By Carissa D. Lamkahouan
TMO Contributing Writer
By now most of the nation knows the name Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Irving, Texas, high schooler who last week was arrested, detained and eventually suspended for bringing to school what officials claimed they suspected was a “hoax bomb” but was indeed a homemade clock. Ahmed said he had a fondness for building and wanted to impress his teacher with his work, never suspecting he would be labeled a potential threat. When the news broke, much of the nation erupted into outrage and disbelief, claiming the boy’s brown skin and Muslim faith had more to do with his arrest than the validity that he had attempted to endanger the lives of his classmates and teachers. The story even reached the White House, with President Barack Obama inviting the teen to Washington and calling his invention a “cool clock.”
However, some Texas teachers feel Ahmed’s teachers were correct in the way they handled the situation. They asked the question, “What if someone hadn’t been suspicious and it was a bomb?”
“As teachers our job is to protect our students,” said an elementary school educator in Texas’ Fort Worth Independent School District who asked not to be identified by name. “With that being said, if I think something is suspicious I’m going to report it. It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, tan, brown, or blue I have to look out for all my students. I would have hated for the opposite to happen where the teacher thought something was wrong but ignored her gut feeling and students ended up being hurt in the end.”
Tiffany Jones, a pre-school teacher in Houston Independent School District, agreed and called out those who would decry Ahmed’s situation as fueled by race issues in general and bigotry toward Muslims in particular.
“I think everybody’s going to pull a race card when it hits them,” said Jones, who asked to be identified as black. “I don’t think this had anything to do with race because, as teachers, we are required to report anything that looks suspicious or may be suspicious. If we don’t and someone else sees it, like a principal, that will blowback on us. I would have done the same thing (if I were Ahmed’s teacher).”
Despite her opinion that MacArthur administrators were justified in suspecting the clock was a possible bomb, Jones said teachers have to work to build a strong relationship with their students. She said being familiar with the children under their charge enables teachers to make better judgement calls when it comes to kids’ behavior and what they’re capable of.
“You have to build a rapport with your students,” said Jones. “If you do that you will know what type of kid they are, if they’re a loner or an outsider or whatever. If you have that relationship with them and they do something that warrants suspicion then, yeah, you might have your concerns”
Houstonian Summer Hopkins said a culture of giving people the benefit of the doubt would have gone a long way toward diffusing Admed’s situation earlier and possibly prevented his arrest and suspension.
“I wish as a country we could give people the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
Still, Hopkins admitted the situation is delicate, particularly since it played out at a school campus. She said school administrators may have felt they had no choice but to act as they did.
“(Ahmed) did do something he shouldn’t have, and he disrupted the school,” she said. “I agree with him being suspended, and it doesn’t matter what color his skin is. In fact, he shouldn’t get off completely because of his skin color. Saying he can’t be punished without being victimized is exactly what’s wrong with this country and with our society. We are forgetting about individual responsibility by letting everyone cry victim whenever they feel they are wronged in some way. That does even more damage by taking credibility away from those who really are victims of racial inequality and bigotry.”
Despite the school’s decision to suspend Ahmed, his parents made the decision to pull him from MacArthur High School. Since the incident, Ahmed has been invited to the White House to meet with the president and has been offered a tour of MIT, regularly ranked as the top technical and mathematics school in the world.