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Podcast | 20 Minutes

More Than Gifted Hands | Dr. Ben Carson

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
More Than Gifted Hands | Dr. Ben Carson

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How would you expect life to go for a child born in poverty to a teenage mother who didn’t get past the third grade? Famed neurosurgeon and politician Dr. Ben Carson is here to share his story and how one wise decision by his young mother changed the course of his life. He explains the psychological and practical effects that frequent, habitual reading can have on the minds and lives of the next generation. You won’t want to miss a moment of this encouraging and compelling episode as Dr. Carson shows that you don’t have to be born into a wealthy family to make a positive impact on the world.


Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.



Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. You have joined us for another episode of Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian Education. Thank you for joining us today. We have with us someone I'm sure you know, Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Carson, welcome!

Dr. Ben Carson:

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, it's it's exciting to have you with us. I’d like to start – and I know that this is very connected to a lot of things that have been impactful in your life – I'd like to start by hearing a little bit about our guest's background and upbringing and that sort of thing. Tell us a little bit about yourself, please.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, I started out pretty normal. I was born in Detroit. My parents seemed like a normal, happy family. When I was eight years old, however, my parents were divorced. My mother discovered that her husband was a bigamist. She'd gotten married at age 13, trying to escape dire poverty in rural Tennessee. And suddenly she was in a situation where she had to try to raise two sons on her own.

We were homeless for a little while, but then some relatives took us in, in Boston, and it was a typical tenement. Large multifamily dwellings boarded up windows and doors, sirens, gangs, murders. Both of my favorite cousins were killed. I mean, this was a terrible environment, and my mother was out working two to three jobs at a time as a domestic because she didn't like the concept of welfare. She didn't want to be dependent on the government for her life.

And she worked hard so that after a couple of years, we were able to move back to Detroit still in a multi-family setting in a dilapidated area. But at least she was independent at that point. That was a terrible student, probably the worst thing you've ever seen. Kids just tease me, just call me names.

And I tried to act like it didn't bother me, but it actually did. But my mother prayed to God for wisdom, and he gave it to her. And it was to turn off the TV – because we used to love to watch TV – and make us read books. And we thought that was horrible. I mean, in today's world, we would have called social services because we had to read the books!

And after a while, I actually began to enjoy it because we were living in dire poverty. But whenever I opened the cover of those books, I could go anywhere. I could be anybody, and I could do anything. Yeah, it was a wonderful escape for me, but I learned so much, particularly as I started reading about people of accomplishment, explorers and engineers, entrepreneurs and surgeons.

And I began to understand that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you is you and not somebody else. Because everybody around me was saying, “The system is racist. The settings are stacked against you, you can't succeed.” But I got a very different impression from reading those books, and my brother did too. And my mother was always being criticized, “You can't make boys stay in the house and read books, they’ll grow up and hate you.” And I used to sit over here, and I’d say, “You know, they're right, mother.” But we still had to do it. And I think she had the last laugh because one son became a brain surgeon, and the other became a rocket scientist. So maybe she knew what she was talking about.

And the wonderful thing is she cherished education so much, even though she never finished the third grade. But she eventually taught herself to read, got her GED, and she went to college. And in 1994 got an honorary doctorate degree. So She was Dr. Carson, too.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's wonderful. What a great story. You have really gone from that environment then to Yale?

Dr. Ben Carson:
Yes.

Marlin Detweiler:

And where did you go to med school? Was that at Johns Hopkins?

Dr. Ben Carson:

No, the University of Michigan. National champions in football!

Marlin Detweiler:

We have our Dean of Academics is a Michigan graduate who lives in northern Idaho now. But he is a big Michigan fan. And I, during one of the games, I texted him, I said, “Are you available to do a teacher interview right now?” Normally they're set up by our headmaster. And he said, “No, I'm with my family, and we're watching the game.” And I said, “Are you kidding me? You didn't realize I was pulling your leg?”

Well, your mother's influence was absolutely incredible! And what a testimony to her faithfulness to her boys and to the wisdom that God gave her.

Dr. Ben Carson:

I think she was the wisest person I've ever met. And, you know, you don't have to have a lot of education to be wise. And frankly, a lot of people with a lot of education who are anything but wise.

Marlin Detweiler:

I don't think that's ever been more true, is it?

Dr. Ben Carson:

For sure.

Marlin Detweiler:

What to what do you attribute the wisdom that she had?

Dr. Ben Carson:

It was her faith. She had an enormous amount of faith in God. No matter what the problem was. She would always say God has this, He has it under control. Just trust in the Lord.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's incredible.

Dr. Ben Carson:

And she was right.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. Yeah, it is hard to do that when the chips are down and the in the end can't be seen. But it is always right to do.

Dr. Ben Carson:

I've learned throughout my career and throughout my life to do just that. And I can think of many situations in surgery where it just looked impossible, and I would turn it over to God, and he would come up with a solution.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's incredible. Well, I had the chance to watch the movie Gifted Hands, which is your story. I don't know, though. Did you write the book? Was it a biography or an autobiography?

Dr. Ben Carson:

It was an autobiography.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yes, You wrote that. Everybody always wants to know if the movie accurately represents the truth.

Dr. Ben Carson:

It's very, very close to reality. There were a whole bunch of movie companies that wanted to do a movie, including Disney, but they all believed in something called “artistic license”. And you know what that means? They would have me having an affair with some ICU nurse. I said, “No, I'm not doing that.” Finally, we settled on Sony and TNT, and they said, “You have final say on all the scripts, and we will review everything with you.”

And the only things that were inaccurate is that they amalgamated some things, like they amalgamated college and medical school because there wasn't time to do them both, so they just kind of merged those things.

Marlin Detweiler:

Not all that consequential in the overall scope of things, I don't suppose.

Dr. Ben Carson:

No, not at all.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's wonderful. Well, it's available free on Netflix. To let our audience know and available through many other services also. And it was it was very enjoyable. I had known a fair amount about your background from various things, but it really connected things in a neat way. And I would recommend it to our viewers.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Praise the Lord. A lot of lot of teachers tell me that they start their school semester off by showing that to the kids.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's a great idea. But one of the things that came out in it and you mentioned it just a few minutes ago, too, and that was how important reading was to you. You mentioned that it can take you anywhere. I guess you would have been in Boston at the time, but you can go from Boston to anywhere reading.

How has reading continued to impact your life, and how did it really develop you into somebody who pretended to not be very smart or be a good student, or to really achieving as a student to the point of accomplishing some of the most complicated educational accomplishments possible?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, the first thing it did for me is it taught me how to spell. You can always tell a reader because they know how to spell the words. And all of a sudden, instead of being the first one to sit down the spelling bees, I was winning spelling bees and that gave me a lot more confidence to do other things.

So it made a big difference there. And it's one of the reasons that we started the Reading Room project as part of the Carson Scholars Fund. We recently installed our 280th Reading Room around the country, and these are places that no kid could pass up the way they're designed and decorated and the kids get rewards for the number of books they read, but after a while, they just enjoy reading.

And in many situations, we try to place them mostly in areas where there are Title One schools, where kids don't have a lot of books in their home, don’t have a lot of opportunities. And this is like a little great place that's designed just for them. With reading as the goal and it can really transform their lives. Because if you can get a kid reading at grade level by third grade, it completely changes the trajectory of their lives.

So it continues to be a big part of what we do. And with the American Cornerstones Little Patriot Program, there's a lot of reading involved, and it's associated with various types of intellectual activities that are a lot of fun for the kids. And we call it the inoculation to indoctrination.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's wonderful. Yeah. Reading and understanding the truth of history, reading original sources has been a very important part of what we have done through Veritas with classical education. I know that you don't have a lot of specific familiarity, but one of the things that's a hallmark of what we do in seventh through 12th grade is we have six years, two classes, three credits called the Omnibus, and it's reading about 200 of the great books of Western civilization from in seventh grade they read the Odyssey and Herodotus. They read Spoul, History, theology, and literature are the credits, and it works its way through. And boy, every time a kid goes through all six years of that, it's amazing what they come back to me talking about how it has enhanced so many different areas, including making college pretty a breeze.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Absolutely. It gives them a lot of perspective. And reading is actually something that has a much greater impact than watching television. You know, somebody has already gained who created that script for television. Their intellect is increasing, but it doesn't require much on your behalf just to look at it. Whereas when you're reading, you have to take those letters and make them into words, words into sentences, and concepts. It causes you to really use your imagination.

And that's how you can always tell people who read a lot, they tend to be much more creative. And when babies are born, child psychologists will tell you that 98% of them are creative. By the age of 16, it's only about three or 4% are creative.

Marlin Detweiler:

So we've taken it out of them. You know, that really resonates. We've had the pleasure of starting a couple classical schools, and the first one had R.C. Sproul involved in it, and he would speak at parent nights as a way of recruiting families. And I will never forget in our living room that one of the earliest meetings that we had for the school, a mother said to him, “Dr. Sproul, you've talked a lot about the creativity of children. How do we instill it in them?” And classic R.C. style, he said It's not our job to instill it. God's already done that. It's our job not to kill it.

Dr. Ben Carson:

That's exactly right. And you know, also in having the ability to discuss these things with the kids so that you can begin to talk about the issues of morality and decency and values that generally are passed on by the family. But as you know, the American family is under attack. And the traditional nuclear family is rapidly disintegrating. And we can't just let those kids go. We have to find a way to pass values on to them.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. As you talked about the value of reading and its impact through how our brains work, I'm curious if you can give a layman's understanding to the science behind that, your background in in working with neuroscience and brain surgery, do you have a theory for why reading is such a superior method of spending time with and engaging with content?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Yes, because you have to concentrate on all those things that I just talked about, taking those letters and making them into words and words, into sentences and sentences, concepts. You create those neural pathways and it becomes much easier for you. When kids first start reading, they don't like it compared to their video games and TV. It's it's not fun. But as you get into it, it actually becomes much more fun, in fact, much more entertaining because you do have to use those faculties that you don't have to use to watch TV.

Marlin Detweiler:

So, in simple terms, we use more of our brain?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Quite a bit more of it. Yeah. It's like exercising a muscle, you know, the more you use it, the stronger it gets, and the brain is exactly the same way with those neural pathways that you form.

Marlin Detweiler:

Where do you spend your time reading today?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, I start every day reading, not to mention the many times in between, but at the beginning of the day and the end of the day, it's always in the Bible.

Marlin Detweiler:

Okay. I am not surprised to hear that. Do you enjoy reading fiction?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Let me say there are there's some very entertaining fiction, but I tend to spend most of my time either with spiritual reading or with science and medicine.

Marlin Detweiler:

You continue to read in your area of study and continue to develop. Do you do you write and contribute to it as well?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Absolutely. With American Cornerstone, we create a multitude of white papers on just about every topic imaginable, and we'll continue to do that.

Marlin Detweiler:

Let's talk about that. American Cornerstone was, I believe, your brainchild. Tell us what it is.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, at the end of the previous administration, I said, “Now I can retire!” because I failed retirement the first time. This time I'm going to get it right. But, you know, watching the direction of the country, I said, I'm not going to enjoy myself playing golf and cruising around the world watching the country go down the tubes, so a bunch of extremely talented people who worked with me and I got together and created the American Cornerstone Institute, which was to refocus on the cornerstone principles that made this into a great country like our faith, our Judeo-Christian values, which taught us to love your neighbor, not to hate your neighbor, not to cancel your neighbor if they have a different opinion. That was such an important part of the development of our country.

And then the cornerstone of liberty, freedom, freedom to live the life that you wanted to live, to have your family live the life that they wanted. To believe what you wanted to believe as long as you weren't, you know, intent infringing on someone else's rights. And that was so attractive, it attracted people here from all over the world.

And then the cornerstone of community is learning that we are not each other's enemies. And particularly early on, there were communities consisting of 50, 75, 100 families, nobody else around for 100 miles. Not only did they survive, but they thrived. In many cases, they could barely talk to each other. They spoke different languages, but they understood the concept of the common good, a phrase that you see often in the writings of our founders. The common good, the sense of community that it was harvest time and Mr. Jones broke his leg, everybody else harvested his crops, no questions asked. And that's something that's being severely disturbed right now. We have factions that are trying to divide our society and the basis of race, age, income, gender, religion, and political affiliation.

And it's working. And we have to combat that.

And then the cornerstone of life, love and respect for life from the womb to the tomb, as Jesus did. And then, of course, there's the pediatric component, the Little Patriots program, which we've talked about a little bit.

Marlin Detweiler:

What age group is that for?

Dr. Ben Carson:

K-5.

Marlin Detweiler:

K through 5. Okay.

Dr. Ben Carson:

We find that that age group is really the place where those foundational values get laid.

Marlin Detweiler:

Absolutely.

Dr. Ben Carson:

And you know, the Bible says, “Train up a child the way he should go when he's old then he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6. But Vladimir Lenin, the Marxist, also said, “Give me your children to teach for four years so that the seed that I sow will never be uprooted.” And so we want to get in there before those things take root and make a real difference.

And then we also have the Executive Branch for America programs, which is aimed at college-aged kids, congressional staffers, and just people who might have an interest in getting involved in government because when you go there, most people, it takes them a year to kind of figure out what's going on. And we want people to hit the ground running.

And even if you're not going to get into government, we want people that really understand how it works, how the interlocking parts work, because, you know, the government works for the people. The people don't work for the government.

Marlin Detweiler:

That’s the way it's supposed to be!

Dr. Ben Carson:

When people forget that, the government quickly takes over. Our founders fully understood that they studied every government that ever existed. And one of the things that they observed is that they all end up the same way. They may have very lofty goals when they start, but they grow, they infiltrate, and they control. And they wanted to give us a document that would prevent that from happening in our country. And we still have to fight for it because that tendency is always going to be there.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, it is. It is wonderful work you’ve done, and we've seen a number of different initiatives. I love what you're doing there. I'm going to mention the websites, and if there's additional information you want to say about them, I would welcome it. But https://americancornerstone.org/ is the site that kind of becomes the master site, I would assume.

And then https://littlepatriotslearning.com/. And we spent a little time this morning looking at the content and Little Patriots of course we have grandchildren, we're beyond raising our own children. And it was wonderful what was done there and the way that they looked.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Did they look at Star Spangled Star Spangled Adventures?

Marlin Detweiler:

I didn't see that now.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, it makes sure they see that. These are cartoon series that concentrate on a specific subject.

Marlin Detweiler:

Oh, that's the name of the whole series! I saw a segment of one.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Yeah. They're very, very well done and were up for an animation award this past year.

Marlin Detweiler:

Wonderful. What is your greatest hope from those initiatives? What would make you say that this succeeded?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, my greatest hope is that we can get the American people to understand how blessed we are and that we are not enemies. And we can't allow ourselves to be manipulated into being enemies and to teach our children the real foundations of this nation. There's nothing to be ashamed of. We should be very proud. Are we perfect? No, because we're composed of human beings. Human beings are not perfect. But you know, we have to learn from our mistakes. And wise people can learn from mistakes and move forward from it. Unwise, people try to bury it or rewrite it, or ignore it and not learn from it. And we want to make sure that we don't do that.

But we also want to emphasize the tremendous things that were done, the inventions that have come out of this country. You know, 90% of the world-changing inventions in the 20th century came out of this country. There's a reason for that, because we created an atmosphere that encouraged entrepreneurship and innovation. And we have to make sure that we continue to let market forces drive us rather than the government.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. That is so. Well, what people don't realize or don't appreciate the connection between freedom and the encouragement of entrepreneurship and the invention that has resulted.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Yes.

Marlin Detweiler:

And, many are inclined to disparage things that have served us so well. And there's a sense in which we're criticizing the soapbox on which we're standing.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Absolutely. And we have created something that is magnificent. You have the people who try to denigrate our country, but if it was all that bad, why are all these people trying to get in here?

Marlin Detweiler:

There's some sweet irony in that!

Dr. Ben Carson:

Absolutely! Yeah.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, here's a question for you. This isn't one I prompted you for as we talked before recording. What are your plans next?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, my plans are to continue to work with American Cornerstone, continue to try to help the American people to realize that we're not each other's enemies and to listen very carefully to the Lord to see where He wants me to go from there.

Marlin Detweiler:

How old are American Cornerstone and Little Patriots?

Dr. Ben Carson:

This is our third year.

Marlin Detweiler:

Third year. So it's really still gaining a lot of traction, I'm sure, and penetrating into markets.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Absolutely.

Marlin Detweiler:

Where do you find the greatest affinity for it? How can we encourage our audience to look at it and benefit from it?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, it was designed for all types of learning settings, but homeschools seemed to really be very well adapted to it. It works out extremely well there. There are also a lot of private schools, particularly Christian schools, even though it's not necessarily just faith-based. We don't leave faith out because, you know, our founding document says our rights come from our creator. And we shouldn't be trying to run away from that.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. It is an important thing to understand. Those roots are in our in the plurality that's permitted by them as well as the general understanding that we are created by God in a way that gives us dignity and hope and a reason to love our neighbor even when we disagree with them.

Dr. Ben Carson:

Absolutely. I always say if two people agree about everything, one of them isn't necessary. We just need to we need to learn how to sit down like rational people and talk about things and not let that make us into enemies.

Marlin Detweiler:

What wisdom that is.

Is your brother living?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Yes.

Marlin Detweiler:

Where does he live?

Dr. Ben Carson:

He lives in the Atlanta area. He's recently recently retired from Parker Aviation. And he's a rocket scientist but I think he's in the process of going back to work because he can't stay in retirement.

Marlin Detweiler:

So you answered my question. He's failing retirement, too. You know, it doesn't surprise me at all what I've learned about you. Well, that is wonderful. Well, thank you, Dr. Carson, for your time today. Thank you for what you're doing. Any parting words of wisdom?

Dr. Ben Carson:

Well, it's been wonderful being with you. And I would just say, everybody recognize that we're fortunate to live in a country where a good education allows you to write your own ticket. And we need to really emphasize that, you know, it doesn't matter what your background is, what your family financial background is, what your racial background is– it doesn't matter. You are the one who gets to decide what happens to you. Nobody has a bigger role to play in what happens to you than you do.

Marlin Detweiler:

Amen. Thank you so much, my friends. Thank you for joining us again on another episode of Veritas Vox.