Fourteen years and four days after the attacks of September 11th, a child was arrested and handcuffed in an American high school for bringing a homemade clock to show his teachers.
This blog is about edtech, and this is an edtech issue. However, in one of the first pieces I wrote as editor, I noted the lack of girls and diversity at ISTE‘s Playground. In conversations I had after that piece went up, there were lots of nods of agreement. Yes, we should be encouraging more diverse investment in STEM. Yes, we should see more than just white guys at these edtech conferences. How can we do that?
Then a principal in Texas condones the arrest of a child who made something at home that he was so proud of he dared to bring it to school.
How can we, as teachers, be both encouraging the Maker movement and with the other hand send a message like this? Yes, race is an issue at play here. But let’s not forget the Maker movement might not be as big a deal as some of us think it is. Get a room full of random teachers together and ask who is on Twitter, you’ll get maybe half a dozen hands and a bunch of confused adults wondering why their PD hasn’t started yet (I know, I’ve run those PDs). Ask that same group who has a MakerSpace in their school and the response will be even more muted. MakerSpace is a niche term in wider education circles. We’ve got a responsibility to make that movement more widely known. Maybe, had Ahmed’s school had a Maker program, we wouldn’t know who he is. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened.
This is a conversation we have the responsibility to have with our colleagues. As someone who is aware, we should be helping others by raising awareness. That previous sentence dances perilously close to proselytizing, which I don’t encourage and am constantly annoyed by. In the teacher’s lounge say, “Hey, have you heard about this kid with a clock in Texas? President Obama wants to meet him. Imagine if that were one of our students. How cool.”
It’s a spin towards the positive, but that’ll get open eyes on the issue both Ahmed faced and on the issue of spreading the idea of Making. That’s two conversations we should be having as a staff all the time. Those conversations will build our schools up. And it will avoid situations in which no adult at the school stood up and said, “Look, it’s a clock. You can tell it’s a clock. You know it’s a clock.* Let him go. Now.”
Ahmed lives in a reality not that different from the reality of many of our students. They don’t have the resources to even try to make a clock at home. This isn’t a Texas problem, it’s an equity problem. The layers here are deep and riddled with systemic issues. When we as teachers look at students, who are we seeing? What are we encouraging in them? In a hundred ways, both obvious and subtle, are we taking away certain students’ drive to create and be creative? Are we making assumptions about what they can and can’t make based on what we think we see rather than who they actually are?
If there’s anything positive to come out of this, it seems like Ahmed is dedicated to continuing to Make. The outpouring of support from all walks, including an MIT professor (Ahmed’s dream school), Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield, and the Google Science Fair. But the mic dropped loudest because it dropped from the highest seat in the land when President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House to show off his clock. When you get in trouble at school and the president invites you to the White House for it that sends a pretty clear message.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
Ahmed was arrested wearing a NASA shirt. NASA – arguably the greatest technological feat our country has ever accomplished. Let’s turn one school’s public mistake into a driving force for good. We as a profession should be so so very angry about this. About how this makes us look. About what this says about where we are. And we must use that anger as a jumping off point, as a force for good. Let the injustice of this fuel your drive to have a MakerSpace at your school. When the anger fades the creativity will be there, thriving and helping encourage the Ahmeds in your school. The conversation shouldn’t end when Ahmed is out of the news cycle. Encourage making with your fellow teachers. Encourage supporting all of our kids, whoever they are, and seeing them as future citizens who will bring light and positivity to our world.
*if they really thought it was a bomb they would have evacuated the school and called the bomb squad, not held him and the clock in the office. I work at a school, I’ve done those drills.
Doug Robertson is the CUE blog editor and a tenth-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome) and an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words). Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.