Ben Carson: ‘Everybody Called Me Dummy’ in School

Melanie Arter | November 12, 2015 | 12:39pm EST
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GOP presidential candidate retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson (AP Photo)

( – In a speech at Liberty University on Wednesday, GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said when he was a child, his peers called him “dummy,” because he was “a horrible student.”

“In fact I was a horrible student, and everybody called me dummy. That was my nickname, and I believed it too. I didn’t think I was very smart, and I remember once we were having an argument in the schoolyard about who was the dumbest kid in the class. It wasn’t a big argument, because they all agreed it was me,” said Carson, "but then someone had to extend the argument to who was the dumbest in the world, and I said, ‘Wait a minute. There are billions of people in the world.’ And they said, ‘Yep, and you’re the dumbest one.’” 


Carson is a retired neurosurgeon, who worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital after graduating from Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School.

He said his dream had always been to be a doctor – so much so that he liked going to the doctor and “would gladly sacrifice a shot just so I could smell those alcohol swabs.”

“There was one person who didn’t think that I was dumb, and that was my mother. She always thought that there was something there, and she would always say, ‘Benjamin, you’re much too smart to bring home grades like this,’” Carson said. “I brought them home anyway, but she was always saying that, and she just didn’t know what to do, and she prayed, and she asked God for wisdom to know what to do to get her sons to understand the importance of intellectual development.”

Carson said God gave her mother the wisdom to require him and his brother to read books and submit written book reports to her, even though she couldn’t read them.

“And you know what? God gave her the wisdom, at least in her opinion. My brother and I didn’t think it was wise at all. I mean turning off the TV, what kind of wisdom was that? Making us read two books a piece from the Detroit Public Libraries and submit to her written book reports, which she couldn’t read – but we didn’t know that – and she would put checkmarks and highlights and underlines, and we would think she was reading them, but she wasn’t,” he said.

“People were always saying to me, ‘Why did you do it? Your mother was always working. She wouldn’t have known whether you read the books or not.’ Yes, she would have, and back in those days, you had to do what your parents told you. There was no social psychologist saying let the kid express themselves, you know,” Carson added.

Carson discovered through reading about accomplished people that he was in charge of his destiny.

“As I read those books, incredible things began to happen. I began to realize, particularly, as I read about people of accomplishment and all kinds of fields, that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life is you. It’s not somebody else. It’s not the environment, and that was incredibly empowering to me, and I stopped listening to all the people around me – all the naysayers who talked about what couldn’t be done – and I started thinking about what could be done and what a difference it made in my life,” he said.

Once he got to medical school, Carson “did terribly” on his first set of comprehensive exams. When he was sent to see the counselor, “he looked at my record, and he said, ‘You seem like a very intelligent young man. I bet there are a lot of things you could do – outside of medicine.’” The counselor advised him to drop out of medical school.

Carson was “devastated,” so he went home and prayed, asking God for wisdom. He said he was going to a lot of classes but not really learning anything from class. As he thought back, he realized that what taught him a lot was reading, so he made “an executive decision to skip the boring lectures and to spend that time reading, and the rest of medical school was a snap after that.”

“Everybody learns in a different way,” Carson said. “I personally don’t learn anything from boring lectures, but I learn a lot from reading. Now there are other people who learn a great deal from boring lectures, and that’s how they learn. Other people, they learn from discussions. Some people learn from repetition. Some people are very visual. One of the other things I discovered is that I was very visual, so I made flash cards for everything that I needed to know. I had literally thousands of flash cards.”

Carson encouraged students to find out what works for them. “God has endowed us with these amazing brains, and we’re made in the image of God,” he said.

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