A Ticking Time Bomb in Texas

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Oh, Texas. Now, it’s not that my own state of residence (Virginia) has never done anything blindingly stupid. I mean, Loving v. VA was, after all, about Virginia threatening to jail a couple for being married. Because they weren’t the same color. So there’s that. But what year is this now?

Here’s the thing. We should not be discouraging children from learning in school. Or at home. Or anywhere. So when a 14-year-old boy makes a clock by himself at home, and he brings it to school to show his engineering teacher, and people ask him what it is, and he says, “it’s a clock,” I think that appropriate responses would be, “Wow! that’s fantastic,” or “Good for you!” or “Tell me how you made it,” or “I’m really impressed,” or something along those lines. What is not appropriate is to say that it looks like a fake bomb, and then to call the police, and then to arrest that student for making a hoax bomb. Oh – and by the way, in order for something to be a hoax bomb, the person in question really needs to pretend that it’s a bomb. Not a clock. Just to be clear on this.

And if the school really thought it was a bomb, they would have evacuated the school. They didn’t. And to cover themselves, they keep saying that they knew it wasn’t a bomb. They just thought it was meant to be a hoax-bomb. Which they could tell  by asking the student what it was, and he kept telling them, “a clock.”

When my dad was in the 7th grade he wasn’t a model student. And he ended up having to go to summer school for French. As it happened, the French teacher in summer school was fantastic. My dad really learned French over the summer. And then the fall came round again, and he went back to his regular French class with the regular teacher, and he wrote the regular beginning-of-the-year essay (what I did on my summer vacation) in French. In good French. When he got it back, the teacher had scrawled across it in red ink, “What’s this!? I didn’t teach you this! Show off!”  My father never did any work in French class again. That teacher was completely successful in killing his spirit.

Beth Van Duyne is the mayor of Irving, Texas.  She’s rabidly Islamaphobic, and apparently a local folk-hero in Irving. Dan Cummings, the Principal of MacArthur High School, where Ahmed Mohamed was a student until he was arrested (he’s transferring schools) has let his communications officer do the talking for him – but the school has been clear that they’re happy to welcome Ahmed back to school (you know, after they refused to believe him about his clock, called the police, and had him hauled off in handcuffs – but no hard feelings, right?), but that they stand behind the teacher who alerted the Principal in the first place. Um, really? I think they’ve been drinking too much of Mayor Van Duyne’s Kool-Aid.

So let’s just take a reasoned look at this for a minute, because I’ve already begun to see the white-splaining.  I’ve heard the “oh, but this happens to white kids, too.” Yeah, not so much. When Taylor Wilson built a nuclear reactor, his school got Homeland Security to help him out with it. Taylor Wilson is white. When Kiera Wilmot‘s science experiment got a little out of control and made a bang (but caused no actual damage) her school expelled her for possessing and discharging a weapon on school grounds. Kiera is black.

So, I guess, as long as you’re a white, Christian kid (or perceived to be), you’re allowed to learn in school. But if you’re a Muslim, or if you’re black, you must be up to something. It couldn’t be that you’re just curious. You couldn’t be trying to learn for the sake of learning. You must have some nefarious plan. I can hear my father’s French teacher, “What is this? I didn’t teach you this!!” How dare you learn anything!!

This, my dear readers, THIS is the ticking time bomb. It isn’t a clock. There’s no harm in children experimenting with clocks. But the more we teach children that we’re afraid to have them learn – the more we teach them that they don’t deserve to learn – well, the bigger bomb we’re making.

One day, these children who have been frustrated and denied will be adults. We can encourage them to be curious, thoughtful, and engaging adults, or we can teach them now to shut down, disengage, and stop learning. And then we can wait for everything to blow up.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

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5 thoughts on “A Ticking Time Bomb in Texas

  1. I’ve been reading comment threads on the news stories about this, and I’ve noticed something significant about framing: Lots of grown-up white nerds identify with Ahmed, but they don’t recall their high school years as a time when they were celebrated by the school administration. They felt like outcasts, and we need to work with that self-image rather than against it.

    So they’re with you when you denounce the school’s response, and most of them are still with you when you say this would have been a whole lot less likely if Ahmed had been a white Christian. But if you make a blanket statement that this wouldn’t or couldn’t have happened to a white kid, you lose them. That will raise their hackles and they’ll start arguing against you.

    They remember how small-minded their own school administrators were, and how little those administrators identified with them or took pride in them. That’s their life experience, and you’re never going to talk them out of it.

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      • I’m reflecting what I’ve been reading in comment threads. I’ll bet few or none of the people writing those comments were arrested, but they easily imagine how things could have gotten that far out of hand. Talk about likelihood and they’ll agree with you. But say “never” and their reflex is to start googling up examples or near misses.

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  2. I’m a little late to the party here, but this reminds me of a story my father told me about his high school days. He liked to build things, always had a “project” going etc. When he was in shop class, he found instructions in a magazine for making a stagecoach — yes, one of those conveyances from the old west (not a REAL stagecoach, but a rather large-size model stagecoach). He was bored by the typical shop class type of projects, and so on his own he decided to make this instead. And guess what? His shop teacher was ticked off. No, he didn’t get arrested, but neither was he appreciated for his skills. My dad ended up an engineering officer in the Navy, continued to build things throughout his life, and that stage coach was on display in my grandparents’ house until they died. It then lived in my parents house, and (now that my dad has passed) will probably be handed down to my nephew, who seems to have inherited my father’s aptitude for mechanics, engineering, and building things. It’s a prized — and priceless — family heirloom.

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