Last week, lots of people were outraged that a 14yo kid was handcuffed and arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. Some folks tried to point out that such extracurricular projects should never be brought to school... because we live in a "day and age" of terror or something. That suggestion -- that kids need to somehow restrict their enthusiasm for trying to impress their teachers with something they've made outside of school -- is awful. The education system is often faulted for failing to improve test scores and leaving more than "no children" behind. However, Ahmed Mohamed's experience highlights that schools might want to start thinking more about how to identify talent and nurture skills that are valuable beyond taking tests.
We talk a lot about police overreacting to things, but this takes things to a new and ridiculous level. The Dallas Morning News released a story last night about police in Irving, Texas, arresting 14-year old Ahmed Mohamed, a freshman in high school, for building a digital clock and bringing it in to school to show his teachers. Ahmed likes to tinker and build electronics. This is the kind of thing you'd think the school and the community would want to encourage. But, instead, he was arrested and sent to a juvenile detention center, suspended from school and the police say they may charge him for making a "hoax bomb." Except it's a clock. He never said it was a bomb. He never implied it was a bomb. Just some teachers and the police freaked out about it.
He kept the clock inside his school bag in English class, but the teacher complained when the alarm beeped in the middle of a lesson. Ahmed brought his invention up to show her afterward.
“She was like, it looks like a bomb,” he said.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”
The teacher kept the clock. When the principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of sixth period, he suspected he wouldn’t get it back.
They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”
Ahmed felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name — one of the most common in the Muslim religion. But the police kept him busy with questions.
The bell rang at least twice, he said, while the officers searched his belongings and questioned his intentions. The principal threatened to expel him if he didn’t make a written statement, he said.
“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.
“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”
“He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”
The incredible thing is that the police flat out admit that he never claimed it was a bomb, but they're still considering charging him with making a hoax bomb.
Ahmed never claimed his device was anything but a clock, said police spokesman James McLellan. And police have no reason to think it was dangerous. But officers still didn’t believe Ahmed was giving them the whole story.
“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” McLellan said. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”
Perhaps there was no broader explanation because none is needed.
Even more ridiculous: they handcuffed this kid (wearing a NASA t-shirt, by the way) and walked him through the school as they took him away. This picture is shameful.
The most depressing part of the news article is how it ends:
He’s vowed never to take an invention to school again.
The school has now doubled down on this move, by sending a letter to parents at the school congratulating themselves for this whole thing:
While we do not have any threats to our school community, we want you to be aware that the Irving Police Department responded to a suspicious-looking item on campus yesterday. We are pleased to report that after the police department's assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child's safety.
Our school is cooperating fully with the ongoing police investigation, and we are handling the situation in accordance with the Irving ISD Student Code of Conduct and applicable laws. Please rest assured that we will always take necessary steps to keep our school as safe as possible.
Even worse... the school is using this as a "teaching moment" telling parents to tell their kids to report any "suspicious" things. Like brown kids being curious and inventing cool shit:
I recommend using this opportunity to talk with your child about the Student Code of Conduct and specifically not bringing items to school that are prohibited. Also, this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away. We will always take necessary precautions to protect our students.
And by "address" it, apparently, they mean arrest bright kids for being curious and gifted.
The whole "bomb hoax" thing based on authorities getting confused about a non-bomb reminds me of that time, back in 2007, when Cartoon Network tried to promote Adult Swim with light up boxes of various characters placed around Boston -- and because some people freaked out and the city was shut down, Boston's mayor declared the marketing stunt a "bomb hoax." Once again, if someone is building something that you mistake for a bomb, and they had no intention of passing it off as a bomb, nor does it actually look like a bomb, it's not a bomb hoax. At all. And you look ridiculous calling it out as such.
And, of course, you look that much more ridiculous when you not only overreact like this, but do it against a clearly intelligent and talented teenager who likes to tinker with electronics.
Update: A picture of the clock has now been released. Nothing about it changes the story at all.
Schools in the US vary quite a bit by location. A school in one neighborhood could be vastly better than another school just on the other side of town. There are obvious factors that play into this situation, and unsurprisingly, some political campaigns can cloud the progress towards solutions that might improve lagging schools. Clearly, not all schools can be created equal, but there could be some ways to close the "achievement gap" without simply knocking down the higher-performing schools.
Digital education tools are coming. There's a lot of venture capital going towards "big data" approaches to developing better teaching tools. Online classes are still working out the bugs, but presumably, digital degrees (or nano-degrees?) may provide some advantages over traditional classrooms in the future. [url]
We've discussed the legacy entertainment industry's bizarre infatuation with the idea that if they just "educate" people better, they'll magically stop gravitating to infringing content. This strategy has never worked, because it completely misdiagnoses the issue. Piracy has never been an education issue. It's been a service issue. Yet, year after year, the legacy entertainment industry wastes money on ever more ridiculous campaigns, each time thinking that shocking or scaring individuals will somehow get them to stop infringing. None of these campaigns has ever made even the slightest dent in anything, other than as fodder for parody. And, now, TorrentFreak alerts us to the latest "anti-piracy" ad campaign, dreamed up by the folks at Leo Burnett, apparently on behalf of Virgin Radio. Apparently, someone thought that if they featured famous dead musicians, who had lifelong struggles with depression or self-image, that this would somehow convince people to not infringe any more, because "if you knew what went into it, you wouldn't steal it."
Almost nothing in this campaign makes sense, nor does it seem likely to work. First of all, most people who are getting access to infringing music don't think they're "stealing" it in the first place, so the tag line is nonsensical. Second, choosing super successful musicians, even those with very serious personal demons, isn't likely to generate that much sympathy concerning "Oh, they didn't make more money from the music that made them super rich and famous already."
And, of course, it's just damn creepy to somehow be pinning some sort of weird guilt trip on people, as if infringement somehow added to the personal struggles of Elvis Presley and Marvin Gaye? Huh? It doesn't make any sense at all. And while Winehouse at least lived in a time when there was widespread infringement, that would seem to have been fairly low on the list of things that concerned her.
And yet, Leo Burnett is acting as if this is some sort of noble effort, "taking a stand against piracy" rather than a fairly disgusting exploitation of dead artists who had personal demons while they were alive. Burnett calls it "a strong platform to build on for anti-piracy," which suggests an ad agency so out of touch and clueless, you kind of have to wonder how they stay in business.
We had two separate stories late last week about copyright issues in the UK, and it occurred to me that a followup relating one to the other might be in order. The first one, from Thursday, was about the UK's plan to try, once again, to push a new "education campaign" to teach people that "copyright is good." We've seen these campaigns pop up over and over again for decades now, and they tend to lead to complete ridicule and outright mockery. And yet, if you talk to film studio and record label execs, they continually claim that one of the most important things they need to do is to teach people to "respect" copyright through education campaigns.
My guess is they say this because an education campaign is something they can actually do, so they can make it look like they're "doing something" no matter how ineffective it will be. And, you can go back centuries and find that no education campaign has ever worked in magically making people respect anti-copying laws.
That brings us to story number two: on Friday, the UK's High Court confirmed that ripping your legally purchased CDs and DVDs to make a digital copy for personal use is no longer legal (something that the government had only "made" officially legal a few months ago). The court even left open the possibility that anyone who relied on the official change in regulations to rip their own CDs might now face punishment for doing so.
This court ruling came about after an organization run by the record labels, UK Music, challenged the legal change.
And this is the part that legacy copyright industry extremists still don't get. You don't get respect for copyright through propaganda education campaigns. You get respect through earning it. And that means responding reasonably to things that people do. People want to rip music to make it more convenient to listen to. You should support that. You shouldn't try to make it illegal. You shouldn't sue your biggest fans. You shouldn't go after people for obviously non-commercial use of works. You shouldn't put ridiculous statutory damages on works. You shouldn't tax blank media. You shouldn't pull works down from the internet because a few seconds in the background contain some copyright-covered music. You shouldn't try to pass laws that limit free expression.
And yet, the recording industry does all of that, and then they think that a lousy (and misleading) education campaign will make people "respect" copyright? What are they thinking?
If you drop the search term "educational campaign" into the Techdirt search field, it's crazy how many story links pop up. When it comes to educating the public, particularly the youth, about how super-important copyright is and how goddamned terrible pirating is, the effort appears to have been going on for forty years or so. Given how every indication from our pro-copyright friends and the entertainment industries have been of the "sky is falling" variety, I would have thought that there would be some acknowledgment that the whole educational campaign thing didn't work. Or maybe that the lesson plan sucked. Some kind of recognition of failure.
The education programme will target 16-24 year-olds, their parents, those responsible for household internet connections, as well as others who influence young people’s attitudes to accessing content. To capture the attention of these audiences, public relations firm Weber Shandwick will lead an integrated consumer, corporate and social PR campaign, with activities scheduled to start later this summer. Creative Content UK is working with Atomic London on advertising creative. Media planning and buying will be directed by ZenithOptimedia.
The campaign is part of the Creative Content UK initiative, a ground-breaking partnership between content creators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), together with an education campaign part-funded by the government, aimed at helping reduce online copyright infringement.
In other words, the public is footing part of the bill for letting the entertainment industries and ISPs tell them how great their products are and how horrible the bill-footing public is because piracy exists. And it will come from such organic methods like hiring PR and advertising firms. How could this possibly fail?
Well, probably the same way that the RIAA's educational campaign failed. And the one that was done in Sweden failed. And the USPTO's educational campaigns, too. They fail because they're almost universally inaccurate and misleading propaganda hits that fail to connect with children far too savvy to fall for scare-tactics. Meanwhile, innovation stalls because the entertainment industry is busy reaping failure with the K-12 crowd.
But, still, that excitement.
Janis Thomas, Education Project Manager, Creative Content UK, said: “We are delighted to have three highly-experienced agencies on board to help us create disruptive and engaging multi-media campaigns that will connect with the aspirations of young people. This behaviour change initiative is vital to the success of the sector and will ensure that we can continue innovating and taking risks on new artists and ideas. We aim to inspire individuals to make a personal commitment to the future of the UK creative industries and to the creation of music, film, games and other entertainment, which they love so much.”
You just have to beat the buzzwords off with a stick, don't you? Kids aren't going to fall for this crap any more than they fell for the over-the-top anti-marijuana videos they showed my parents. But, hey, keep beating that dead horse if you want. Just keep it down; some of us are innovating over here.
School is out for most American kids right now, but that doesn't mean parents and teachers aren't still thinking about how schools could improve and how to get kids to learn better. There are plenty of problems that seem insurmountable in the US education system, but there could be some solutions that try to tackle them in limited trials. If these trials succeed, they might be expanded to more schools -- and hopefully, over time, all schools can get better and learn from each other.
A few years ago, Canada's Supreme Court made it clear that "fair dealing" should be applied broadly, especially in educational settings. Fair dealing, of course, is similar to fair use -- and, in the US, in theory, educational uses are also supposed to qualify for fair use. As Section 107 of the US Copyright Act states:
The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
Thus, it seems like the Canadian interpretation is very much in line with the US's statutory view of fair use. Of course, over the years, in the US, publishers have repeatedly chipped away at fair use, such that now that Canada has moved to a position more akin to what the US's is supposed to be, those same publishers are absolutely flipping out. Last year, we noted that those US publishers submitted a recommendation to the USTR claiming that fair dealing in Canada was simply piracy. This was the publishers' submission to the USTR for consideration in preparing its annual Special 301 Report.
Apparently, this "fair dealing = piracy" argument didn't play well enough at the USTR and didn't make this year's Special 301 charade. So, the publishers are pissed. Or so reports a recent bit in Politico's Morning Trade (I'd link to the actual story, but Politico apparently doesn't believe in making it easy to permalink to its Morning Trade tidbits, so it's no longer there), where it notes they've asked the deputy USTR (and former BSA boss) to do something.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman is traveling to New York today to attend the opening ceremony of BookExpo America, put on by the Association of American Publishers. The industry group is steamed over USTR’s failure in a recent report to confront what it regards as Canada’s overly broad copyright exception for educational purposes. “Active engagement by the U.S. and Canada to remedy the damage should not be put off any longer,” the AAP said.
Think about that for a second. Here are American publishers flat out complaining about Canada setting up its laws to help people get educated. Do these publishers think even in the slightest about the kind of message they're sending out? "Fuck educating children -- we want more money."
There are as many different kinds of parenting as there are parents (or more...) -- every kid is different, and no two parents treat their kids the same way. Definitely, some questionable parenting techniques exist, but who's really to say what's correct? (Okay, child services and/or a judge....) Some folks believe in a free-range kid policy, but others think that's crazy or dangerous. If you're not already flooded with parenting advice, check out some of the following links.
A Singaporean math test question went viral not too long ago, confusing some people and making others wonder how American kids should be taught math. Plenty of other countries perform better on international standardized tests than US kids do, but it doesn't always mean the US should adopt other countries' lesson plans and policies. However, there's always some political pressure to try to change things (not always for the better). Check out some links on Finland and how it has been working to improve its school system since the 1960s.