Monday, December 31, 2007

Take the Risk by Ben Carson with Gregg Lewis - a Book Review

Take the Risk, Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk
by Ben Carson with Gregg Lewis – Published 2008 by Zondervan

I just finished reading one of my favorite Christmas gifts! I have read other books about the fascinating Dr. Carson and have found all of them spell-binding on several levels. This one was no exception. It was published just this month, and I received it in the mail, direct from the publisher, on Christmas Eve. The traditionally hectic week encompassing Christmas and the New Year left little time for reading; nevertheless, I squeezed in minutes and hours here and there and read this absolutely intriguing book. There is excellent information in this book on dealing with risk; but my primary focus in this review is the life of the man himself.

Benjamin Carson would have been the very definition of the “at risk” child if that term had been around when he was a child. Here is the check sheet:

Ø Black – check
Ø Male – check
Ø Poor – check
Ø Living in the inner city – check
Ø Absent father – check
Ø Being raised by a very young, poorly-educated mother – check
Ø Mother working multiple jobs to support her family - check
Ø Moved several times during childhood - check

As a teacher, I have worked with many “at risk”students. They almost always present very difficult challenges in the classroom - Unmotivated. Angry. Disruptive. Underachieving.

Jails and prisons are filled with the adults these children became. Many, still aimlessly roaming our streets instilling fear in law-abiding citizens, remain unmotivated, angry, disruptive, underachieving adults angrily taking whatever they want and believing that the world owes them compensation for their difficult childhood circumstances.

So how did Benjamin Carson grow up to become a real-life hero and one of the major societal assets of our time? How did he become the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, author of several books and subject of other books, professor of numerous medical specialties, member of corporate boards, Emeritus Fellow of the Yale Corporation? How did this “at risk” child become the internationally-known, high-profile neurosurgeon who has separated conjoined twins and performed hemispherectomies on the brains of children, saving their lives? How did this challenged child (the “dummy” of his fifth-grade class) avoid the downward life-course that seemed to be his destiny and become, instead, one of the most accomplished and admirable people of our generation? These questions are what keep me reading everything I can find about this man.

This is my blog, so I can draw my own conclusions, right?!

The differentiating factors between Ben Carson and other “at risk” children – the factors that helped him become Dr. Ben Carson instead of prison inmate #whatever - boil down to two very vital and often under-recognized influences:

His mother. Though very young (married at 13), uneducated, dealing with her own psychological problems, and absent much of the time due to the necessity of earning a living, Mrs. Carson truly loved her children and instilled self-respect and confidence in her boys. As a Christian, she strongly believed that they were created in the image of God. As a Christian, she knew (and taught her sons) that she (and they) had a responsibility to use their talents and abilities positively in the world. She also knew that “the doors of the world are open to people who can read.”

Mrs. Carson took control of her boys’ lives when Benjamin was in 5th grade and Curtis was in 6th. Facing an academic crisis with her sons, and after a night of prayer on the situation, she imposed new living arrangements. The boys would watch only three television shows each week; in addition, they would read two books every week and write a report on each for their mother. They would be required to read their reports to their mother at the end of the week. Can you imagine the time commitment this involved, even for the mother? Dr. Carson’s and Mr. Lewis’s retelling of that transformation and its life-altering aftereffects (Chapter 6 in the book) should be read by every parent and teacher in the world.

Dr. Carson and his co-author tell how, even as a medical student many years later, reading was Ben’s primary learning method. {topic for another post later – is our current methodology in schools (emphasizing constant “active” class sessions composed of role-playing, experimenting, unlimited student interaction, poster-making, student presentations, centers, etc.) minimizing the value of reading to absorb information and writing to convey information thereby limiting many children who would learn better as good readers and writers?}

His Christian Faith. This reason overlaps with the first one significantly. The basic tenets of productive and generous living were part of his life and the values he absorbed from infancy. However, his personal realization of the meaning of his life and the development of his own faith occurred at the same time as his mother’s imposition of their new living expectations. In tandem with his conversion to a personal faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ, he decided to become a doctor. This major decision in his life along with his mother’s reading edict converted Ben from being the class dummy in fifth grade to being the top student in almost every subject in his seventh-grade class! This conversion also gave him reason for learning, reason for living, reason for always extending himself to accomplish something, not only for himself, but also for God and for the world at large.

His mother’s expectations and his Christian faith gave him the character that drove him to become Dr. Ben Carson.

For continued reading:

Gifted Hands by BenCarson, M.D., with Cecil MurpheyZondervan Publishing House

THINK BIG by Ben Carson, M.D., with Cecil MurpheyZondervan Publishing House

The Big Picture by Ben Carson, M.D., with Greg LewisZondervan Publishing House

Today’s Heroes: Ben Carson
By Gregg Lewis and Deborah Shaw Lewis
A children’s book for ages 9-12
ISBN: 0310702984

You might want to check out this site too:

The Carson Scholar’s Fund

This article has been crossposted at Indigo.


Carol said...

I haven't had a chance to read the book because RT has been glued to it every since he got it. He keeps telling me that it's one of the best books he's ever read. And that is really significant considering it's RT saying those things. So I'm looking forward to reading it myself.

Terrell said...

I haven't cracked my copy yet. I think it will be my first read of 2008. Ben Carson's story is a great one. And I'm glad he picked an excellent writer to help him tell it.

Norma said...

I will look for a copy.

I'm currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) and although it is fiction, it appears to be autobiographical. Francie and her brother are required to read one page of the Bible and one page of Shakespeare every night, advice to their mother from their illiterate German grandmother.