2015 September 16 White House Press Secretary comments on student Ahmed Mohamed
White House Press Secretary
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
September 16, 2015
Q [Question from Mark Knoller of CBS Radio News] Josh, how did President Obama come to post a tweet about a high school student in Texas who made a clock with some wires that got him in trouble? And why did he choose to tweet about it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President, like many of us, was struck by the news reports of this particular incident. Mark, the fact is that America's best teachers in our schools—in our best schools at least—nurture the intellectual curiosity of all of our students. In this instance, it's clear that at least some of Ahmed's teachers failed him. That's too bad. But it's not too late for all of us to use this as a teachable moment and to search our own conscience for biases in whatever form they take.
This episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people who dedicate their lives to educating young people for doing the good work that they set out to do.
So the President was pleased to extend an invitation—or the White House was pleased to extend an invitation to Ahmed to participate in Astronomy Night that will be hosted here at the White House next month. Astronomy Night is an event that we've previously held here that will bring together government, scientists, and NASA astronauts and others to spend some time with young people examining the wonders of the heavens. And it will be an opportunity for them to talk about science and our solar system and the universe. And it should be a good event. And I think that—or at least we are hopeful that Ahmed will feel right at home here.
Q Does President Obama believe bias was a factor because the young man is Muslim?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think from this distance, it's far too early to draw that direct assessment from here. We have seen that local law enforcement officials have closed the case. And I think there are some difficult and penetrating questions that do need to be asked in pursuit of the information that you just presented.
Q [Question from Chris Jansing of NBC News] Thanks. Let me ask you really quickly, to follow up on Ahmed Mohamed. So many interesting stories in the news that we often ask you about, and the President doesn't comment on them or if you haven’t spoken to him. Why did he decide to get involved with this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think that he, like many of us who saw this online or saw it in the newspaper today, I think were struck by this story. And look, there are millions of teachers all across our country that dedicate themselves on a daily basis. Many of them are underpaid too. But they dedicate themselves on a daily basis to trying to nurture the intellectual curiosity of their students. And that's heroic work, and it's work that is going to be critical to the long-term success of our country.
But at least in this instance, at least some of Ahmed's teachers failed him. And that's a shame. And I think it tugs at your heart strings a little bit, and that we at the White House, and the President himself recognized that there could be an opportunity to try to reach out to this young man and give him a unique opportunity to nurture that intellectual curiosity. And I think he's going to fit in quite well with the other young people who will be at the White House on Astronomy Night, learning from some of the most informed, cutting-edge scientists in the world about the wonder of the stars and the planets. And that will be a tremendous opportunity for him, and we hope he'll be able to attend.
Q Is it fair to say—and I’ve been watching on the Twitter feed and I saw everybody from a NASA engineer to a member of Congress just since you've been talking who have tweeted about this. Was it specifically that he wanted to spark a larger conversation about this? He saw it as an opportunity to do that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think you heard me say that I do think that for all of us that this has the potential to be a teachable moment to search our own conscience for biases that might be there. And the reason that we should do that is because I think this is an instance where you have people who have otherwise dedicated their lives to trying to teach our children, who failed in that effort because—potentially because of some things in their conscience and because of the power of stereotypes.
And there's certainly more that needs to be learned about in this particular situation. But even the potential of that I think is a good reminder to all of us. But I think at the end of the day, the President's tweet and the invitation from the White House are rooted in a desire to try to reach out to a 14-year-old boy, who, at least based on what we know from law enforcement, was wrongly handcuffed in his own school yesterday simply for bringing in a clock.