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Q&A | Reading books on geology in the fifth grade helped Dr. Ben Carson realize he was no dummy

Our current, Back-to-School Issue includes an interview with famous surgeon Ben Carson, but I'd like for you to be able to read one more question and answer we didn't have room for in the print magazine. (See also "Second opinion," April 21, WORLD Magazine, and "No useless knowledge," July 25, for more excerpts.)

The question came from Patrick Henry College student Rebecca Hobbs.

Thank you so much Dr. Carson. As someone who wants to become a teacher I was wondering, what do you think would have been the most helpful thing a teacher could have done to help you succeed? I did have a fifth grade science teacher, Mr. Jake, who did do a lot to help me. He came in one day-this is while I was still the dumbest kid in the class-and held up a big, black, shiny rock. He asked, "Can anyone tell me what this is?" Now, bear in mind, I never raised my hand, never answered any questions. I waited for one of the smart kids to raise a hand, and none of them did. I waited for one of the dumb kids to raise a hand, and none of them did.

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Up went my hand, 'cause my mother made me start reading books, and I started reading about rocks, about geology. I could identify virtually any rock and where it came from and how it was formed. So I raised my hand, everybody turned around and looked. They said, "Carson's got his hand up! Oh, this is going to be good." The teacher was shocked, and he said, "Benjamin?" And I said, "Mr. Jake," I said, "that is obsidian." And there was silence in the room, 'cause it sounded good. Nobody knew whether it was right or wrong. They didn't know whether they should be impressed or whether they should be laughing hysterically. Finally, after he got over his shock, Mr. Jake said, "That's right! It is obsidian." I said, "Obsidian is formed after a volcanic eruption. The lava flows down and hits the water, there is a super cooling process, the elements coalesce, the surface glazes over. …" Everybody was staring at me. They could not believe all this geological information spewing forth from the mouth of a dummy. But I was probably the most amazed person because it dawned on me at that moment that I wasn't stupid.

I realized the reason I know all that information is because I was reading books. I said to myself, "Aren't you tired of being called a dummy?" I said, "What if you read books about all your subjects? Can you imagine what the effect would be?" And from that point on, no book was safe from my grasp.

And, Mr. Jake asked me to come to the laboratory and started helping me put together a rock collection. Then I helped to take care of all the animals in the laboratory-a red squirrel, a tarantula, all kinds of cool stuff. There was a microscope, and I started being able to look at the water specimens and see all kinds of microscopic creatures. I started learning all their names. It began to open up science for me and gave me the incentive to become a much better student.

Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Dr. Ben Carson:

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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