Standing Firm

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In 1951 in Detroit, Michigan, a baby boy was born into an African American family (I’ll call him Keith). While he was still a boy, his mama discovered that her husband was a bigamist with a second family. The couple divorced and Keith’s mama took him and his older brother to Boston to live in a tenement with one of her twenty-three siblings. While living there, Keith thought about his future. He thought he would probably be dead by the time he was in his mid-twenties, because that is what he saw happening to young men around him.

Keith’s mama was eventually able to move her family back to Detroit. Though they still lived in a tenement, at least they were together and on their own. Mama worked three jobs to take care of her boys, leaving at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. and coming back home after midnight.

By the time Keith was in fifth grade, he was far behind in school and considered himself not very smart. He admired the smart students and marveled at their ability to answer questions, though he would never have let them know it.

Keith’s mama worried about both of her boys. She prayed about the situation and decided on a new plan: restrictions on TV and two library books a week. Each of the boys would have to read two books each week and turn in a book report on each one. Mama faithfully marked up the book reports to “grade” them. What the boys didn’t know was that with only a third grade education, she couldn’t actually read them.

Keith began to notice a change at school. When his teacher asked questions, he could answer them. Behavior problems at school were so bad that his teachers often gave up trying to teach very much, so Keith would get the teachers to explain to him what they had planned to teach. As Keith grew up, he began helping the teachers set up biology labs and chemistry labs. By the time he graduated, Keith’s academic abilities had improved so much, he was able to enter Yale University.

Keith, whose real name is Dr. Ben Carson, became director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatric medicine.

Ben Carson at Cincinnati 008 cropped
Dr. Ben Carson speaks at the Cincinnati homeschool convention.

At the close of a homeschool convention several years ago, Dr. Carson spoke to thousands of homeschooling mamas, daddies, and children, telling us the story that I just told you.

Mrs. Carson’s friends criticized her for what she required of her boys, but she stood firm and fulfilled her God-given role in their lives. She was not afraid to teach or to require. Her sons became the grateful beneficiaries.

As Dr. Carson closed the talk that night, he asked us all to remember when we sing the end of the “Star Spangled Banner,” that we cannot be free unless we are brave. I know he is grateful that his mama was brave.

. . . do not forsake the teaching of your mother.
Proverbs 6:20

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