Saturday, 26 September 2015


Ahmed and his cuckoo clock.

by Guy Somerset

Throughout the recent Brouhaha over Ahmed the Inventor (sic), a casual perusal of the reportage and its concomitant outrage via the Commentariat illustrates one indisputable fact regarding the American population – despite having an expansive and largely successful public school system, few comprehend the manner in which it functions.

This simple but true fact is astounding to outsiders in the sense that “public schools” in America are actually overseen by the public. (Note to casual American citizens: That means you.) To be sure, there are myriad Federal and State regulations which must be adhered to and an often perplexing array of outside standards which must be met. However, that does not detract from the reality that in every community of any size in the United States, a School Board meets, for which ordinary Americans can sit for election.

The aforementioned School Boards, along with salaried educational administrators, convene at regular intervals to determine policy and regulations upon everything from the length of the school day to the calendar of the school year. They also decide matters of faculty policy, student punishment, what instructive materials are to be used, and host of other issues. Yet although these meetings are often sparsely attended, sometimes by no more than the officeholders themselves, anytime there is a media event involving a school everybody and their brother in America is suddenly a pedagogical expert in extremis.

"Tick tock tick tock – it must be a clock."
As this specifically regards Young Ahmed Edison the most commonly frothed reflection either in editorial content or rash comment is to observe generally that “whether Ahmed was right or wrong, the teachers were fools.” Thus while giving the benefit of the doubt to the Muslim boy named Mohamed, of Sudanese heritage, who evidently entirely of his own volition and not by any assignment whatsoever, brought to school a device which looked exactly like every homemade bomb anyone has ever seen in movies or television – the wary educators are worthy of no such consideration given their concern.

It has by now become a talking point that Ahmed did not invent anything, but unscrewed a clock from its original housing and affixed it into a suitcase-looking “pencil case.” Still this is an ancillary issue at best. No, the boy is not particularly clever. No, he is no inventor. No, he is by no means a “genius.”

However what is more important here, and to our purpose of examining the “stupidity” of the teachers, is that according to all published accounts there was no Science Fair being conducted when Mr. Mohamed showed up with his clock. There was no formal, or even informal (extra credit), assignment that he craft such an item. When it was brought to school the first teacher it was shown did precisely what we would hope any teacher would do: encourage the lad in his innovative spirit but warn him that, in the current climate, some may misconstrue the object. The teacher told Ahmed to keep it out of sight.

A lot to unpack here.
Instead Ahmed apparently waltzed around the school with the suspicious “clock” in his backpack, not entirely unreminiscent of another backpack device dropped at the Boston Marathon not long ago. Moreover, while he was sitting in English class the thing sounded a loud alarm. (Either Ahmed is not nearly the mental giant he is cracked up to be or he intentionally set the buzzer to go off.) That teacher, unaware of our budding Da Vinci’s penchant for creation, immediately wanted to see what was causing the ruckus. You can guess what flashed through his mind when he saw the bundle in the bag.

So at this juncture Ahmed was body slammed into the ground and became the recipient of anti-Muslim slurs, correct? Actually no; at least not from every single available version of the incident other than Ahmed’s. The teacher wanted to know about the instrument and the reply was “a clock.” Beyond that such queries as “Why did you build it?” or “Why did you bring it to school?” or “What is its purpose?” all seemingly went unanswered. Not because Ahmed was gagged; simply because, as described by those in the room, Ahmed was belligerent and unresponsive. (Totally unlike most suicide bombers.)

Whatever happened to
Achmed the Dead Meme?
Under such circumstances and faced with complete insubordination what would our Commentariat have the teacher do? Blithely ignore the disruption and extraordinarily dubious article? Would it be the prudent course of action to do nothing when faced with refusal to provide explanations from a surly and passive-aggressive adolescent possessing what would seem to any casual observer a possible weapon? Even had the teacher been so negligent to assume this stance there are any number of school rules, municipal laws and state legislation which strictly require him or her to immediately report every instance where the lives of children are potentially endangered. That is as it should unquestionably be.

Because recall, according to the authorities, at this point Ahmed was still resolutely denying them any explanation at all for his behavior. Why didn’t he tell them it was a simple experiment? Why didn’t he request them to call for the teacher he initially met with that morning? (Aside from the fact he had wantonly ignored the prior warning not to violate school rules.) Why not at least attempt to clarify himself and that the entire incident was a misunderstanding quickly spiraling out of control? At the very least, why should anyone but Ahmed be blamed for what happened next?

Failing to receive sufficient answers it can be assumed the school principal was notified and he in turn telephoned the authorities. When they asked him it seems Ahmed was just as pugnacious until the arrival of his father (a publicity hound who routinely comes up with crackpot schemes to get in the news). Eventually the situation was resolved and the boy was free to go, though supporters obscenely request an apology for an unfortunate situation entirely of his own making.

Clockboy, ticked off.
Cue the outrage and it has come quickly, which is always the case when the ill-informed deign to give their opinions upon anything. The second target (after omnipresent “racists”) are schoolteachers.

And while we have all had our fair share of poor instructors or low opinion of dogmatic strictures, as a group, public mentors do a great deal of good in the world and the sometimes aggravating guidelines do have their purpose. This is particularly true for administrators who have the unenviable task of being the authoritarians in inflammatory situations but are often denuded of the safeguards many of us would want in their stead. The worst of these in such circumstances can be Privacy Laws which effectively forbid those who take necessary actions from openly explaining those actions to a naïve public at large.

For example, nearly everyone is outraged by the kindergarten child on the playground expelled after he “only stole a kiss” from a little girl. Left out of the headlines are the five previous instances that the boy was disciplined, or the prior indecent touching he engaged in upon her. Likewise all the morning newsreaders and radio listeners are overcome with apoplexy when they hear of the third grade boy sent home because of a creative writing paper. None will ever know that his “story” entailed decapitating a baby and committing sex acts on a grandmother. Each listener, however they interpret Ahmed, disavows the “overreaction” of teachers who reported on his possible explosive device. Few investigate the other side of the story.

If any are dismayed at the state of society when they encounter such half-told-tales, the first thing one would have them realize is that bureaucracy is much more common in school decisions than hysteria. Certain actions are mandated by law; as steps to be taken when a suspicious package is brought to class unannounced. Having authorities and experts (such as the bomb squad) investigate is both responsible and prudent.

Secondly, at least try to envision that the person who is spinning the yarn – Ahmed or his perpetual Presidential-hopeful father in this case – might have a motive in misconstruing events. (Incidentally, their LaunchGood funding page for Ahmed’s private school is here, where they have a goal of $100,000.)

Finally, and this applies for any profession, don’t assume the person you disagree with is a moron simply because his opinion differs from yours; especially so if he was present at an event and you were not. All the more so when there are laws which mandate his silence regarding pertinent facts of the case.

Absent that, if anyone remains upset over the vagaries of educational discipline they are heartily encouraged to take the slightest bit of interest by attending the next meeting of their local School Board. It is guaranteed, unless there is an “Ahmed of the Moment,” vacant seats will be in ample supply.

Improvement requires participation; it seldom results solely from condemnation.

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