“See something, say something” Redux

Pressure cooker bomb found on New York street.

Last weekend’s terrorist events in New York City have again reminded me of the dangerous folly of some in academia who purport to be art educators. In a blog post last December on the horrific terrorist attack in San Bernardino, I referred to “art educator” Kevin Tavin, now Professor of International Art Education at Aalto University in Finland.

When still teaching in the U.S., Tavin had prominently inveighed against the nationwide poster campaign “If you see something, say something,” arguing that it plays into “fears based on a socially constructed fear of difference” and encourages citizens to single out “people who don’t seem to belong.”

Lamentably, more than one San Bernardino resident, apparently swayed by similar reasoning, failed to report suspicious activity that might have averted tragedy.

Once again, the stupidity of Tavin’s viewpoint has been exposed by actual events. Thanks to the action of one New York woman, a pressure cooker bomb left on West 27th Street in Manhattan was removed by police before it could do harm. Moreover, the cellphone wired to the cooker helped lead police to the likely culprit.

Noticing the pressure cooker outside her home Saturday night, the woman had at first dismissed it as some “weird science experiment.” But nagged by recollection of the ubiquitous “see something, say something” ads, she reconsidered. As she later explained to a reporter:

“In the subway, with those ads, there’s that thought in your brain all the time. I thought it would be irresponsible not to call because it did look suspicious.”

Indeed. But not nearly as irresponsible as Tavin’s version of “art education.”