#IStandWithAhmed: A Lesson is the Need for More Compassion and Tolerance

As someone who stands up for literacy, the education of your youth, and compassion, I have to talk about Ahmed Mohamed.

Ahmed, as reported by news organizations, built a digital clock and took it to school to show to his teacher.

It was a proud moment for him.

A Student's Pride Quickly Turns to Disappointment, Fear

But what began as an example of a child being proud of his work and wanting some validation went very wrong.

What happened? As you may know, instead of his teacher applauding his work, she sent Ahmed to the principal’s office. When the police arrived, they handcuffed the 14-year-old Texas student and drove off with him.

Everyone initially seemed to think the boy built and brought a bomb to school. When the truth was revealed – that Ahmed had simply built a clock – Ahmed was released.

As the news followed this story, Ahmed became a sensation on social media. Soon, #IStandWithAhmed soared in popularity on Twitter.

Ahmed’s father wasn’t too happy about the incident. He’s quoted as having said he believed that his son had been profiled because of his name and because of what occurred in New York City on September 11.

What’s true is that instead of investigating Ahmed’s invention further or asking him more questions, the school called the police.

I have to admit that schools tend to be on edge these days. There have been far too many school shootings than I care to count, but Ahmed’s case is especially troubling.

U.S. President & High-Tec Executives Take Note of Ahmed

The teaching of empathy in education gains a lot of attention these days. Yet, when confronted with society members of certain cultural backgrounds, we resort to prejudice and worse. Why?

What happened to Ahmed was wrong on so many levels. We talk about compassion and quote everyone from The Dalai Lama to Martin Luther King, Jr. yet we still tend to fall back on our prejudices or fears about certain cultural stereotypes, especially Muslims.

Fortunately, in the aftermath of the original news reports, many people reached out to Ahmed. This is what President Obama tweeted:

Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.

And here’s what Hillary Clinton wrote:

Assumptions and fear don't keep us safe—they hold us back. Ahmed, stay curious and keep building.

What a great message!

Ahmed also caught the attention of numerous, high-tech executives.

This is what Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder, wrote on his Timeline:

Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed. Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I'd love to meet you. Keep building.

Twitter extended an invitation as well and Google tweeted this on September 16:

Hey Ahmed - we're saving a seat for you at this weekend's Google Science Fair...want to come? Bring your clock! ‪#IStandwithAhmed

Long History of Intolerance in Our Society

As the story evolves, there is news that perhaps Ahmed didn’t really build a clock. Maybe he rebuilt one. That part of this story doesn’t concern me. What does interest me is the issue of prejudice and lack of empathy that is too prevalent in our society.

Ahmed judiciously made the decision to look for a new school. Who can blame him?

Let’s just hope that his new school treats him with more compassion and less bias. Let’s hope that his new school exemplifies the best in compassion teachings.

#IStandWithAhmed: A Lesson in Compassion & Empathy

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.

Don't Smoosh that Spider! How Insects and Compassion are Connected

Do you subscribe to Education World? It’s a wonderful website, and the organization sends a newsletter regularly.

In its most recent newsletter, there was an article about bugs. Yep, bugs. 

Interesting little creatures, aren’t they?

Millions of Insects Exist in the World

According to the article, some experts believe there are up to ten million different bugs or more. And in some parts of the world, bugs are integral to people’s diets.

Education World also offered tips on activities for your kids that include bugs, such as spider math. Cool, eh?

Well, this topic got me thinking.

Don’t Let All Insects Bug You

Are you the sort of person to smoosh bugs to death? I can understand why you would do that to a tick. After all, they can carry Lyme Disease. And termites are pretty disgusting and can ruin your home. (Although some experts believe that are also important critters.)

But what about spiders? Bees? Without bees, human life would soon come to an end.

There are other insects that deserve to live as well:

  • Aphid parasites help to control aphids on your plants.
  • The aphid predator is similar to the aphid parasite. It feeds on 60 types of aphids.
  • Lady beetles (also known as ladybugs) consume mites, aphids, and other soft-bodied bugs.
  • The praying mantis eats all insects, including wasps and bees.

To see a complete list of insects that benefit our environment, check the website, Planet Natural.  It has some great information.

Teach Kids Compassion for Insect Life

So how do you teach your children to respect insect life instead of stepping on bugs? I think the answer lies in helping our children learn to become compassionate individuals.

Compassion toward other human beings involves being able to discern when someone is hurt or suffering. Compassion toward our natural environment involves recognizing the sanctity of life in our pets and even in our gardens.

For example, you can explain to your children the importance of bees to human life. And you can explain the role of spiders in our world.

By the way, they too can help our gardens by controlling pests. In fact, they are willing to eat just about any other insect they can catch.

Of course, it’s also wise to teach your children that some spiders are dangerous. For example, your kids need to avoid and alert you when they see a Brown Recluse or Black Widow Spider.

But there’s a world of insects that help us in a myriad of ways and we can give our children opportunities to learn about them and appreciate their role in our precious ecosystem.

What are your tips for teaching children compassion toward insects?

Don't Smoosh that Bug! How Insects and Compassion are Linked by Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.

New Book Tackles Compassionate Solutions for Classroom Challenges

My last post was about a Wisconsin study that used mindfulness training in the classroom. As you already know, this is a favorite topic of mine.

Mindfulness training is wonderful because inherent in the teaching are lessons about compassion and empathy, traits we want our children to develop so that they become socially responsible adults who care about the future of our world.

There is a new book titled 55 Teaching Dilemmas: Ten Powerful Solutions to Almost Any Classroom Challenge, by Kathy Paterson. This book offers strategies for dealing with classroom challenges with compassion and empathy.

Take a look at the book's synopsis:

To teach with excellence demands more than strategies and techniques. The most successful teachers draw on their personal power—their confidence, compassion, and empathy, and their professional power—their ability to lead, instruct, and inspire their students to do their best. With practice, most teachers can develop the skills they need to conquer almost any classroom challenge.

Compassionate Solutions for Classroom Challenges

In Chapter One, this book notes numerous ways teachers can help their students to show active compassion toward others:

  • Provide encouragement all the time. It is a much better experience for the student when adults can take the time to encourage positive expectations.
  • A smile can work wonders, can't it? It can change the student outlook for the entire day or an entire week. Just think how you felt as a child when the teacher smiled at you in class and gave you a hug after class? Smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement can work wonders with children.
  • Follow the golden rule of treating others as you would want to be treated. In other words, encourage your students to be courteous to others.
  • Help your students to feel safe in the classroom. For some students, this might mean it's important to leave the classroom door open or to not sit too closely to a child. It isn't easy to discern the family life of each child in the classroom. Some children come from homes that are abusive verbally, physically, or even sexually. Each child will have their sense of comfort level and it's important to be as attuned to this as possible
  • Instead of making all the decisions for your classroom on your own, from time to time ask your students what they would like to do next. Allow them to select a book for you to read aloud or to decide whether they want to use crayons for their drawings or paint.
  • Take the time to get to know your students. We know that teachers don't have a lot of time given their work schedules and the push these days to prepare students for tests. But the better you get to know your students, the better you will understand them.
  • Never take for granted the power of observation. Observe your students body language to determine how they are feeling in the classroom.
  • Do all you can to maintain calmness in your classroom and to avoid explosive situations.
  • It's important to respect your students' friendships. If it makes them more comfortable to sit with their friends, allow them to do this so long as their behavior doesn't become disruptive to the entire class.
  • Look for signs of suffering in your students. The best way to help is through active listening.
  • Try to monitor playground squabbles or in-class disagreements and find ways to come to amicable solutions.

How to Show Empathy in the Classroom

There are numerous ways that teachers can show empathy towards her/his students and in the classroom. Here are a few suggestions from this wonderful new book:

  • Get to know your students as individuals and try to align your expectations with each student's needs.
  • Treat all of your students with dignity and respect and help your students to treat others in the same manner.
  • When a child is confiding in you, practice active listening and do your best to refrain from interrupting with advice.
  • Adopt empathetic responses to help you respond to situations in the classroom without judgment. By doing this, you will be setting an example for your students to express less judgment toward others in their lives.

To learn more about this topic, be sure to check out the book and consider subscribing to Education World, a great resource for teachers that offers lesson plans, professional development opportunities, and an active blog.

 Drawing by Author and Illustrator Elizabeth B.  Martin


Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free