If you want to know Ahmed Mohamed — not the hoax bomb suspect or the vindicated celebrity, but the motormouth kid with a schoolbag full of inventions and a head full of questions — ask a teacher.
Ask at Sam Houston Middle School, where the boy from Sudan mastered electronics and English, once built a remote control to prank the classroom projector and bragged of reciting his First Amendment rights in the principal’s office.
It’s also the school where Ahmed racked up weeks of suspensions, became convinced an administrator had it in for him and — before he left for the high school where he turned famous — prompted Irving ISD to review claims of anti-Muslim bullying.
If you want to know about the boy before the fame, ask Ralph Kubiak: Ahmed’s seventh-grade history teacher and fellow outsider.
‘Weird little kid’
“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.”
Kubiak didn’t fit the mold either. To say he taught Ahmed Texas history in seventh grade would be to miss the point of what he calls his “ministry for 12 years at Sam Houston: to make sure these children knew the truth about their rights.”
With a thick beard sprouting from a button-down shirt, Kubiak was the teacher who played Steppenwolf songs in class and segued from the textbooks into his personal memories of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
He wanted his students — 4 out of 5 at Sam Houston are considered poor by the state — to question the world and its expectations of them. Not to let adults control them.
Ahmed was as good a disciple as anyone.
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.
“I said, ‘Don’t they read their own Quran?’ Kubiak recalled. “He said, ‘A lot of folks don’t.’”
Not that the preteen was a full-time philosopher. Another teacher remembered Ahmed after school: He and his friends would line up on opposite ends of a field, careen into each other at full speed, then get up and do it again.
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.
Some of these creations looked much like the infamous clock — a mess of wires and exposed circuits stuffed inside a hinged case, perhaps suspicious to some. But no one interviewed by The Dallas Morning News remembered Ahmed getting into trouble for bringing his creations to Sam Houston.
The boy found trouble other ways.
‘He just went on and on’
It didn’t take Ahmed long to learn fluent English. Once he did, he had a habit of overusing it — trying to impress classmates with a nonstop stream of chatter, teachers said, and often annoying them instead.
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