Presidential candidate and bootstrap spokesman (“We’re what you pull yourself up by!”) Ben Carson was beginning to tell his inspirational life story to students at Isaac Newton Christian Academy on Thursday, when he asked the fifth-graders a very ill-advised question.

“As a fifth-grade student, I was a horrible student,” Carson began. “Anyone here in fifth grade?”

According to the Des Moines Register, a group of students then raised their hands.

“Who’s the worst student?” Carson asked.

More than six students pointed immediately at the same kid.

News outlets came quick with ungenerous headlines. “Ben Carson Asks Room Full of Children to Point to the Dumbest Kid in Class” was Gawker’s take.

But surely, Carson meant for children who self-identified as “worst” to raise their hands. He would then ask each of them to imagine himself or herself as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. Except, no. It turns out he did expect children to point at each other.

“I figured people would be pointing around to all different people who they didn’t like,” he told the Register.

That outcome certainly would have been a better set up the next line in his speech — “Well, let me tell you, if you had asked that question in my classroom, there would have been no doubt” — but it still would have been a ridiculous thing to ask children to do.

The strange thing is that while Carson may be new to politicking, he’s pretty seasoned when it comes to speaking to young people. According to Hopkins’s former chair of Neurosurgery, Carson has been taking weekends off to give inspirational talks to young people since his residency days.