Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Breaking the Rules: A Word about Ahmed

Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on the events that took place when a kid brought a homemade clock to school and got arrested because of it. In fact, I am not even there in the U.S. Regardless, these are my thoughts.

When I wrote "Breaking the Rules" as the start of this blogpost title, I didn't mean it as a reference to Ahmed's actions, although it's likely that bringing an invention to school that had the potential to go off/ring may have broken some rule. That phrase was more about this blog, which is generally about travel and occasionally funny accents, and rarely about media frenzies.

I wanted to write this brief blog to say two things:

1) I sympathize with the teacher who called the cops, and the cops themselves.

2) I have decidedly mixed feelings about the public accolades from no less than Barak Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, for goodness sake.  

My first introduction to this story came when I saw the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed on Twitter.  At that point I didn't know the story, but a trip to Facebook quickly provided me with the basics of what happened, as well as people sharing tweets from Obama and Zuckerberg.

I don't mean to say that the people who accused this 14-year-old of making a bomb didn't jump to conclusions.  Clearly, they did.  But as someone who has been in front of high school and University classes over 10+ years, and who has read more than my share of articles about school shootings and other mass shooting incidents (see the Washington Post fact-checker blog for the difference), I don't blame the teacher for being cautious.  Would you rather be wrong and embarass a kid, or be wrong and wind up putting yourself and others in danger? I know which one I'd choose.  As for the cops, they too jumped to conclusions, but their training likely emphasizes that things out of the ordinary may lead to danger.  So again, they went too far, but they were probably operating on the same diet of school (and general) violence that is so well-reported by the media.

Secondly, the "celebrity endorsments."  It seems like Ahmed is a bright kid.  And he clearly has enthusiasm for engineering and robotics, which is commendable.  But does he really deserve all this praise for bringing his clock to school? In a normal situation, he would have brought the clock to school.  His engineering teacher would have said, "Good job."  He would have put it away (NOT set it to go off), and that would have been that. No one outside his family and circle of friends and teachers would have known what he had created.  But mistakes were made. And so people who are pro-innovation (and face it, it's a good thing to be pro-innovation) and pro-student (regardless of race/ethnicity) jump into the political fray. Hashtag! Tweets! Facebook Posts! Media, media, media CIRCUS. Because mistakes were made, and a whole lot of people want to line up to say "It wasn't me! I didn't make the mistake!" Not this time anyway.

Thanks for readings, and please now resume your regularly scheduled lives, as if Ahmed had just showed the clock to his teacher, and that had been the end of it.    

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