HomeeducationAn Open Letter to MacArthur High School and Irving ISD

Today, I woke up to article after article about a young man, Ahmed Mohamed, who invents things in his free time.

In an attempt to share his passion and hidden talent with his teachers, he brought a homemade clock into school to show them. Instead of supporting his efforts, those same teachers confiscated the invention and contacted administration, who called the police, and had him arrested.

This incident contrasts sharply with the mission statement from your web page. Lest you forget, here’s the very first line, “Our mission at MacArthur High School is to meet the needs of culturally diverse students who will be equipped to become productive citizens and critical thinkers in a global society.”

Perhaps you need to remind your teachers and administration of that ideal. If Ahmed had a different skin color, or belonged to a culture that did not follow Islam, would the same thing have happened? Regardless of what your spokespeople may say, I highly doubt it would have.

I’ll never face what young Ahmed has. You have to squint to see my Jewish heritage, so most people see me as white. I don’t wear my spiritual beliefs on my sleeve, so most people see me as Christian. That means I can’t speak from the exact same place.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m a stranger to the structural prejudice or discrimination.

I am dyslexic, female and far from wealthy. You can see the last two just by looking at me. You can see the first one in how I struggle with tasks others find simple. I know first hand how hard it is to face down ableism, sexism and classism on a daily basis.

-isms are devious things, regardless of if they’re preceded by race-, sex-, able- or anything else. They worm their way into cultural subconscious and influence how we act. They’re reinforced by the fear sold to us every day on television, radio and in print.

I’m guilty of internalized -isms, too, but I work on a daily basis to spot them and eliminate them from my psyche. I urge you, and everyone who reads this, to do the same.

While we can each make a difference in our own attitudes by facing the ugliness within, those of you in power must be models for positive change. You are the ones in control of running valuable institutions like schools and police forces.

If you refuse to become more accepting of diversity, you can take credit for discouraging countless children from living to their full potential. You can take pride in preventing things like cancer cures and solutions to the energy crisis.

Those who are different are the ones who make the greatest strides in human history. Ahmed and so many others who face similar challenges, could be the next scientific pioneer, artistic innovator or humanitarian life changer.

Don’t stop them before they get started.

I am angry on this young man’s behalf, and I’m disappointed with those who should be encouraging his love of learning instead of traumatizing him. He did nothing wrong. He should be allowed to live a full life of his own choosing.

I hope Ahmed continues to create, despite the shoddy treatment he received at your hands. I hope he can find a school that is willing to support his education, while still honoring who he is as a person and his cultural heritage.

I also hope his engineering teacher stands with him instead of urging him to hide his talent. He may have thought he was acting in Ahmed’s best interests, but he still indirectly contributed to the horrible outcome.

Own your mistakes and learn from them.

Apologize to this young man, his family and the Islamic community at large for this horrible treatment. While you’re at it, start embracing the gifts diversity has to offer instead of acting on fearful impulses.

May you change for the better.

Emilie Peck

P.S. By the way, since Ahmed created a homemade clock, you may be interested in some of the amazing engineering strides the Muslim world has made. For instance, the first automaton reactive clock is credited to a Muslim inventor by the (shortened) name of Ismail Al-Jazari.

via WikiMedia Commons

Feel free to click the links, should you be interested in learning more about the culture so feared today.

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