Lessons from Dr. Ben Carson’s Childhood

Lessons from Dr. Ben Carson’s Childhood

In 2013, Dr. Ben Carson gave a fabulous speech at the National Prayer Breakfast attended by President Obama and the First Lady. While many people called attention to controversial topics, I want to put the spotlight on his thoughts on education.

Carson was born to a single, illiterate mother and grew up in a very poor household. From early childhood, education made an enormous difference in Carson’s life. This article “Ben Carson and the Mother Behind the Man” gives a brief summary of his childhood based on the movie, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.

[Ben’s mother Sonya] knew that she had to do something to help her boys begin to live up to their potential. And though she didn’t know what to do, she knew Someone who did know. So she prayed and asked God for wisdom and guidance.


She also paid attention to the habits of the high achievers she worked for. She made some decisions and told her sons about them: they were to choose and read two library books per week and hand in book reports to her (they didn’t know she couldn’t read), and they were to limit TV to two pre-selected programs per week, watchable only after homework was done. Two books per week! Benny thought, alarmed. He had never read a book in his life. And how would he live with almost no TV?


Ben’s mother repeatedly told her sons that they could do anything anybody else could do, and do it better, if they would only work hard at it. She always had faith in them, and she never accepted excuses. She made none for herself, and would accept none from them–for their own good.


Ben Carson went from the bottom of his fifth grade class to the top of his sixth grade class in one and a half years. He earned a scholarship to Yale and became the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital when he was thirty-three years old. He was one of the youngest people to ever hold such a position, and the first black person to have a position like that in a world-renowned medical center. In the first seven years of his career, he performed breakthrough surgeries that changed the lives of his patients.

His story shows that anything is possible! If you haven’t already watched Carson’s National Prayer Breakfast speech, I highly suggest you do. In just a half hour, you will be inspired by his story and his views on education.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did with the Daily Caller after the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013:

TheDC: You mentioned education a lot during the speech, and a well-informed public. Do you think that the public is ill-informed and that it led to the president’s re-election?

BC: Well, all you have to do is look at some of those segments that Jay Leno does (laughs), where he asks basic questions. As I alluded to in the speech, you look at a 6th-grade exit exam from the 1800s and you look at the kinds of things people were expected to know. I mean, if you were to pose those questions to people, they’d say, “That’s ridiculous. How can you expect me to know that?”


Yes, we have dumbed things down enormously and we need to get them back to the right level. Quite frankly, having an uninformed populace works extremely well, particularly when you have a media that doesn’t understand its responsibility and feels more like it’s an arm of a political party. They can really take advantage of an uninformed populace.

You can read the rest of this Daily Caller article here. Reading about Dr. Ben Carson will encourage any parent to keep believing in their child’s potential!
Ready to Catch Up or Get Ahead? How to Get Back on Track Now!

Ready to Catch Up or Get Ahead? How to Get Back on Track Now!

Even if your school has done a great job with its virtual/hybrid classes during the COVID-19 year, getting real academic progress in a hybrid classroom where the teacher has virtual students as well or while at home can be a challenge. Mom and Dad need to work, the dog is barking, and the baby is crying. It is hard enough to teach every child well with in-school ratios of 25+ students to 1 teacher. Video conferencing, with its distractions and those ratios, can be especially difficult.

Researchers found there was a ‘COVID slide’ by fall 2020 for math. This is similar to the commonly known ‘summer slide’ where the student loses ground on the academic progress made due to no learning for several months. And if we combine a weak spring semester with an inactive summer, you will have a difficult next fall semester on your hands. Don’t let this happen to your child.

In almost all grades, most students made some learning gains in both reading and math since the COVID-19 pandemic started. However, gains in math were lower on average in fall 2020 than prior years, resulting in more students falling behind relative to their prior standing. LINK

If you are wanting your child to get up to grade level or beyond, there are several things you can do to get back on track NOW.

1) Memorize math facts through daily practice. – Download our FREE oral fact sheet cards here.
2) Read daily with your child and emphasize any phonetic rules he or she hasn’t internalized.
c) Find a program that can fill in any specific holes and gaps your child has through daily practice.

A weak foundation from just one year can create struggles in next few years, and if not addressed, into high school and beyond limiting your child’s opportunities.

With low student to teacher ratios of 2:1 and 4:1, Gideon’s individualized, self-paced math and reading programs solidify students’ foundations step-by-step and build confidence through mastery. A solid foundation will propel students through high school and college allowing them to pursue their dreams.

When students have a solid foundation in math and reading, they are more likely to succeed in school and beyond.

The good news is you just need to get started.  Get back on track with Gideon.  Find your location now!

Let's get started.

Contact us today to receive more information about your selected center. That’s one step closer to mastery!

Two Skills for Superhero Readers

Two Skills for Superhero Readers

Decode: to change (secret messages, documents, etc.) from a set of letters, numbers, symbols, etc., you cannot understand into words you can understand

If you cannot read a language, even one you speak already, all written text is a secret message.  Text is useless to us unless we can decode and understand it.  How can your superhero understand his mission to make his bed and take out the trash if he cannot decode the mysterious chore chart?!

Chore Chart

However, once you learn to decode those symbols, suddenly the world opens up.  Those chores can be conquered and allowances can be seized.  But how do we decode a language?  Using our special superhero decoder ring: PHONICS!

Phonics:  the ability to identify that there is a relationship between the individual sounds (phonemes) of the spoken language and the letters (graphemes) of the written language.

This means understanding that the letter P has a /p/ sound and when SH is together as in SHACK, it makes an /sh/ sound instead of /s/ + /h/.  (English is tricky like that.)

Consonant Sound Chart

Studies have shown that phonics based instruction is the most effective way to teach learning to read.

Students who know how to sound words out well have better fluency, spelling skills, and comprehension as they are not bogged down by the components of the words and sentences.  Similar to math, solving an algebra equation such as: 3(x + 4) – 5 = 25 is difficult if you are cannot add 25 & 5  or divide by 3 quickly.  Those basic skills are needed to decode this equation for X.

Once phonics skills are mastered, students will be able to decipher words encountered in reading and spell the various words they wish to write. When students are focusing less on decoding, they can spend more attention on making meaning from the print they are reading.

From the National Reading Panel:

The meta-analysis revealed that systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read. The ability to read and spell words was enhanced in kindergartners who received systematic beginning phonics instruction. First graders who were taught phonics systematically were better able to decode and spell, and they showed significant improvement in their ability to comprehend text. Older children receiving phonics instruction were better able to decode and spell words and to read text orally, but their comprehension of text was not significantly improved.

Since Gideon is in the business of creating superhero readers, our learning to read program has all the components of a solid, systematic phonics instruction for superhero decoding skills which include:

a) knowing the sound for each letter / b) blending: 2-letter sounds together

Learning Letter Names and SoundsBlending 2 Sounds

c) blending: 3-letter sounds together

d) Phoneme Segmentation for all booklets: spelling the word by saying it out loud to hear the sounds

e) Consonant blends such as: ‘bl’, ‘sp’, ‘tr’, ‘nd’, ‘nk’

Spelling - PhonicsPhonics - Blends

f) Consonant digraphs such as: ‘ch’, ‘sh’, ‘th’ / g) Long and short vowels

Phonics - BlendsPhonics - Long and Short Vowels


h) Vowel digraphs such as: ‘ai’, ‘ee’, ‘ow’ / i) R-controlled vowels such as: ‘ar’, ‘ir’, ‘ur’

Phonics - Long A

Phonics - Bossy R

Phonics – Bossy R

j) Diphthongs such as : oi, ou / k) Advanced spelling patterns: ‘-tion’, -‘le’

Phonics - Ou/Oy/Oi Sound

Phonics - /ed/ sound

Phonics – /ed/ sound

Gideon also has easy comprehension storybooks to go along with all our 30 Word Builders – phonics level booklets.  These are read in class and sent home to be read again and again (when your superhero has some free time away from cleaning her room).  They are a review of the previous sounds already taught. We intersperse our phonics level with more in-depth comprehension booklets called Ready Readers which also review previous sounds and words learned in the midst of longer passages and exercises.

Can’t make it to a Gideon Math and Reading center? Another great phonics program is Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. And what about sight words?!  Superhero readers cannot be deficient in any aspect!  What does this cryptic message mean?!  Hint: that’s not a long o.


Did you know that most of the Dolch High Frequency/Sight Word list can be pronounced phonetically?  Phonics is still the best starting point.  However, many English words are exceptions with irregular spelling and pronunciation such as ONE which is /wuhn/.  Gideon introduces some of these high frequency words with their phonetic spelling AFTER solid phonetic skills are mastered, and we recommend you do the same.

Dolch List - Commonly Used WordsDolch List - Commonly Used Words

Follow a systematic phonics instruction system, and you’ll have a superhero reader in no time!

Ready to learn more?

Schedule your free placement testing today.  That’s one step closer to superhero reading!
5 Ways to Ace Standardized Testing

5 Ways to Ace Standardized Testing

Standardized testing has permeated our society for all ages, including some for 3 year olds at elite private pre-schools.  While you may agree or disagree with its usefulness, likely you have to deal with it either for yourself or your child.  If we’re going to do something, let’s do it well!  We collected 5 great ways to ace that next test.


1) Prepare – all year long.  Don’t wait until the week before if you are unsure of the how you or your child will perform.  Confident you know the material through extended practice is the best way to do well.  Ensure your child is doing her homework correctly during the year to avoid a large gap in understanding.  Review grades and reteach any objectives at home on which she did not test well.  Communicate with the teacher to ask for any areas you did not notice.

Gideon prepares students throughout the year by solidifying any holes and gaps in the foundation and building up from there.  Our daily doses of practice of math word problems and multiple choice answers creates ability to dissect information and use strategies with finding answers.  Avoid cramming as most things are best learned over a long period of time.

Read – early and often.  Reading for pleasure builds vocabulary and comprehension extremely well.  Presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, changed the course of his life in 5th grade after his mother required him to read two books a week.  Not surprising, considering this habit changes the volume of white matter in the language area of the brain.

Even students who usually excel can benefit greatly from preparation.  See the video.


2) Teach strategies.  You won’t be able to give your child all the answers beforehand so you’ll have to teach him HOW to find the solution.  Read directions carefully.  Reread stories and problems.  Eliminate and mark out all the incorrect answers. Review answers again.  Make notes in the margins where answers are found or underline important text.  Write out what is known.  And of course, do not rush!  Students are trained and practice these skills every day at Gideon.
Sequencing Strategy
3) Practice on sample or released tests.  Drive out anxiety through familiarity.  Something you’ve done many times will seem easier than a brand new challenge.  Most states have a website where these can be downloaded.  A simple google search can find them.  Here is the version for Texas, STAAR.  Don’t only do the test, but grade it as well.  Correct any wrong answers and ensure understanding.  Corrections are the greatest teachers!
4) Discuss any fears or test anxiety.  Parents, remember, this is just one test.  Any difficulties can be addressed afterwards.  If you put too much pressure on your child, it may backfire.  Students who are nervous will second guess themselves even if they are correct.  If your child expresses any fears, discuss them calmly and positively.  Encourage her best work and remind her of strategies.  Express faith in your child’s ability to do well.  Generally, children want to please their parents and will be distressed if they feel their best isn’t good enough.  You want your child relaxed at testing time.
5) Last minute prep: good sleep and good eats.  As we have discussed several times, good sleep is essential.

Missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader’s brain into that of a fourth grader.

Don’t forget a protein-rich breakfast like eggs to keep him full later.  Avoid sugar such as in a fast food breakfast which can spike early and cause sleepiness laster.  Dress in comfortable layers as the testing could be done in an unfamiliar room that may be hotter or colder than usual.  And then, help him stay relaxed on the ride there.  It’s just one test.


Want more resources?  Go here.

10 Ways to Avoid Summer Slide

10 Ways to Avoid Summer Slide

Summer slide is the term used to describe the loss of skills many students experience during the time off from school. This article reports that a Duke University professor’s study found students may lose one to three months of learning.

Cooper’s study also showed that summer loss was greater in math than reading and had the biggest downward trend in math computation and spelling.

If your student is currently attending a Gideon Math and Reading center, you are already ahead of the game and keeping his or her brain sharp!  We can make incredible gains in just a few minutes each day.  If not currently enrolled, we consider summer a great time to address issues from the year before OR to get ahead as the stresses from the normal school year are eliminated.  If you are off on vacation or looking for other ways to engage your children, check out our links below. (more…)

Ways to Make Your Children Smarter

Ways to Make Your Children Smarter

In this article on Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog, the author gives a great list of ways to improve your child’s academic performance.  Here are a few.

1) Get Good Sleep
While this may seem like basic knowledge, many students today are doing more and more activities which leads to staying up later to do homework or to spend time online.  Losing 1 hour can pull him back 2 grade levels while averaging 15 more minutes daily can make her more likely to get A’s.

Missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader’s brain into that of a fourth grader.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10-11 hours for ages 5-12 and 8.5-9 hours for teenagers.  Get into a good bedtime routine.  Ensure quality sleep by keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet and free of screens (tv, computer, phone, etc).  Read more about the importance of sleep here and bedtime routine tips here.

Another benefit of well rested students is feeling happier.  Happier students also do better than those who are unhappy.  Also happier kids come from happy parents so get your sleep too!

2) Engage in Active Learning
You can read basketball rules, tips, and strategies, but you won’t get better until you start actually playing.  The Gideon program is only active learning with the student always working on his individualized program based on his previous performance.  When the student needs to memorize +4 facts, he will practice them orally, write them over and over, and then be tested to do it within a certain time.  All these things are actively engaging his brain as opposed to having him simply read them on the page.

Along this same thread is to have your student read WITH you instead of you just reading TO them.  When reading a book together, point at the words as you read them, and later as they are able, have them read to you.  Ask questions about what is happening in the story to ensure comprehension.  Have her repeat any sentences she struggles with to aid with comprehension and confidence.

…when shared book reading is enriched with explicit attention to the development of children’s reading skills and strategies, then shared book reading is an effective vehicle for promoting the early literacy ability even of disadvantaged children.

3) Create Good Habits

From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:
“Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success…Self-discipline predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the course of the school year, whereas IQ did not.”

Create good habits for you children while you can.  Decide which goals are important for your family and strive for them.  Do not give up with things get hard.  Teaching your children to persevere is a life lesson and will help them through adulthood.  Being great at something usually does not come naturally.  Mostly, these are well developed skills.

At Gideon, we stay on the needed topic until mastery is reached.  We believe each student can reach the mastery standards given extra practice.  Some students need more help in +4s but may need less in -4s.  Each student is different, but we never give up and assume he cannot do it.  He learns a lot about himself and hard work when he does reach that goal.  He needs to see that extra effort does make a difference whether he believed it or not originally.  This will aid him when he has challenges in his career and his personal life.

Listen to this TED talk about how grit was the determining factor for success in many different arenas.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree has another great post HERE about increasing self-control and willpower.

4) Believe in Your Children
We cannot agree more. If you believe your student is capable of more, you will push and ask for more.  This, in turn, will create a better student as she also will believe she can do more.  Don’t be in a hurry to move on.  Wait and let your child prove to you she can do it.  Children absorb what we tell them – good and bad.  They really hear you when you say, ‘I KNOW you can do it.”  And better yet, they believe you.

Read the other tips and rest of this article HERE.