Yesterday’s Internet firestorm is the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a high school freshman in Irving, Texas. His crime? Making a clock that school authorities feared might be perceived as a bomb by what could only be described as a willfully credulous observer.
Critics the world over have called the school’s actions nothing short of blatant racism and anti-Muslim bigotry; Ahmed has since received invitations to both the White House and Facebook HQ to signify those institutions’ support of the young man’s obvious technical talent and disapproval of local authorities’ conduct.
Over at Reason Magazine, Robby Soave correctly observes that the real problem isn’t bigotry, but zero-tolerance policies:
White kids are disciplined—and yes, arrested—for mild misbehavior in schools all the time. It literally happens every day. It happens to white kids. It happens to black kids. It happens to boys and girls, preschoolers and teenagers, athletes and eggheads, wealthy and poor, gay and straight, religious and atheists; it happens all the time, to young people of all stripes.
Note that that I’m not speculating; I’m not suggesting that what happened to Ahmed could have happened to a white kid. I’m asserting that very similar things have happened to white kids—and black, brown, Asian, Indian, and Latino kids—on a routine basis…
Cops arrest kids for bringing harmless toys that vaguely resemble weapons to school. Schools suspend kids for talking, writing, or merely just thinking about said weapons while on school premises, or near school premises, or even just near the bus stop on their own front lawns.
Robby’s commentary is on-point, but it’s missing just one thing: what about the kid who is truly in the wrong?
It’s easy to support Ahmed Mohamed because he was obviously in the right. What would happen if he were the kid with, say, a bag of dried lawn clippings that an official reasonably mistook for marijuana when the kid began cracking jokes about lighting up a joint during lunch?
The proper response by administrators would be to confiscate the item, toss it in a dumpster, and reprimand the kid for being a nuisance and a distraction, not suspend or arrest him. The arrest serves no one’s interests, even if the kid is being a legitimate problem.
But this is not the response we can expect to see so long as we, as a society, see danger around every corner and attempt to stifle normal – and admittedly somewhat disruptive – childhood behaviors. Right now, everyone is congratulating this kid for his creativity and condemning the administration for their poor handling of the situation. They’re right to do so. But at the same time, they’re congratulating themselves for being pro-religious-tolerance, pro-minority, pro-education, pro-science, and generally pro-everything-we-culturally-value. This is not defending justice or common sense; it’s nothing more than basking in their own sense of righteousness and self-satisfied celebration of being on the “right” team.
We need to do more than the easy task of piling on to the defense the obviously innocent. Rather, we need to abandon the current culture of paranoia regarding school violence, and commit to the difficult task of cultivating a culture of forbearance toward all.