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Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (1996) by Ben Carson with Cecil Murphey. Zondervan House Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI.- As a world renowned neurosurgeon, Ben Carson is known for his leadership in conducting difficult brain operations on children. His most notable accomplishment occurred when he led a team of 70 individuals in successfully completing the separation of seven month old babies joined at the head. This autobiography would be particularly inspiring for minority children because the author grew up in the Black ghettos of Detroit and Boston. (Most of his public schooling occurred in Detroit except for two years in Boston's schools.) Carson describes difficult years in elementary school until the school nurse identified his vision problems in the middle of the fifth grade. After being fitted with glasses, his performance in the upper elementary grades improved until he progressed to the top of his class in junior high and high school.

The major positive forces in his young life were his mother and older brother, Curtis, who later became an engineer. Mrs. Carson was determined that her sons would perform well in public school, attend college and be successful in life. In addition, she instilled ethical principles in Ben and Curtis through her religious teachings and involvement in church activities. She organized their life outside of school so that study and reading took precedence over everything including television. As a single parent, she was under serious economic and psychological pressures. In this regard, Carson says that she would leave home (after placing her children in the care of reliable neighbors) for weeks at a time to "visit friends." But years later he discovered that she voluntarily entered a mental institution during these periods to receive psychiatric treatment. Mrs. Carson did not want to expose the children to her mental problems -- instead, she provided them with a stable home environment which eventually involved reclaiming a small house that she had rented to another family in order to pay the mortgage.

This combination of a strong-willed mother, bright children, and concerned educators produced amazing results. Ben became a high academic performer in junior high and high school. He graduated near the top of his class and became colonel of the Detroit ROTC high school brigade. At the final ROTC ceremony during his senior year, General William Westmoreland and two Congressional Medal of Honor winners attended and talked with Ben. Later he was offered a full scholarship to West Point. But he was not interested in a military career -- instead, he set his sights on attending medical school and becoming a psychiatrist. Yale University offered him a 90 percent academic scholarship where he successfully competed against some of the best pre-med students in the country. After finishing his undergraduate work at Yale, he was accepted at the University of Michigan Medical School. His interests turned to neurosurgery and upon completion of his four years of medical school, he went to Johns Hopkins University for his internship and five years of residency as a neurosurgeon. He is currently director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and has a worldwide reputation in this field.

Teachers, students and counselors should read this book and use it as an inspirational resource for study in the medical sciences. Besides providing details of the operation that separated the Siamese twins, the book contains the stories of many other surgical patients. Carson ends with the "Think Big" keys to success which emphasize talent development, learning the importance of time, hope, honesty, insight, being nice to people, knowledge, books, in-depth learning and God.

My American Journey (1995) by Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico. Ballantine Books, NY. - This is a classical American story of an individual who rises from humble roots to achieve high levels of success in his chosen profession and personal life. Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, was raised in the Bronx, New York, and has attained the highest levels of military rank through intelligence, perseverance, and outstanding leadership skills. His large and supportive family consisted of his mother, father, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins. The neighborhood (Hunts Point) where he grew up had many different ethnic groups -- it was heavily Jewish, and mixed with Irish, Polish, Italian, Black, Polish and Hispanic families. "The South Bronx was an exciting place when I was growing up, and I have never longed for those elms and picket fences." (p. 11). Although a mediocre public school student, Powell's motivation and achievement were aroused when he entered the City College of New York in the early 1950's where such luminaries as Dr. Jonas Salk, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, the actor Edward G. Robinson, the writer Bernard Malamud, the labor leader A. Philip Randolph, U.S. Senator Robert Wagner, and eight Nobel Prize winners were once students. He joined the ROTC program at CCNY and eventually became the cadet colonel in charge of the entire undergraduate regiment. His subsequent advancement in the U.S. Army was swift from his initial training as a newly commissioned lieutenant in Fort Benning, Georgia to his assignments in West Germany, and on dangerous combat missions in South Vietnam and South Korea. He served on the National Security Council under Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush, and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Bush administration. (He was the first African-American, the youngest officer and the first ROTC graduate to be appointed to the highest military position in the land.) It was during his time in this position that he and General Norman Schwartzkopf led the successful Operation Desert Storm in Iraq and Kuwait. Powell's advice to young people is: ". . . .I want black youngsters to learn about black writers, poets, musicians, scientists, and artists, and about the culture and history of Africa. At the same time, we have to accept that black children in America are not going to have to make their way in an African world. They are going to have to make their way in an American world. Along with their black heritage, they should know about the Greek origins of our democracy, the British origins of our judicial system, and the contributions to our national tapestry of Americans of all kinds and colors. My message to young African-Americans is to learn to live where you are and not where you might have been born three centuries ago. The cultural gap is too wide, the time past too long gone, for Africa to provide the only nourishment to the soul or mind of African-Americans. The corollary is equally true. Young whites will not be living in an all-white world. They must be taught to appreciate the struggle of minorities to achieve their birthright." (pp. 519-20).




"Of all the beasts he learned the language,/Learned their names and all their secrets,/How the beavers built their lodges,/How the squirrels hid their acorns,/How the reindeer ran so swiftly,/ Why the rabbit was so timid,/Talked with them whene'er he met them,/Called them 'Hiawatha's Brothers.'" From Classic Poems to Read Aloud (1995) by James Berry, Editor. The Song of Hiawatha (1855) by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow (1807-82).

During National Poetry Month in April 1999, I attended a poetry reading and book signing at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore (Fourteenth Street and Union Square) in New York City. This is an ideal setting for poetry. The store is a refurbished old building located in a historical area of New York City where many of America's greatest poets and writers resided, e.g., Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Henry James, Stephen Crane, O. Henry and Walt Whitman. The poet that night was Rita Dove who received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987, and was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995. She is currently an English Professor at the University of Virginia.

The wonderful aspect of this Barnes and Noble Bookstore is that you can talk to the author after the book signing. Since I graduated from the University of Virginia, Ms. Dove and I enjoyed talking about the city of Charlottesville and individuals we knew in the English department such as the short story writer, Peter Taylor. In addition, she found my involvement in the Teacher Mentoring Program in the New York City Public Schools very interesting, and donated some of her autographed poetry books to several public school libraries.

The themes of Ms. Dove's poetry reflect the true sense of multiculturalism. Her ethnic background is African American (born in Akron, Ohio in 1952). She studied in Germany and married the German novelist, Fred Viebahn. The subjects of her poems have a wide range of cultural and intellectual interests, and they are influenced by her travels in Europe. Many of the poems with European motifs are stimulated by her highly-developed sense of the history of the place where

she is traveling. One group of poems is situated in Italy, but it is the Italy of the late middle ages and the early Renaissance. Even though she is writing about a subject in the past, her images and concerns are contemporary. "Boccaccio: The Plague Years" (from Museum, 1983) is about the Italian writer Boccaccio (1313-75) who wrote the Decameron (1349), a series of tales supposedly told by refugees who fled from the plague in Florence. The modern concern of this poem is how the writer or poet can help human beings endure suffering. "Even at night the air rang and rang./Through the thick swirled glass/he watched the priests sweep past/in their peaked hoods, collecting death./On each stoop a dish burning sweet/clotted smoke. He closed his eyes/to hear the slap of flesh onto flesh, a/liquid crack like a grape/as it breaks on the tongue."

The last poem in Museum (1983) is especially crucial and relevant to me. Many students and teachers I mentor are from the Dominican Republic. The poem is called "Parsley." With this title, one would not expect the subject and concern that it deals with -- the massacre of sugar cane workers (they illegally came from Haiti) in 1957 by the dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who killed them because they were unable to pronounce the word "parsley" in Spanish. Over 20,000 Haitians became fodder for the killing fields of this cruel tyrant. It is ironical that this poem is also relevant for the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and now Kosovo. "There is a parrot imitating spring/in the palace, its feathers parsley green./Out of the swamp the cane appears/to haunt us, and we cut it down. El General/searches for a word; he is all the world/there is. Like a parrot imitating spring."

Gifted students can benefit from responding to poetry in both aesthetic and academic manners. It can help them to endure present day tragedies. They can see how a poet takes a subject from the past and interjects the concerns of the present. Also, it is helpful for them to understand the different styles and forms of poetry.

Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright by Gifted Education Press, June-July 1999