When 9th grader Ahmed Mohammed showed off his technical prowess to his teacher, his homemade digital clock didn’t quite receive the response he expected. “She was like, it looks like a bomb,” Ahmed told the Morning News. By mid-afternoon, Ahmed was being led by police officers to juvenile detention on suspicion of making a “hoax bomb” and was later released when their suspicions were confirmed false.
“You must be appalled,” a colleague of mine commented over a cup of coffee this morning.
She knows me well. I am terrified as a mother. I am terrified to think that my son, who shares Ahmed’s soft brown skin tone and a name that is likely to be labelled as “ethnic” by his peers, could possibly be escorted to a juvenile detention center for no reason other than the color of his skin. I am terrified at the thought that my son’s ingenuity, innovative efforts, and creativity would be met with blatant racism. However, this in itself is not reason for my appalment. To some extent, sadly, this is a reality I have come to expect.
I am, however, appalled as a science educator. Ahmed’s clock speaks volumes about the state of our current teacher education and training practices, as well as attitudes towards science and technology. Would it be acceptable for a middle school science teacher to mistake a brilliant book review for a threatening letter? Most definitely not. Our educators are expected to be armed with the basic reading comprehension skills to differentiate the two.
Why, then, is it acceptable for a professional educator to mistake a clock for a bomb? Our STEM education initiatives are targeting students, but have overlooked the critical implications of excluding teachers from this education. What implicit message is being sent to the younger generation about the value and importance of STEM literacy when their teachers lack this basic knowledge?
Ahmed’s clock has brought to light important issues that are worth discussing with our children and our policy makers. The hope is that young Ahmed’s unfortunate experience with his teachers and law enforcers will not deter him from the exciting world of science and technology. At least, he has the President and Zuckerburg on his side. As a result of the blunder, Ahmed and his clock may be visiting the White House and Facebook HQ.