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August 7, 2013
Column #1,667
Turn Off the TV & iPhone!
By Mike McManus

Ben Carson’s life began in a most unpromising way. His mother had only a third grade education when she married at age 13 and moved to Detroit with his father. But she soon learned that he was already married!

She divorced the bigamist and faced the task of bringing up two boys on her own. She cleaned two or three houses a day. She noticed that the owners of the homes were very well educated, and concluded that education was the key to the success for her children – and herself.

“She made us turn off the television and read books and submit to her written book reports – which she couldn’t read, but we didn’t know that,” Ben recalled. “I was rather disgruntled about these assignments, but we had to do it, so there was no point arguing.

“Interestingly enough, I began to enjoy reading because I learned things that no one else knew. This was especially satisfying because previously, I had been known as the dumbest kid in the class. Within the space of a year and half I went from the bottom of the class to the top – much to the amazement of classmates and teachers alike.”

You may have heard this story before. Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins before retiring – told his story at the President’s Prayer Breakfast.

Here are a few more details which he shared in a column in The Washington Times this week: Young Ben couldn’t wait to get his hands on more books because reading made him want to explore many opportunities in Detroit for the ambitious – a library system, fabulous museums, art galleries, universities and cultural events.

“Even in some of the most depressed areas of America, a good education can be obtained with concerted effort,” he writes. In fact, his mother taught herself to read, obtained a GED, went on to college and in 1994 received an honorary doctorate from Spalding University in Kentucky.

What happened to Ben? He earned an undergraduate degree from Yale, a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Michigan, specialized training in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and became director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins at age 33. His brother is an aerospace engineer.

“It is unlikely that I would become a brain surgeon and my brother a rocket scientist if our mother had not been committed to pursue education so intensely,” he writes.

When our kids were small, we had similar rules. No TV except Disney on Sunday night and cartoons on Saturday morning. Each week my wife took our three young boys to the library where they could pick out books.

In the beginning of the first grade, Adam’s teacher challenged kids to a contest to see who could read the most books that year. Adam dragged home a bagful of books each week. By the end of the year he had read 1,000!

He wanted to learn the clarinet and began lessons at age 5. So when his brothers reached the age of five, they picked out their instruments, a violin for Tim and a saxophone for John. All also got involved in sports - competitive swimming, soccer and baseball.

I asked Adam, in looking back, if he thought our rules were too strict.

“No. It helped us learn to think and use our imagination. We were not passive, we were active. It helped us peak on a higher level than our peers.”

I asked if he missed the various TV shows his friends watched.

“There were times at school when the conversation would be about Mork and Mindy. I had no idea what they were talking about. But it did not last long and was immaterial.”

Tim’s kids, aged 6-9, “have very limited TV time – cartoons on a weekend morning. They do not watch during the week. They don’t ask to watch and simply don’t have enough time because they have homework, activities and go to bed by 8:30 pm.”

And how did our sons turn out? Tim is CEO of two hospitals. Adam is involved in radio and John is a Washington lobbyist.

Tim raised another issue: “What is more relevant is `screen time.’ How much time are they in front of the computer or gaming devices?”

Adam adds, “What is painful to watch is a family of five in a restaurant, each on an iPhone, two younger kids playing video games, a teenager texting, a mother on an iPhone.

Parents: Limit TV and screen time.

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