This is a brief, edited section from an hour-long interview available on YouTube. (See below.) This section, however, particularly struck me. I think those of us who are involved in educating the next generation(s) [which, I hope, is virtually all of us!], I think the message is vital.
(NOTE: The section below comes from 6:04 into the video and ends at 10:55.)
Were you really considered the dumbest kid in the class in the fifth grade? I was the safety net: No one had to worry about getting the lowest mark on a test as long as I was there. My nickname was Dummy. Once we were having an argument about who was the dumbest person in the school. It wasn't a big argument—everyone agreed it was me—but then someone tried to extend that argument to who was the dumbest person in the world. I said, "Wait a minute, there are billions of people in the world." They said, "Yeah, we know that, and you're the dumbest."You can watch the entire interview here:
On that particular day, to make matters worse, we had a math quiz and you had to pass your paper to the person behind you. They would correct it and give it back to you. Teacher would call your name and you had to report your score out loud. Great if you got 100 or 95! Not so great if you got a zero and just had an argument about who's the dumbest person in the world.
I started scheming: "When teacher calls my name, I will mumble and maybe she'll think I said something and write it down." The quiz had 30 questions. When she called my name I said, "neimnmm." She said, "Nine! Benjamin you got nine right? Oh, this is wonderful, I knew you could do it if you just applied yourself. Kids, I want you to understand what a significant day this is. Benjamin got nine right. If he can get nine right anybody can."
Finally the girl behind me couldn't take it any longer. She stood up and said, "He said none!" The kids were rolling in the aisles. If I could have disappeared into thin air never to be heard from again in the history of the world, I would gladly have done so. But, I couldn't. I had to sit there and act like it didn't bother me—but it did. Not enough to make me study but it did bother me.
My mother saw all these failing grades. She didn't know what to do, but she prayed and asked God to give her wisdom to know what to do to get her young sons to understand the importance of intellectual development. She then let us watch only two to three TV programs each week. With all that spare time we had to read two books apiece from the Detroit Public Library and submit to her written book reports. She couldn't read them but we didn't know that—she would put little checkmarks and highlights and underlines.
I hated it in the beginning, but after a few weeks I began to enjoy it. We were desperately poor, but between the covers of those books I could go anywhere, be anybody, do anything. I began to imagine myself in the laboratory conducting experiments; discovering new galaxies, microcosms, knowing stuff that nobody else knew. Within a year and a half I went from the bottom of my class to the top, much to the consternation of all the students who used to call me dummy. The same ones who called me dummy in the fifth grade would come to me in the seventh grade, "Benny, Benny, Benny! How do you work this problem?"
. . . I had the same brain but a very, very different outlook. As I began to read about people of accomplishment, it dawned on me that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life is—you. It's not the environment. It's not somebody else. You can take control of your own life. I started having a very different philosophy than a lot of the people around me.
A lot of them called me nerd, Uncle Tom, all kinds of things. I would shut them up by saying, "Let's see what I'm doing in 20 years and let's see what you're doing in 20 years." They must have believed me because when I graduated from high school they all voted me most likely to succeed—which means they knew what was necessary to succeed, but were too lazy and trifling to do it themselves. That's what negative peer pressure is all about. The more young people we can get to understand that, the more people of accomplishment we will see.