Ahmed Mohamed's Ordeal *is* The Case for School Choice

Texas teen's awful treatment underscores why more educational options are better for everyone.


The story of Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas 9th-grader who was handcuffed and arrested after bringing a homemade clock to MacArthur High to show a teacher, is enraging. As Reason's Robby Soave has noted, xenophobia and zero-tolerance policies created a stew more toxic than anything ever served in a school cafeteria.

In my new column for The Daily Beast, I toss in some barbs at Texas, especially the insane fears about creeping Sharia law in the Dallas suburb of Irving, where Ahmed lives. (And for the record, I lived two happy years in Huntsville, Texas, and spend half my time living in small-town Ohio, so spare me any carping about coastal elitism.)

From the Beast:

Everything's bigger in Texas, including the irredeemable stupidity of the idiots who run their public schools as if they are minimum-security prisons. Then again, given the gigantic role that penitentiaries play in Texas's state budget, perhaps principals view becoming wardens as aspirational.

How else to explain the handcuffing and suspension of ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old kid so lost to the dark arts of nerd-dom that he "makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart"?

It doesn't help matters that

the mayor of Irving, Beth Van Duyne, is a nutjob who's convinced that Sharia law is supplanting the Lone Star State's brand of justice…. In support of a law that would bar voluntary mediation practices including Sharia (which is popular among Muslim communities), Van Duyne told Glenn Beck, "I think you need to put your foot down and say this is America, we have laws here already. If you want to consult, if you want to arbitrate, that is well within our law… I've got no problem with it. But setting up a separate court, setting up separate law is not anything" she'd allow.

Regular readers of this site know that I'm generally upbeat about social progress. In virtually all ways, I think things are getting better all the way around (for heaven's sake, even French leftists are buying into "the Libertarian Moment"!). As the parent of two sons, I know that K-12 schooling is generally better than it was when I was a kid, but there are also definite ways in which it is far, far worse.

Attending high school in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my friends and I listened incessantly to Pink Floyd's epic anti-factory-schooling masterpiece The Wall. Over two glorious LPs, Pink Floyd inverted savior-teacher films such as To Sir, With Love and zeroed in on how just stultifying school was to anyone with half a brain and any sense of independence (sure, the Brit school system of The Wall was worse than its U.S. counterpart, but it all rang true to the kids in America).

What we didn't know back then was that we had it easy compared to today's kids. Indeed, as we baby boomers started running the very K-12 schools and colleges and universities we once chafed against, we instituted an endlessly multiplying procession of "zero-tolerance policies" on everything from teeny-tiny toy guns to Midol for girls dealing with their periods (read this and then curse out your local school boards). Piss tests went from being required only of Olympic medalists to being Supreme Court-approved prerequisites for honor students singing in choir and joining academic quiz teams (seriously).

Read the whole piece here.

Having said that, relax Ahmed: It really does get better. Especially now that your parents are putting you in a new school, hopefully one that isn't as lunkheaded as Irving's MacArthur High.

Your story is one more reminder that school choice is a good idea, especially in places that freak out over phantom menaces. Sadly, school choice, especially for low-income kids, has taken a beating in Texas thanks to the influence of billionaire left-wingers. Choice is a growing aspect of virtually every aspect of our lives in contemporary America, so the reactionaries will lose eventually. But how many lives will they make miserable in the meantime?

Related video: To Surly, With Love (Are teachers overpaid?)