As Ahmed Mohamed experiences a rush of international celebrity – demonstrated by his appearance at the UN’s Social Good Summit this weekend – some recent statements from an old teacher offer more insight into the young man’s intellect and brushes with authority.
Ralph Kubiak, a former history teacher at Sam Houston Middle School who had Mohamed when he was in seventh grade, spoke with the Dallas Morning News for an article from this weekend about his experience teaching Mohamed. His testimony paints a picture of a young brilliant kid who overcame hardships to stand out in his class:
“He was a weird little kid,” said Kubiak, now 62 and retired. “I saw a lot of him in me. That thirst for knowledge … he’s one of those kids that could either be CEO of a company or head of a gang.”[…]
The boy showed up at the school in sixth grade with almost no English: bespectacled, small for his age and far from the continent where he was born. But a year later, sitting below the posters of black leaders in Kubiak’s classroom, he could discuss similarities between Judaism, Christianity and his faith, Islam.
“He was secure enough in his religion to look at the other side,” Kubiak said. The teacher remembered talking about the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, agreeing with Ahmed that they twisted Muslim scripture to control ignorant people.
Kubiak also described Mohamed as rebellious, citing suspensions and pranks rooted in his command of technology:
But Ahmed’s intelligence shone through in the classroom, in robotics club, and in the homemade inventions he would often cram into his backpack.
Some of his middle school teachers were surprised to hear that MacArthur High staff called police this month after Ahmed brought a homemade clock to class. He had dragged far more elaborate gizmos into Sam Houston all the time.
When a seemingly possessed projector kept shutting off midlecture, young boys’ snickers surrounded Ahmed’s desk, where he sat with a hand-built remote control in his lap.
When a tutor’s cellphone went dead, Ahmed’s jerry-rigged battery charger brought it back to life.
The article also quotes Anthony Bond, a family friend who has advocated for Mohamed, and says that a lot of the disciplinary issues came from Mohamed trying to stick up for himself and deal with racism in school:
Ahmed said he was suspended for several weeks in sixth grade. A family friend, Anthony Bond, said the boy and a cousin were blowing soap bubbles in the bathroom, and the school overreacted.
“Kids are kids,” said Bond, who has known Ahmed since he enrolled at Sam Houston. “He was a little boy in a new environment, and they were acting out.”
There was more trouble in seventh grade. Kubiak said he sent Ahmed’s classwork to the district’s reassignment center until he finished his punishment. “He still ended up with an A in my class,” he said.
By eighth grade, the young inventor was complaining of bullying — not just by students, but by staff.
In November, Bond wrote a letter to the superintendent, school board president and other officials, protesting that Ahmed had been suspended for defending himself during a hallway fight.
A larger boy had been choking Ahmed, Bond wrote. What’s more: “Ahmed also alleges that everyday, students in the school are calling him ‘Bacon Boy and Sausage Boy and ISIS Boy.’”
Ahmed blamed an administrator at the school who, Bond wrote, the boy felt “has been terrorizing him since the 6th grade” — hindering him from praying in school and unfairly punishing him.
Kubiak also noted the way the school’s punitive environment also affected teachers like him who advocated for students:
Kubiak, the eternal civil rights ideologue, was growing uncomfortable with Sam Houston’s administration. He complained to the superintendent that the school was too quick to suspend children and said he refused to use a new student evaluation system that “wrote some kids off.” He was booted down to teach sixth grade last year — and he knew he was done.
“They didn’t force me into retirement,” Kubiak said. “But I was damn sure glad to go.”
Even with some of the tone-deaf and sensational things said by Kubiak ("head of a gang" is especially cringe-worthy), his perspective is valuable. As school officials like MacArthur High School principal Dan Cummings are prevented by a legal injunction from speaking on the matter publically, Kubiak’s outsider perspective (and others like him) are the only ones that offer additional insight into what the schooling environment was like for children like Mohamed.
Mohamed, for his part, is being represented publically by Universal Media Group (Colorlines was sent a release by them today), and it seems that that his celebrity (which also includes near-universal vilification from right-wing blogs and personalities, including his own Islamophobic mayor) is now a true phenomenon.