Reading key to achievement for neurosurgeon Ben Carson

Earlier this week I watched Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story based on the memoirs of neurosurgeon Ben Carson.  The 90-minute video is inspirational and instructive viewing for students, parents, and teachers.

Excerpts from the drama are available on YouTube.   The full version is available on DVD  from NetFlix, and is on

Carson was a black kid from Detroit with a violent temper and the conviction that he was dumb. His  mother realized part of Ben’s problem was that he couldn’t see well enough to make out the letters. The school hadn’t figured that out.

When Ben got failing grades, she refused to let him and his  brother watch TV until their homework was done. She insisted her sons read two library books a week and write a report on them for her, though she herself could barely read.

Curious about a rock he’d found, Carson read a book about rocks. When he shared his knowledge in science class, he astounded his teacher. More important, Carson realized he wasn’t dumb.

He graduated high school, attended Yale, went on to medical school, and became top pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins.

Carson’s memoir is available in paperback,  ISBN 0310546516, at many online and storefront retailers.

Watching the video got me thinking about how it could be used as a jumping off place for writing.  (I’m working on a collection of nonfiction writing prompts on topics from the ELA curriculum, so almost everything suggests a writing prompt to me.) Here’s one of the writing prompts I came up with:

Ben Carson’s behavior was determined in a large part by the way he viewed himself. When he stopped believing he was stupid and helpless to learn, he began to learn and to be smarter. The idea that self-perception influences behavior is a well-accepted tenet of psychology.

Write an essay in which you discuss how self-perception impacts behavior. In your response, include one example from your personal experience or personal observation, and examples from any two of the following:

  • A fictional literary character
  • An historical figure
  • A sports figure
  • A scientist or doctor
  • An explorer
  • An artist or musician

You’ll find a biography of Carson on the website, where you can hear a podcast by him, see or watch interviews with him, and find lesson plans that pick up on themes from his life.
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