Ben Carson’s education story and what it means revisited

One of the principles of my blog is “Critical Thought”. I originally published this piece on the Examiner in the fall of 2015, during the historic 2016 presidential election from which President Donald J. Trump emerged. The legendary neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson was one of the many candidates in the Republican primary. His alignment with the Republican party, and his subsequent position in the Trump administration caused him to fall from grace in Black America and to be discarded altogether by some, which I feel is unfortunate. I’m republishing this piece for Black History Month 2019 to remind everyone where Dr. Carson came from, what he accomplished, and that others can do it too.

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First off, this article was not written with the intention of endorsing any presidential candidate.

Anytime an African American aligns with the Republican Party, it raises suspicions within our community and often sparks ridicule. This year Dr. Benjamin Carson is hoping to win the Republican nomination for the United States Presidency. Admittedly it surprised me years ago upon discovering his political affiliation. At the time of this article’s publication, the Huffington Post’s current data shows that Dr. Carson is second only to Donald Trump in the field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination. It will be really interesting to see if he’ll hold second place or even ascend to first place by the time the final candidate is selected.

Carson’s messages have included: denouncing of the Common Core education standards, securing of the Mexican border and more stringent immigration policies, and reformation of the tax code to name a few. At his own peril and at the risk of alienating African Americans, he has also openly questioned the Black Lives Matter movement. While many see Carson simply as this year’s token African American conservative candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination, he holds a different significance for me.

During my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Dr. Carson (a Michigan Medical School alumnus) returned as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker one year. Then the Dean of Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University, he’d already become famous. He made several points during his speech but those which stood out most to me focused on his youth in inner-city Detroit. Early in his life (during the Civil Rights era), “Bennie” as he was referred to, was actually an underachiever academically and was viewed as unintelligent by his classmates and teachers.

Through it all, his mother who was a single parent, vehemently encouraged Carson and his brother to read anything they could, as often as they could. After years of academic underachievement, the light finally switched on for young Ben Carson and he realized that he too could use his mind to achieve scholastically and make something of himself. He of course went on to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon, where his most famous feat was the separation of the conjoined twins.

There’s an empowerment message within Ben Carson’s story for everyone. Whether or not he ascends to the presidency, he’s a symbol that one can make it out of a single parent household and less than ideal conditions. His success wasn’t an accident, nor was it luck. It was due to his mother’s oversight and vigilance.

Data from Kids Count spanning from 2009 to 2013 show that the African American community leads the nation in children in single parent families over all other ethnic groups during that interval (67% vs. 25% for Non-Hispanic Whites). The reasons for this data clearly vary and are regularly discussed and debated. While it is greatly accepted that having both parents at home is ideal, not having both doesn’t have to necessarily be a hindrance. For me that’s one of the significances of Ben Carson’s story.

While money, state of the art facilities, books and computers are important, Ben Carson’s story (and messages) points to the value and love for education as being the key pieces in a child’s academic achievement and securing of an independent and productive life. This is assuming the instilling of other important values such as a work ethic and integrity as well. Once again while a two-parent home is ideal, it isn’t always a necessary circumstance for kids to go on to achieve success.

In closing, Ben Carson’s story points to the fact that schools alone can’t educate children, and that it requires collaboration with the parents. In his recent article entitled, How Can Parental Involvement in Schools Improve?, Michael J. Ryan argues that public education is a collective commitment between the school system and families where both have to do their part for a child’s success. In the end of his piece, he suggests that it is time to have all families sign a covenant, or contract with their respective schools, compelling them to do their part to help their child’s education as Ben Carson’s mother did for him.

The picture used in this post comes straight from the University of Michigan Medical School. There’s a corridor there in the vast medical school complex where the walls are lined with collages of pictures of every medical class going back to the early twentieth century. Sometimes during graduate school, I’d walk that corridor to access the medical school’s cafeteria around lunch time. I stumbled across Dr. Carson’s picture one day with his medical class. As you can see, he’s in his mid- to late-twenties or early-thirties and is wearing an “Afro”. I took this picture recently when I returned to the University of Michigan for homecoming weekend.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Whose job is it to teach Black History?
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A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A Teaching Moment: Boosting Your Career In Education

Two focuses of my blog are Career Discussions and General Education. While very important and rewarding, a career in education can be very, very challenging at times. Some teachers burn out and leave the field altogether, while others ascend into administration. No matter what your aspirations are as an educator, it’s important to think about your career in depth and set yourself up to succeed. The following contributed post is therefore entitled, A Teaching Moment: Boosting Your Career In Education.

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If you’ve chosen a career in the development and education of young minds; you’ll understand how rewarding a job in teaching can be. However, education also brings its challenges, and sometimes, you’ll have to deal with stressful situations. If you’re keen to work through the various highs and lows of your job role; you have longevity in teaching and enjoy your career until retirement. Some people find themselves wondering how to boost their career further, due to job dissatisfaction and lack of prospects. There are ways to push ahead with your career in education; you just have to know where to look and what to do. The following are some tips and ideas for those who want to give their job role a helping hand for a long and rewarding career in the educational field.

Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-notes-meeting-team-7095/

More Learning

The more adept you are to handle your class; the better you’ll be able to gain their respect and influence their educational choices, and you’ll be an appealing candidate for an academic recruitment firm. Therefore, if you’re feeling a little stagnant in your teaching role; consider furthering your qualifications, utilizing those skills, and start the next step in your job journey. Take a look at the information available online to understand how specialized courses and qualifications will help to open all sorts of career doors for you. The more strings to your bow you obtain; the better chance you have at a promotion or a fresh job placement altogether.

Perhaps there are certain areas of your job that you do not feel as strong as you’d like to; research into courses you can complete and all the avenues that are in place aimed to strengthen those elements of your career. You’ll be able to walk into the classroom with confidence, and your head held high, knowing that you’ve worked hard to get where you are and to have the knowledge and expertise that will benefit your class of students.

New Methods

If you’re struggling with your current teaching methods, and the information isn’t sinking in with your class; don’t be afraid to try something new. As long as you are teaching the required lesson, and sticking to school guidelines; you should experiment with tried and tested techniques that may seem unconventional. Do your research so that you can look for some innovative ways to teach kids, and get some inspiration to take into your own classroom. Everything from role play, to playing classical music during lessons has been utilized in the education of young minds; so be the teacher that people remember and start seeing the improvements to your pupil’s education and grades that can happen as a result.

Social Connections

If you’re struggling with one particular individual, that doesn’t seem to want to learn or be there; it’s worth investigating into their life outside the classroom. Look for significant behavioral changes and issues that may have arisen that has led to difficulties, and let them know that you’re a friendly ear if they need help, or simply to talk. The more time you put into your lessons and the welfare of your students, the better your relationship with them will be, and the quicker they’ll learn what’s needed.

Making The Most Of Your Education

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success, and a key focus is Education. When pursuing a college education, it’s important to know how to get the most out of the experience both in and out of the classroom so you’re as marketable as possible when you finish. What are some of the important considerations? The following contributed post is entitled; Making The Most Of Your Education.

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Making the most of your education is crucial, whether you’re going to college, university, or even doing an online course. You want to make sure you retain as much information as possible and that you are able to use what you’ve learned to do something great when all is said and done. Whether you want to start a business of your own or land your dream job, below we have three ways you can go about making the most of your education.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
You can’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling with something you’re supposed to be learning. Approach your lecturer, ask classmates, and even look at online forums that you can use to make sure you get it. Having a positive, solution focused attitude is everything.

Get A Part Time Job
A part time job can help to give you more money towards school supplies, and can even allow you a bit of a social life (if you can find the time). If you can get a part time job in the industry you’re looking to work in, or even just a voluntary position, this can support your learning and look great on your CV.

Find Your Learning Style
Finally, figure out what your learning style is so you can consume the course material in a way that is enjoyable and stress-free for you. Everybody learns differently. Some people are hands on, some are visual. There were 419 graduates from Effat university in 2016-2017, and chances are, the majority of those students figured out their learning style early on. Below, you can find more information on Effat university.



credit to Effat University

Reflections on the classroom from a veteran of the school system revisited

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success, and a key focus is Education. Dad was a critical piece of my journey towards my earning my STEM degree and starting my career. I originally published this piece in the Examiner back in 2012, shortly after he retired from education. I lived with him for almost three years prior to starting my federal science career, and learned some things about his career in education simply through watching, observing and talking to him.

Dad taught in one of the ‘lower’ two districts in New York State’s “Capital Region”, and this account captures what it’s like for some teachers who work in ‘lower income’ communities. While Dad agreed to let me publish this piece, there was some deliberation over its content as he wanted to be truthful while not offending anyone. This piece raises several key questions. Do parents have a role in their child’s education? Is it the school’s job to do everything? Lastly, what are the ramifications for kids getting passed through the system without doing the work, and what ultimately happens to them?

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Dad retired from education after 20 years of teaching Life Science in junior high in one of New York State’s eastern central school districts. When asked about being an educator and the daily issues he faced, he focused mainly on the attitudes and preparedness of his students and their parents. He also focused on an administration that highly emphasized passing its students, probably due to outside pressure which eventually trickled down the to its faculty. The issues he discussed were not unique to his district, and were common in lower income communities across the nation.

“One of the hardest parts of the job was getting the students to believe that I knew what I was talking about,” he said. The adolescent years are known to be the start of a rebellious period in the lives of young people. It’s not only challenging for parents, but also for educators. He further added, “Many of my students came to school hungry and without having breakfast. It’s hard to learn that way!”

Dad spent a lot of time discussing parenting saying, “Somewhere there was a disconnection between the parents and what the students should’ve been doing at home, particularly their homework. The parents should’ve been helping to reinforce our program at home. If we could’ve just gotten the parents on board, things would’ve gone more smoothly.”

“Parents aren’t what they used to be. They seem to act as though they can just make babies and it’s the school’s job to raise them,” he lamented about parents who weren’t proactive and vigilant about their children’s education.

“When I came home, I frequently saw my father reading,” he continued. “In some families, kids come home and see Mom and Dad watching TV and not reading, and will do the same thing. For African American and Latino kids, reading is very, very important,” he said passionately.

Whether it’s a low income district or a high income district as described in the writings of Dr. Ralph G. Perrino of the former Northern Virginia Tutoring Service, strong parental involvement seems to be a key ingredient in the success of students.

When he visited the University of Michigan when I was in graduate school, the famous (and now maligned) neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson, originally from inner-city Detroit, openly acknowledged that he wasn’t a strong student early on in his life. He further acknowledges that it was his mother’s insistence that he read and continually expand his mind that set the stage for his successes.

Dad finally voiced his frustrations with the school system itself saying, “In many districts there is a lot of pressure on teachers to pass students who may not be measuring up to the teacher’s expectations and what’s outlined in the curriculum.” In short, whether intended or not, the expectations for his students were being lowered. He further encountered quite a few students and parents who expected passing grades without the work being done.

“The school district was phasing out effort, good behavior, homework, and classroom participation. My students’ grades were eventually based mostly on tests and quizzes,” he said. He closed by saying (with conviction), “The problem is that when these students go out into the real world, they’ll be in trouble in job settings.”

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I want to close by acknowledging all the educators who go to work every day preparing our future generations. It’s a very important and sometimes underappreciated career/job. I’ll always remember seeing Dad go away to school every day, grading papers on the weekends, and enjoying his summer vacations. His experiences weren’t unique, and they applied to many schools in other cities across the country.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:

The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
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Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege
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Father’s Day 2018: Dad’s doctor and his lawyer, and a discussion on careers
Father’s Day 2017: Reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Rocketship Education: A Real Alternative

One of the focuses of my blog is education, and one of my key principles is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. As such, when appropriate I will partner with other groups and organizations with similar interests. One such organization is the non-profit Rocketship Education. The following is a brief overview of Rocketship Education provided by the organization itself, their school system and their model. The picture in this post was provided courtesy of Rocketship Education.

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A good education is the best way to ensure that your child has a bright future ahead of them; unfortunately, however, many public school-aged children are relegated to attending underperforming schools, based on the district that they reside in. Thankfully, Rocketship Education provides an alternative; if you’re unfamiliar with Rocketship Education, it is a network of public charter schools available to elementary-aged students.

These non-profit charter schools are aimed at low-income families, who would otherwise have to settle for schools in their district that don’t meet the children’s needs. Founded in 2006, Rocketship Education has made it a mission to provide children with personalized learning, which includes parental engagement, community organizations, and unique lesson plans.

Since opening its first school in San Jose, California, Rocketship Education has earned tremendous praise for helping students score well on state assessments, and for making charter schools a viable alternative for low-income families. In an effort to build on its success in California, Rocketship Education has opened charter schools in the Midwest and as of 2016, opened a school in Washington, D.C. To learn more about Rocketship Education, visit Rocketship Public Schools.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in academic achievement

playlandThe following piece was my second piece published on the Examiner back in November of 2012.  It was based upon an actual conversation between me and my father during my youth growing up on the Buffalo’s east side.  Early on I developed misconceptions and stereotypes about peers from various ethnic groups and what they were and were not good at – Asians in particular.

My father challenged those stereotypes which is something that empowered me later on in life and helped change my academic paradigm and world view.  The visual for this piece is a playground for young children, because at a young age before we get socialized and develop racial biases and ideas, we all start off with the same potential to learn and achieve.  It’s what happens to us as we grow up in our unique environments that determine how our lives turn out, our successes, our achievements, and our failures.

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“Those Asian kids are smarter than everyone else and they’re on the honor roll every quarter,” the son said to his father.  His statement was partially true.  At his school there were students of Asian descent who were on the honor roll every quarter and consistently had grade point averages of 90% or greater.

He was an average student from the inner city.  Like many young people, his views of the world were shaped by what he saw in his community, his peers, the media and ignorance.  His older brother and his best friend, both of whom he spent most of his time with, were not honor roll students either.

The father challenged his son’s statement saying, “They’re not necessarily smarter than you; they just spend more time in their books than you do consistently after school every week.”

“A study showed that Asian students study an average of 12 hours a week or more after school.  For Caucasian students the number is six hours, and for African American and Latino students the number is four hours,” the father said citing a study he had read.  The study suggested that academic performance was a function of time invested, not the intelligence of one race over another.

The conversation changed the son’s educational paradigms allowing him to become an honor roll student himself later on.  This true story demonstrates the importance of both parenting and mentoring.  With limited experience and wisdom, young people don’t always understand the world around them and can make conclusions that aren’t accurate.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People the late Stephen Covey describes paradigms as mental road maps that guide our behaviors.  These paradigms direct us and tell us how to react in certain situations.  Paradigms largely influence perceptions of academic achievement.

Dr. Ralph G. Perrino, of the Northern Virginia Tutoring Service, describes in The Socialization Process and Its Impact on Children and Learning, that a student’s academic performance is influenced by family, school, peers, mass media, public opinion, work, volunteer groups and religion/spirituality.  In summary, the expectations and culture students are exposed to, affects their performance.

The counties in northern Virginia, for example, are inhabited by families with highly educated parents.  “These parents are willing to invest their financial resources to make sure their children do well and go to college,” said Dr. Perrino.  The 90% college matriculation rate in these counties is thus a function of values and resources, and not necessarily an innate superior ability over other students such as those within the neighboring District of Columbia.

In Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol argues that the quality of education available in any community is strongly affected by economics and politics.  These two factors directly impact not only educational and neighborhood environments, but also the culture, expectations and long term goals of the parents and children within communities.

Circling back to the opening of this article, at the University of Michigan and similar research institutions, a trend started in the early 21st Century.  Many of the research labs, particularly in the biomedical sciences, were employing large populations of Asian scientists.

It wasn’t magic though.  A professor noted that these scientists were “extremely hardworking, dedicated, and not concerned with things that their American counterparts are preoccupied with things such as having social lives and lots of leisure time.”

“Not everyone in China is smart.  Similar to America, there are a lot of people who aren’t smart and successful,” said Dr. Cheng Fang, a talented scientist from China, discussing the stereotypes about his people and his country.  Simply put, some of China’s most motivated and successful families come to the United States seeking the opportunities for advancement that this country has to offer, many in the sciences, and those are the ones that are seen most often.

Interestingly, Cheng further revealed that there are no second chances in China academically.  In the Asian countries if you don’t excel early in school, numerous doors and opportunities permanently slam shut.  In the United States you can under achieve in the lower grade levels and still positively make something of yourself through higher education or other avenues such as the military, entrepreneurship or entertainment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

The benefits and challenges of using articulate speech
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If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.