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.