Another day, another opportunity to talk about religious bigotry…

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the news articles and clips about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-yr-old engineering whiz whose homemade clock was mistaken for a bomb, causing his arrest when he brought it to school to show off to his teachers. If you haven’t, a good overview of the story and subsequent fallout is available from the Dallas Morning News.

It’s another chance to talk with students about profiling and misperceptions–how would this have been treated differently if Mohamed had a different religious background? Or gone to a school elsewhere in the nation, or in the world?

Mohamed’s thank you tweet to supporters is bittersweet–appreciative of the outreach he’s gotten (even President Obama invited him to the White House and encourage him to keep pursuing science) but cognizant of the challenges faced by Muslims in the world today:

Ahmed Mohamed's thank-you tweet

Ahmed Mohamed’s thank-you tweet

Hopefully the online support he’s recieved will translate into real-world encouragement and appreciation, especially since STEM is all the rage these days in the education world. I have a hard time know how to respond to Ahmed’s tweet–how to tell him there are many people who do really care about him, who want all young people to stay curious and inventive. I’d love to hear how high-school and middle-school students would respond to Mohamed’s tweet. How do they think they might respond if they were in his shoes–with an overwhelming sense of rejection, or a push for resilience?

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Greetings from the Gurudwara!

Not exactly–it was over a week ago that I had the pleasure of taking my two World Religions classes to the Sikh Gurudwara of NC. This is the second year that I have taken students there, and our host, Kulpreet Singh, has also come to my school in the past to speak with them. It is, every time, a wonderful experience.

The gurudwara peeking out from behind the trees--picture courtesy of Google Earth.

The gurudwara peeking out from behind the trees–picture courtesy of Google Earth.

The gurudwara is located behind a Baptist church on the other side of town from our high school. The building itself is eye-catching on the outside, but fairly simple when you enter. The students make their way in through the ground floor into the langar hall, where the Sikh community gathers for food and fellowship. There the kids work on covering their hair and taking off their shoes (wrapping the scarves can be a tricky feat if you’ve never done it before). Then Mr. Singh takes us upstairs into the worship hall.

We are incredibly lucky in that our host, Mr. Singh, is warm, honest, and funny. He is an incredible teacher and introduction to the faith. I’ve taught his son, who shares the same silly and kind nature. Mr. Singh gives a very brief introduction to the beliefs and worship practices, and then lets the students guide the conversation. Every year, it is no problem filling up an hour and a half with this exchange of ideas.

Mr. Singh does a lot to emphasize the commonalities among religions, and among people. He uses the analogy of droplets of water in one big ocean to illustrate the way that we are all one. His message, a colleague pointed out, was especially meaningful to hear now when so much of the news has been focused on black vs. white and the powerful vs. the oppressed. While he shows the kirpan (the small sword that all Sikhs wear) and walks students around the Guru Granth (the scripture that is revered as the last guru), well aware of how eye-catching these items are, mostly his message is about how his faith emphasizes respecting the perspectives of others, finding commonalities, and reaching for equality. Again, his description of the kirpan as a reminder to fight against injustice, anywhere, was a timely one. How inspiring for a faith to wholly emphasize the protection of others.

The rest of this week has been a whirlwind of testing and grading, wrapping things up before everyone heads home for three weeks of much needed rest. My students that were unable to join us that day completed their own, online, version of the trip by doing this Ted-Ed lesson that I made. Today, after their test on Indian religions, my students wrote thank-yous and reflections on the past unit. Their notes reflect a sense of gratitude for the opportunities we have in our community, to visit with people of other faiths and other cultures, and to bring that learning back home with us (and also an appreciation for getting a couple of hours off of school). I echo those feelings, and am also further impressed by how welcoming the various faith communities in this city are–I have never failed to hear back from a house of worship or a speaker, but rather am always overwhelmed by the time and care given by those that share with my classes. Thank you.