There a lot of lessons in the story of 14-year-old Texas student Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested after his homemade clock, were mistakenly taken as a bomb. The social media hashtag #IStandWithAhmed is sparking a dialogue that our society needs to have.

Ahmed’s hobby is to invent things. His latest creation was a clock, built in a USD 5 metal box that included a digital display and a circuit board. He wanted to impress his teacher so he took his clock to school. But another teacher got scared and reported him. The school called the police to arrest him (they did), and Ahmed was interrogated and taken to a juvenile detention center before his parents were finally able to retrieve him (see his video here). And then the school suspended him for three days. “It made me feel like I wasn’t human. It made me feel like I was a criminal,” the young boy said in an interview.

“It made me feel like I wasn’t human. It made me feel like I was a criminal,” the young boy said in an interview.

We can think about and discuss a great deal of negative issues out of this story: vigilant citizens, intolerant adults, ignorant teachers and a lack of respect for -diversity. But what about: nurturing talent, coaching to excellence, inspiring youth to lead change and giving a purpose to “digital natives”? In my humble view, the teacher and school administration in Texas represents the complacent, conservative, old-time “forces” in society that fight –back against and resist change, innovation, talent, transformations and future leadership. Look around you: what has really changed and transformed recently?

How can we support more teenagers to invent and learn? How can we replicate best cases (such as the 16-year-old teenager from Connecticut in the US who got a science prize for inventing an express test that detects the deadly Ebola virus in just 30 minutes at a cost of USD 25)? How can we build on the work of institutions like the International Young Inventors Project Olympiad or the Young Inventors Challenge? You tell me…

Last year, my son was assigned by his gymnastics teacher to book-search (hear-hear!) and report on the all-time best basketball players. I saw it as an opportunity to introduce to him internet search, keywords and rules, and he got excited. Although the kid was proud to have on the same page his favorite “Air” Jordan and the Greek-American legend Nick Gallis, the next day he returned home totally disappointed. His 50-year-old teacher had given a public speech, in front of all the class, about how dangerous computer and internet searches can be and that they should stay offline for homework. He gave no positive feedback to the effort and enthusiasm.

We all need to think more, look at our kids, activate them in these kinds of public dialogue and have the same mindset that the tweet from President Obama showed in regards to Ahmed: “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science”.


Note: This post first appeared on the Networked Society Blog, September 2015