. Shortly later, he was led out by the police in handcuffs.
I expect they will have more to say tomorrow, but Ahmed’s sister asked me to share this photo. A NASA shirt! pic.twitter.com/nR4gt992gB
— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
In what is being fast recognized as a classic case of overreaction, a teacher called the authorities, scared that the wires and construction of Ahmed’s clock looked like a bomb. According to The Dallas Morning News:
He kept the clock inside his school bag in English class, but the teacher complained when the alarm beeped in the middle of a lesson.
Ahmed brought his invention up to show her afterward. “She was like, it looks like a bomb,” he said.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”
They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”
Ahmed felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name — one of the most common in the Muslim religion. But the police kept him busy with questions.
The case against Ahmed—who was threatened with expulsion by the principal, according to The Dallas Morning News –quickly became a farce. Even when it was clear that Ahmed’s invention was geared toward time-keeping rather than killing, the police then retreated to a “hoax bomb” explanation—unsupported by the facts:
Ahmed never claimed his device was anything but a clock, said police spokesman James McLellan. And police have no reason to think it was dangerous. But officers still didn’t believe Ahmed was giving them the whole story. “We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” McLellan said. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”
In less than a day after The Dallas Morning News published details, Ahmed’s story went viral on social media, with thousands expressing outrage at overreaction by authorities. By Wednesday afternoon, Irving police announced they had no plans to charge Ahmed with anything. Ahmed now enjoys the support of no less than astronaut Chris Hatfield:
Even President Obama has weighed in:
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
Some, like Ahmed’s father, see racial or religious animus behind his son’s harsh treatment. (The Irving police chief said his department has an “outstanding relationship,” with local Muslims, reported the Associated Press.) A representative for The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is investigating the incident, also relayed these concerns to The Dallas Morning News: .
“This all raises a red flag for us: how Irving’s government entities are operating in the current climate,” said Alia Salem, who directs the council’s North Texas chapter and has spoken to lawyers about Ahmed’s arrest. “We’re still investigating,” she said, “but it seems pretty egregious.”
Egregious it was. Judging from the absurd reaction of the arresting officers, Ahmed might well have been discriminated against because of his name or ethnicity. His arrest, however, is also in keeping with a grand tradition of public school officials flying off the handle at innocuous behavior by students—and being unable or unwilling to foster their education in ways that really matter.
How surprising is it, really, that a home-made clock got Ahmed arrested? This is a country where high school kids are prohibited from displaying the American flag on Cinco de Mayo. Where a 13-year-old is arrested for burping. Thank heavens Ahmed didn’t bring a small knife in his lunch bag, or they might have called a SWAT team.
Run of the mill “cops and robbers” games have become expellable offenses. You have heard about the 7-year-old boy suspended from school in Anne Arundel County, Md., for chewing his pop-tart into the shape of a gun. In Ohio, a 10-year-old got the same treatment for merely making a gun shape with his hand.
But if war is off limits, so is love. A mere peck on the hand landed a six-year-old from Colorado Springs a sexual harassment charge. Behavior that normally merits a quick “stop that” is now criminal. At the same time, policies which pretend the sexes are fluid, as well as early-age sex education initiatives, presume a level of maturity (and capability for adequate instruction on the part of school administration) that simply doesn’t exist.
This reveals the schizophrenia at the heart of government-run education: the bureaucratic role of state employees clashes with their role in loco parentis and is exacerbated by letter-of-the-law attitudes, fear of litigation, and the political desire to use local schools as petri-dishes for sociological experiments determined by forces outside the community.
If children are supposed to be inculcated with values, educational institutions which are legally forced to remain valueless—through misapplication of the First Amendment—soon run into trouble relating to their young charges. They forget what, exactly, children are. Thus, ratios between behavior and discipline, age and expectations, and intent versus perceived threat get thrown completely out of whack.
Little wonder, then, that such a thing as a clock can be regarded as a lethal weapon, and a budding inventor as a terrorist. The Dallas News story ended with the ominous line: “He’s vowed never to take an invention to school again.”
It seems a fitting summary for the state of public education, not just in Irving, but around the nation. Makes sense that Thomas Edison’s mom went with homeschooling.