What’s With Our Educators and Police?

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor and Frequent Contributor

All right, they aren’t the only ones who might have made this error, but they are in the spotlight since they freaked out over a homemade electronic clock. Yes, that’s the one Ahmed Mohamed brought to school. Somehow one or more teachers and some police thought it looked like a bomb.

Now, what’s the most essential part of any bomb? Is it a clock? Nope. How about a circuit board? Not that either. What about a bunch of colored wires? Those are traditional fodder in TV shows. Not a chance. You can make a bomb with just a fuse, a blasting cap, and some dynamite, plastic explosive, or some mixture of oil and fertilizer.

The essential ingredient here is, you guessed it, explosives.

Without something explosive, no bomb. A circuit board hardly qualifies no matter how much electronics are on it. It only takes a moment to look and see the lack of explosives inside of the satchel that Ahmed carried his clock in, I assume to protect it.

What’s really going on here? I see two important issues. The first is the racial profiling that is obvious despite protests from school and law enforcement. The extreme reaction, including handcuffs, would not have happened to a blond kid. His satchel may have been inspected. He may have been questioned. But, it all would have been handled with much more restraint.

Then, there’s the damper that these incidents place on student creativity. Sure, we don’t like students experimenting with anything truly dangerous, especially in schools. This is a case where there was absolutely no danger — no chemicals, no high voltages, nothing explosive, nothing even sharp. The clock was completely benign.

Within reasonable guidelines, students should be encouraged to explore and be creative. Having two grandchildren in elementary school right now, I am very concerned about the future of education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, sort of a science Common Core) tell us to add more inquiry to our curricula. This reaction is exactly opposite to that spirit.

Our teachers and school administrators are acting as though they fear their own shadows. In this atmosphere, how can creative talent develop, let alone thrive? Must enlightened parents have ongoing battles with schools merely to ensure that their children have the opportunity to realize their potentials?

Now, imagine if Ahmed were taking an online course in engineering instead of the one in his physical high school. He might video his clock functioning and show its various parts through Instagram or YouTube. He could share his step-by-step construction experience, including mistakes, though Twitter and Facebook. The class could gather on Skype to share in real time. There would be no ignorant administrator or teacher to call the cops and no clueless police to terrorize this young student.

I have always believed that physical schools play an important role in helping our children to develop. Now, I’m not so certain.

3 Responses

  1. I was a bit harsh on teachers and police to make a point. I respect and admire both. There are always a few in any group that can manage to give the group a bad name.

    Our teachers are nation builders. Our police keep us safe and secure against all sorts of evil. Be thankful that we have both. However, because of their highly leveraged positions, bad judgment is multiplied. We have to do all we can to avoid poor judgment in these professions.

  2. I’ve thought about this a bit, especially having been a school administrator in a past life. The initial response was probably right, a teacher or two (reports vary) tell you this kid has a suspicious looking device that might be a (television) bomb.

    The school must respond. Calling the police seems like a logical approach. But, where’s the police bomb squad — possible bomb and no bomb squad?

    Ahmed is questioned, and doesn’t do well in the questioning (according to police). But here’s a 14 year old, geek, that’s probably not ever had anything to do with the police, suddenly being questioned. Police put him in handcuffs, but have probably already determined no bomb (no report of Bomb squad called, and as Harry points out no explosives found. Did the school ask for him to be removed? Why was he not allowed to contact his parents?

    So the police release him, no charges, but the school suspends him for 3 days because they thought he had a bomb (now a fake bomb).

    Over-reaction yes, no apology, just an attempt to save face. Given some of the politics in the community it’s not surprising. Hopefully some Ed Leadership programs are finding this interesting fodder for discussion and case study.

    • Too bad that those are the rules. “Suspicious”? The worst part of this is the optics. A suspicious looking device in the hands of a suspicious looking person is not too great for any of us. The device was really not suspicious looking from the shots in various videos, but the person?

      Was there no one in the school who could have headed this off? It would seem to me that the engineering teacher should have been called in to inspect the “suspicious device.”

      You cannot blame the student for not being clever enough to deal with the questioning better. He was not “the adult in the room.” And then a suspension for three days? This is victimizing the victim. Horrible!

      We can discuss forever. I am most offended by the attitude toward creativity. Creativity is what we’re supposed to foster in schools. I have seen this sort of thing before. It just takes one mistaken report (and sometimes deliberate) to ruin someone’s day, week, year, or life. More care must be taken in reacting to these reports. In the meantime, what is the message being sent to every student? It’s, “Do exactly as you are told without any extras or any thinking.” Will these students become tomorrow’s leaders and entrepreneurs?

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