By now you've probably heard of Ahmed Mohamad, the 14-year-old who was arrested for taking a homemade clock to school. The police allegedly thought it was a "hoax bomb," even though Ahmed told anybody who'd listen that it was, in fact, a clock. The school officials' idiotic behavior, which included suspending Ahmed for three days and calling the police, is probably grounds for a civil-rights lawsuit (among other things, the principal threatened to expel Ahmed if he didn't sign a statement; just for the record, students, like all American citizens and residents, don't lose their 5th Amendment rights when they walk into a school building). The Internet exploded with outrage, most of it directed at the school officials. Because would any of this have happened if Ahmed had been a white Christian boy named Chad? Probably not. A new Twitter and Instagram hashtag reads, #IstandwithAhmed. But this blog post isn't about Ahmed Mohamad. Instead, it's about That Kid.
You know That Kid. You've probably seen him at your child's school, standing a little apart from the others. Maybe he's a friend of your kid's. Maybe you know his mom, or work with his dad. That Kid is the kid that just doesn't seem to fit in with the other kids. Maybe he's a different race or a different religion. Maybe he's very smart. Maybe he's fascinated by insects or internal combustion engines or Nazi war planes or something else that grown-ups find creepy. Maybe he just doesn't have the patience for the ever-growing list of soul-crushing bullshit rules that schools come up with in the name of "safety" and "good citizenship." Regardless, he's the kid who's always in trouble, whether that's from his peers or from the school administration or both. He's the nail that sticks up above the two-by-four, and everybody's on a relentless mission to pound him down. You know. That Kid. Everybody knows That Kid.
I'm 46 years old, and I used to be That Kid. My trek through elementary and middle school was particularly hellish because I was a. fat, b. very smart and c. the wrong religion. Any one of these would be enough to make you a social outcast in the clannish, insular society where I grew up (Salt Lake City, Utah, in the early to mid-1970s). But all three? Forget it. Not even your parents are going to back you up when you're all three.
My first brush with school administration bullshit in general happened when I was in kindergarten, or maybe first grade. Something I was drawing upset one of my teachers. I don't for the life of me remember what, but there was A Meeting. You know those meetings; the ones where your parents talk to the teacher, you sit outside in the hallway in a chair, and you know that no matter what happens, you're going to catch hell when it's over. After The Meeting, my mother suggested I try drawing flowers. Flowers are nice. So I started drawing flowers and everybody calmed down for a while.
The calm lasted, oh, for maybe a year. Around then the school told my parents that I was "hyperactive" (the 1970s term for ADHD) and needed to be on medication. (I like that; non-doctors telling other non-doctors that somebody needs medication. I thought that was illegal. Practicing medicine without a license or something.) So my parents dutifully took me to a psychiatrist who gave me great big doses of a drug called Ritalin, which is a street drug in Canada, ground down and shot up like heroin. All the stuff ever did was make me sleepy, but then the school isn't going to complain about a sleepy student, unless she nods off in the middle of math class.
So I was good to go, even though I had no friends, didn't really like any of the other students anyway and couldn't figure out why I even had to be around them at all, much less eight hours a day. I would have been thrilled to just be left alone, but instead I became every bully's favorite target. Don't think for a moment that discrimination against somebody because of his or her religion is a new thing; it dates back to approximately ancient Rome. And I was Lutheran, for God's sake (!). Not exactly the most controversial of faiths. So there were more meetings with school officials. And more meetings with school officials. And why it never occurred to anybody I might do better at another school, or even no school at all, I have no earthly idea.
Anyway, it's a long story and very sad and it really doesn't turn around until I'm in high school, in the marching band, but that's not the point, anyway. My point, and I do have one, is That Kid. You probably know That Kid. That Kid has probably grown up to be That Adult, somebody who's socially awkward at work or in your circle of friends. So, since you know That Kid, how about giving him or her a break? How about talking to him or her, getting past the social awkwardness and just hearing what he or she has to say, without worrying about what your friends might think? You'd be doing That Kid a great favor (nothing facilitates normal interaction like interaction with normals) and who knows, you may even learn something. Like how to build a clock from materials everybody has at home. Cheers, y'all.