Okay, look. About this kid Ahmed. First of all, for the past three years I have worked with refugee students from all parts of the world and many of them have been Muslim. Not only have they been some of the best students I have ever had but they have also been some of the best and respectful people I have ever met. Hands down. Case closed. And that is to the credit of their parents.
They have been teased for how they look and dress. Two American boys did that in my presence. Big mistake. Think Mama-bear defending her cubs except I’m a former United States Marine. I have known of one incident where a girl could not take the bullying anymore and stood up for herself physically. What are you gonna do?
Now, at the same time, my Muslim students are teenagers. Like all teenagers, irregardless of race, they joke around, goof around, test boundaries, experiment, etc. Teenagers. There’s just something inherently universal in being a teenager.
Now, with all that said.
I’m glad this kid is a genius with all the know-how he has with making clocks, fixing things, tinkering around. I think his father said somewhere that Ahmed can fix his phone if it breaks. Great. Wonderful. I’m glad this kid has a talent and I certainly hope he continues to improve on his skills.
But, when a teacher tells you to put something away, put it away. Right now, the whole nation is armchair quarterbacking what they would have done and how they would’ve handled things.
But when you’re a teacher, one of your most important jobs is classroom management. Students have no options when it comes to this. When my students come to class, their cell phones go in a blue bucket and for ninety minutes they endure separation anxiety from their devices. And guess what? I. Don’t. Care. Too bad, so sad. As a teacher, I need them focused on me and what I’m trying to teach them. I’m jealous for their attention. I will not compete with their phones for their attention. If I want to change my seating chart daily, oh well. If I notice they’re abusing other privileges, I will remove them. In short, I craft the conditions necessary for optimum academic learning time, and safety.
According to this BBC article, “Ahmed said that he had made a clock at home and brought it to school to show his engineering teacher. He said his engineering teacher congratulated him but advised him ‘not to show any other teachers.'”
I can understand him wanting to show his engineering teacher something that he was very proud about. Teenagers want affirmation. They want to know and want others to know that there is something special and unique about them. It helps them feel good about who they are and I get that. From my perspective, I don’t think Ahmed brought it to school to cause alarm but to feel validated for his talents.
But, if his engineering teacher told him to put it away, he should’ve obeyed and turned it off or something in order for it not to be a distraction. But that’s not what happened. Later, in another class, “another teacher became aware of it when the device beeped during the lesson.” Nothing beeps in my class because I make my students turn in their phones and turn them off. And if something did beep in my class while I’m giving instruction, you better believe I’m stopping instruction and dealing with the individual who has selfishly interrupted the learning of others.
I applaud this teacher for taking action in spite of the critical voices out there who have never had the responsibility of ensuring the safety of other people’s children. Are we seriously forgetting the times that we live in? Personally, I’ve been burned by students who I thought were above that. Naive me. I had a student in Stockton run out of my classroom, jump a fence only to have a sawed-off shotgun fall out of his shirt. Teens these days are different. Not all of them, of course. School shootings. The knock out game. What about this girl, convincing her friend to commit suicide. I don’t mean to stereotype or generalize, I’m just saying, It’s pretty hard to know who you can trust these days. And, of course, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of radical Muslim extremists like Muhammad Youssuf Abdulazeez who killed 4 Marines in Tennessee in July of this year. All of these unfortunate events have helped create a most unfortunate context; a context that Ahmed Mohamed has not personally contributed to, a context that does him a great disservice and one in which we all find ourselves living in.
We know what happened next. He’s taken to the office, interviewed by police, and taken into custody. Many are calling this unfortunate. What is really unfortunate are the scores of people second guessing the paramount responsibility the school and the police have in ensuring the safety of all. In short, the school and police lose either way. If they handle the situation by erring on the side of caution and being vigilant like they did in this situation, they are obviously racist. Had his clock been a real threat and had they done nothing at all, the school and police would’ve been labeled woefully incompetent and unequivocally negligent. The only situation in which the school and the police win is one where a real threat is thwarted. And nobody wants that.
So where do I stand? As a teacher, I stand with Ahmed. I would tell him what I would tell any of my students now who have obvious talents. I would tell him, “Keep making clocks. Keep developing your talents and be the best you can be. Let the haters hate. But the next time a teacher tells you to do something, do like the t-shirt says: Obey.” But I also stand with the school, the teachers, and the police who have the great responsibility of ensuring the safety of all. For those that want to cherry pick and armchair quarterback this situation, rather than interjecting racism like a broken record, how about reasoning through and appreciating the great responsibility school administrators and local law enforcement carry. Empathy goes a long way and for those that don’t know, it actually is a two-way street.