Equity & Diversity

Teen Clockmaker’s White House Visit Shines Spotlight on School Discipline

By Evie Blad — October 20, 2015 2 min read
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Texas teen clockmaker Ahmed Mohamed‘s visit to the White House astronomy night this week has once again stirred conversations about school discipline and racial justice in schools.

Ahmed, a Muslim from a Sudanese-American family, drew international press coverage last month when police arrested him at his Irving, Texas, school after teachers said his homemade clock looked like a “hoax bomb.” Police later filed no charges, though Ahmed did serve a multi-day suspension related to the incident.

Ahmed’s supporters said his case demonstrated how school discipline is often administered unfairly, especially for students of color. But some, including some conservative politicians, said the public was too quick to judge educators and police who were responding to what they saw as a potential safety threat.

Since his suspension, the boy and his family have been on a sometimes bizarre international press tour that has become typical for unexpected Internet celebrities. As Mashable points out, that tour included meetings with tech leaders, appearances at conferences, and even a meeting with Sudanese President and alleged war criminal Omar al-Bashir.

National leaders took note; Education Secretary Arne Duncan even briefly referenced Ahmed’s situation in a speech about inequity in schools.

The whole experience culminated in a quick meeting with President Obama Monday night as Ahmed joined other science-interested teens to gaze at the stars from the White House lawn.

Other Student Arrests

The Advancement Project, a Washington-based racial justice organization, was quick to highlight that Ahmed isn’t the first student to be disciplined for a science project.

The group organized a media appearance Tuesday for Kiera Wilmot, a black Florida student who was arrested on two felony charges after her science experiment, a volcano model, malfunctioned. She was later expelled and then allowed to return to school and graduate following a public outcry, the organization said.

“We should be encouraging young scientists like Ahmed and Kiera, not criminalizing them because of race,” Thena Robinson Mock, project director for Advancement Project’s Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track campaign, said in a statement. “I applaud the White House for not only recognizing Ahmed’s brilliance, but highlighting the plight of black girls through Kiera Wilmot.”

What do you think? Have these events stirred up conversations in your homes or classrooms?

Further reading on school discipline and safety:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.