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severalog

Clockmakers and temptation

Harry Caufield

It's tempting to write people off as crazy.

I was following the story of Ahmed Mohamed's clock and arrest this past week. It was hard to avoid the news, especially as more questions emerged from the situation. The context didn't make the school administrators' actions any more comprehensible. There wasn't a hidden side to the story and no logical justifications were revealed. It was all just wrong without reason.

It's tempting to write people off as racist.

Just like everyone else, people in positions of power have reasons for their actions. Those reasons may not be supported with evidence or even a clear plan, but they don't emerge spontaneously. Everyone operates within the context of their own culture. If that culture is a high school, the context may preclude justification of any action, even an outright administrative mistake. It's the context in play but it's just one of many factors contributing to an environment hostile to humanity, most potently for humans who don't match the local mean skintone.*

It's tempting to write people off as backwards.

The mentality of failing to admit to mistakes usually appears stubborn and pigheaded. It looks distinctly like a failure to learn from one's errors, or at least a blatant unwillingness to try. What did the school adminstrators hope to accomplish? They clearly knew there wasn't a bomb in play. What were the police trying to do? They couldn't even get this student his necessary legal representation.

These kinds of situations happen every day. This was a neat. concise, useful example with a favorable conclusion for its victim. Even so, we won't understand situations like this any better by dismissing their antagonists as insane racists. They make mistakes and those mistakes may be rooted in racism, but a failure to learn from those mistakes is the core issue.

Schools need to be able to encourage creation, even if it doesn't occur in the traditional educational context. Students can create some amazing material on their own. We need to trust them.

* In this case, depending on how we define local, Ahmed may be closer to the local average. (Racism isn't just about skin color.)

 

Update (Sep. 24) - more than a few of the more conservative-leaning news outlets (and Richard Dawkins, for some reason) have been decrying the whole situation as a hoax, claiming that the makeshift clock wasn't a new invention but rather a hacked-together bit of existing electronics parts. None of that matters. If a student walks into school with a functioning piece of electronics, they shouldn't get arrested by default, and certainly not on the assumption that they're willfully terrorizing their fellow students. I'm not sure how the above scenario could be interpreted as a hoax.