I am Ahmed

Yesterday, social media exploded with the story of a 9th grader, Ahmed Mohamed, getting arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school.  Ahmed now gets to take trips to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the White House.  His future is probably set.  Because he made his own clock. So he could learn. Because it was fun.

I’m glad it ended that way.  It could have gone very differently.  And I have to wonder.  If he had been white, would he have been arrested?  I don’t know anything about the school or Ahmed, really, but I’d have to venture a guess that someone at the school knew him, and knew of his interest in electronics and programming.  At least I sure hope so.  Where were they when all this went down?  Why didn’t the principal know?  Adults failed him because adults far too often assume the worst in kids.  It’s what teen shows are made of.

Ahmed’s story to me is one where people were afraid.  They were afraid of the technology.  No one had ever seen a computer board outside of those scary spy and crime shows on tv where they’re hooked to bombs.  They were afraid of who Ahmed was, based on his ethnicity.  First, we need to educate people about technology.  If engineering or CS is offered more broadly, educators would see projects like Ahmed’s more frequently.  They might even be able to look at it closely and understand how it worked.  And more importantly, we need to get away from stereotypes about what techie people look like, and what certain kinds of people are like.

3 Replies to “I am Ahmed”

  1. “Ahmed, what ya got there?”

    “A clock I made with computer parts.”

    “Show me how it works.”



    That would work much better that calling the police. That school had better not teach a course using Arduinos. Everyone would go to jail.

    During my lovely visit to Iraq in ’05 I saw IED triggers made with cell phones, walkie-talkies, washing machine timers, digital clocks and a guy holding a piece of string. By that principal’s logic all of these items are to be feared these days.

  2. To your questions about the school, and who knew what.: the news reports, including the very one that you linked to, made it clear (assuming they’re accurate about this) that at least one teacher already knew about the clock: the engineering teacher to whom Ahmed showed it. ( Other people at the school, including some of his friends, already knew that he was working on a clock.)

    What’s interesting is that (again assuming the news reports are accurate) that teacher then warned him NOT to show it to his other teachers! I don’t know why the teacher gave him that advice. How differently everything might have turned out if the engineering teacher had had the time to take Ahmed around to his other teachers — or at the very least, to the principal! — show them the clock, and let them know that they (the engineering teacher) thought it was cool, etc.

    Moving from the individual case to the more systemic kinds of solution, I like your suggestions. It might also be good for the school to bring tinkerers, artists, designers, inventors from a variety of backgrounds to talk to assemblies of students or classrooms of students and to bring examples of their own “toys” that the students would be encouraged to disassemble, poke around in, and so on. But that’s just an off the cuff suggestion; I realize there are many other priorities and imperatives that are competing for time and attention from the principal and the teachers.

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