We make heroes of educators who risk — and even lose — their lives to protect their students. Are they just doing their job?
Let’s say you’re an English teacher.
A beep comes from a student’s backpack during class. He opens his bag revealing this.
What do you see?
I posted this question to my Facebook feed. Most of my Facebook friends lean to the left, and I was curious about their answer to that simple, unbiased question.
My liberal friends spoke up, and so did more conservative friends. A Muslim friend also jumped in to offer his fantastic—and needed—perspective. The wittiest reply came from my friend Ricky, who told me he saw a “bomb ass clock.”
But “clock” wasn’t the most common answer. Neither was “bomb.” At the end of the day, only people who had played with circuit boards and wires felt comfortable saying that it could be a clock.
Ahmed’s clock and his arrest quickly went viral.
Those who stood in Ahmed’s corner caused hashtags like #IStandWithAhmed to trend on Twitter. Many held the opinion that Ahmed’s Muslim heritage played a crucial role in how the school and police handled the situation.
The #IStandWithAhmed hashtag was populated with pictures of clocks, usually partnered with sarcastic captions. Many of the pictures were definitely worth a laugh. My favorite was a picture of Big Ben with a caption that read: “Britain develops giant rocket bomb.”
But the humor can’t hide one important fact — when this incident went viral, there were few pictures of the real clock.
When situations like these arise, I’m drawn to look at two things.
The first thing is public opinion and reaction.
I jump onto Twitter to check hashtags, and I check the major news outlets to see how they’re reporting. I even hold my nose and plunge into the comments on blogs I don’t agree with.
The second thing I look for is something more elusive: perspective.
Because this is bigger than a hashtag.
There’s a difference between opinions and perspectives. Opinions can be formed effortlessly. We gain perspective when we work hard see an issue from different angles. When we lack facts, we lack perspective. When we lack empathy from multiple angles, we lack perspective.
An opinion is like reading the cover of a book. A perspective is like reading the book. True perspective is like reading many books.
The natural reaction to controversy is to quickly form an opinion, not to do more research. But the natural reaction isn’t the best reaction in this circumstance.
For true perspective, ask questions.
What’s a teacher’s duty to a student?
As interested as I am about the potential role Islamophobia played in all this, Ahmed’s situation gives us an opportunity to explore the duties of teachers.
Some claim that Ahmed’s situation is completely and entirely about race and religion. I think that’s a fair claim. I also think it’s an incorrect claim. Race and religion may certainly be contributing factors, especially when it comes to how the boy was treated after being detained, but although a worthy discussion, let’s leave that for another time.
Let’s think about the duties of a teacher.
He was a hero. But was being a hero part of his job?
Liviu Librescu was a Romanian-born Israeli. During WWII, his family was relocated to a concentration camp and later to a ghetto back in Romania. He emigrated to Israel after his studies, and went on sabbatical to the United States in 1985.
He became the Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, a position he held until he was shot to death by Seung-Hui Cho during the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007. Cho sent five shots through the classroom door—and the professor—as Librescu blocked it with his body. All but one of his students survived the attack.
Librescu has been hailed as a hero by many. Other educators who have died in defense of their students—Victoria Soto (Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012) and Michael Landsberry (Sparks Middle School in 2013) to name only two—have also earned a hero’s distinction.
These are examples of educators who faced active shooters, but we could easily extend this discussion to educators who protect students from domestic violence, pedophiles, gang violence, student-to-student violence, and other ailments of society.
It’s near impossible to not be in awe of educators who risk—and possibly lose—their lives to protect their students. But the question remains, does the educator have the duty to protect students? If so, to what extent?
What would a Medal of Honor Recipient say?
During the same week Ahmed was arrested, many of the 78 surviving Medal of Honor recipients gathered in Boston for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s annual convention. I thought it’d be interesting to know what a recipient would say about being recognized for their valor.
“I’m not some big war hero,” said Gary Wetzel to the group of high schoolers in Boston. Wetzel lost an arm when his chopper was shot down in Vietnam. He told the students that he was just doing his job. That’s a common response.
But killing and dying, to a certain extent, are accepted parts of a military job description.
Now, do—or should—teachers share a similar duty? Admittedly, this question seems outlandish at first, considering the wide differences between active military combat and a classroom setting. I’m certainly not advocating for vigilante teachers who set out to solve crimes.
But school violence is real. Perhaps rare, but real.
So let me ask in a different way.
When Professor Librescu barricaded the door with his body while a killer lurked outside, was he just doing his job?
How seriously should a school take a possible bomb threat?
99 out of 100 bomb threats are unfounded, according to school security expert Ken Trump. “You have to treat it seriously,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday. “That doesn’t equate to overacting.”
Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, adds, “The last thing you want is to gloss over something like that and have something bad happen.”
Here’s what you should know.
Ken Trump—the President of National School Safety and Security Services—wasn’t talking about Ahmed, homemade clocks, or MacArthur High in Irving, Texas. Neither was Mo Canady, whose organization trains schools and law enforcement on situations like these.
On Thursday September 17, #IStandWithAhmed had officially gained momentum on social media. On the east coast, the Medal of Honor Convention was in its third day. In San Diego, 11 schools were put on lockdown in the San Diego Unified School District.
The San Diego Unified School District worked hard to handle the most threats the district had ever received on a single day. A principal of one of the high schools in lockdown sent an email to the parents saying numerous schools received “hoax” bomb threats.
There are very obvious differences between circumstances surrounding the San Diego Unified School District and what conspired at MacArthur High in Irving, Texas. The most notable is that Ahmed didn’t blatantly threaten harm.
With that said, let’s stay focused on the educator’s duty. The lockdowns in San Diego sheds light on what they believe the duty to be.
As the dust began to settle on the hectic day, district spokeswoman Linda Zintz talked about the district’s first priority.
“Our first priority,” she said, “is to keep our kids safe. Although it did disrupt some classroom learning, we are happy to report that everybody is safe.”
Did Ahmed’s teacher do the right thing?
Remember, the natural reaction is to form an opinion. Instead, ask a question.
Here’s an appropriate question to ask here: Which teacher?
More than one teacher saw Ahmed’s invention before he was led away by police. One teacher he showed was his engineering teacher. That teacher, according to Ahmed, suggested that he not show his clock to other teachers.
This raises an interesting question to ponder: Could this have been avoided had the engineering teacher reacted differently?
Regardless, Ahmed obeyed the engineering teacher and zipped his clock up in his backpack. In English class, his clock beeped.
So, let’s say you’re the English teacher.
You hear the beep, and the student shows you what beeped. Do you recognize what you see?
As an educator with duties to both educate and keep students safe, what would you do?
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