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Scientists' Support for Kiera Wilmot #Solidarity4Wilmot


Here’s what we now know.

Kiera Wilmot was re-creating the Drano Aluminum foil experiment at school. She was outside, before the morning bell. She recreated one of those Wow! Science experiments, the kind we see on Myth Busters or You’ve Been Warned! Folks love those shows. They love doing that crazy stuff at home (although they tell you not to). Who’s the kind of person to push the envelope and risk a little safety just to find out if/how/why? A scientist or an engineer. Outside of the context of today’s alarmist communities, 20 years ago folks would have wagged a finger, “You crazy kids!”

Frankly, that is what most scientists are saying. “I blew something up a school once, too!” in this overwhelming consensus post. The difference now is that most of those people have degrees in science and engineering (in fact, they may be teaching your sons and daughters RIGHT now. Bwaaahahahaha!) not awaiting a court date like Kiera Wilmot.

Here is the incident report:

Wilmot Arrest by Tim Elfrink

Some have asked, ‘why did she do it at school?’

I don’t know, maybe because there is more space at school than at home. I used to take my little side-projects to school, too. More space, more resources, and I wanted to show off to my friends.

But I have my own questions.

Why is she being charged as an adult? What about her made her unworthy of legal protection and privacy that we normally afford to juveniles? Why do the local justice and public school systems of Bartlow, Florida, think it’s perfectly fair to team up against a kid?

She said it was a science experiment but the science teacher said he didn’t know about an experiment.

So, it’s only science if the science teacher says it’s science? Some folks have said that since it wasn’t a class activity (or that the science teacher couldn’t vouch for it) then the girl was merely making an excuse. As if science can only happen under the sanctioned approval and awareness of the science teacher.

Forbid this child had an authentic, self-derived interest in science that hadn’t been formally assigned to her!

With this type of thinking is it any wonder Black and Latino Children are under-represented in Science Fairs. If everyone around you has the idea that only legitimate science experiments are those sanctioned and prescribed to students, then when are students expected to explore independent authentic science interests? In Bartow, Florida, I guess the answer is no.

Adults, we have a problem. We are totally failing at preparing this next generation for adult hood. I personally believe that teens require more supervision than toddlers. They require guidance, instruction, and the opportunity to try out new knowledge. That means letting them take (some) measured risks and helping them recover even if it was all bad.

I don’t like what we’re doing now. We’re policing them and criminalizing their behavior. Some communities are willing to throw a child away for stupid, silly, and yes sometimes unsafe antics, that have been done since the beginning of time. Is this how we prepare the next generation of citizens, leaders, workers, scientists? Is there no opportunity for growth, development, recovery?

This child (and so many like her) deserves her life back. Many have asked me, what can we do? Here is a start.

Contact the School Authorities

Polk County Superintendent, Dr John Stewart. Phone: 863-534-0521 Fax: 863-519-8231

Bartow High School Principal, Mr Ronald Pritchard. Phone: 863-534-7400

Contact the Bartow Police Department

Phone: 863 534-5034 Fax: 863-534-5030 Email: lbryan.pd@cityofbartow

Contact the Bartow Attorney General who named the charges for her.

Sign the Petition to have charges dropped. This young girl is being charged with a violent felony. There was no violence. There was no injury. There was no damage. If left alone, this young could face serious jail time or at the very least be introduced into the criminal justice system. Nothing about this situation or this young person’s history suggest that this is a fair outcome for her.

Share your own story of foolish science shenaningans. I am so proud of how the (online) science community has stood up in support of Kiera . We recognize the possible danger in what she did, because we’ve done it ourselves. By sharing your own story, we want the school officials as well as the Bartow, Florida, to see what she did in the context of scientific curiosity (and child development) -- #ScienceIsnotCrime. Moreover, I think it will help her attorneys outline a defense for her. Thousands of scientists and engineers vouch for her. Maybe they’ll call expert witnesses. I hope it doesn’t get that far.

I know many of you want to do more. I completely understand. And we should. The only thing is it’s not clear to me how to contact the family and let them know that we are available to them. Making sure Kiera is safe is first. Clearing her of these charges is the priority. Offers to mentor, teach, do outreach or even start a college fund are secondary to securing her permanent freedom as soon as possible.

So I don’t know where to point you related to offers to contribute to a defense fund or to mentor/teach her or even start a scholarship fund. We may have to hold tight. In the meantime we can show our solidarity for Kiera Wilmot online and with our petitions to the Bartlow authorities.

I also think we need to use this opportunity to initiate some very hard conversations about Mentored opportunities for underserved students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Her case and the reaction of people really shed light on how hungry all youth are for hands-on, minds-on engagement. I recommend hosting community discussions about STEM outreach to teens as a method to deter youth from negative outcomes. If anyone is in a position to make proposals to the National Urban League and the NAACP, then I recommend this topic. Education and STEM access are civil rights issues. We need to talk about how this service community should include more African-American Scientists & STEM as a way to promote Positive Youth Development in Minority Youth.

If you feel so inclined to throw your name into the hat to assist in some way, then please fill out the Google Document. That way, once we learn details, such as the family lawyer or if a defense/scholarship fund has been set up, then we can reach those individuals directly.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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