How I Ended Up Holding A Package of Brains

Why You Should Support Public Education

I was a little startled to find myself holding a package containing twelve vacuum-packed brains last Wednesday.

“Please tell me these aren’t what I think they are,” I asked Mr. Bishop, a sixth grade science teacher who has Multiple Sclerosis.

“Oh my gosh, I’ve been looking for those brains for the last three years!”

“May I ask what kind of brains they are?” (Pygmies? Child actors?)

“Those are sheep’ brains,” said Mr. Bishop. “I wonder if I should’ve kept them frozen?”

“Can I just throw them away,” I begged.

“No, no, I can use those brains.”

“Then, can I throw the jars with tapeworms and squid eyeballs away?”

“No way! The kids love that stuff!”

I’m volunteering at my daughter’s public middle school, which is what got me into this brain-predicament.

Clare at sixth grade culmination. I took this photo through a sea of tears.
Clare at fifth grade culmination. I took this photo through a sea of tears.

She started sixth grade, along with many bused-in, low-income children, this fall.

Neighbors acted like we were sending her to Rikers.

So, initially I volunteered at the school twice a week to make sure my kid didn’t get jumped into a gang and come home with a tear tattoo next to her eye.

But around Week Three something interesting happened.

I started to get to know the bused-in, low-income kids. I realized they are:

Almost Exactly Like My Kid.

Except, my kid has everything she could possibly need; an Iphone, a laptop computer, two parents who are around all the time.

A lot of these other kids don’t have any of that, and have landed at the middle school behind the learning curve.

So on Tuesdays I read to an 8th grader named Geraldo, who’s a bit behind, and who is wildly embarrassed to be seen with me. (Too bad, G!)

On Wednesdays I’ve been helping Mr. Bishop unpack his classroom, since he had to move this year and can’t do it himself (the MS).

In Mr. Bishop’s room alone there are 12 different languages.

Some of his students are refugees from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran.

When I first started showing up to unpack Mr. Bishop, they peered at me like I was a curiosity. A privileged white woman with perfectly curled hair and manicured nails sifting through octopus hearts.

Now, when I arrive on campus, these kids run up and hug me, where my own daughter prefers I wave casually from a distance.

(I grew you in my womb, kid! Don’t forget it!)

Last week, two of Mr. Bishop’s students offered to load Henry’s truck with all of the boxes Mr. Bishop wanted to donate without Henry even asking them.

I’m not political. I don’t want to argue about politics.

But in the last few weeks, it’s dawned on me why it’s so important for me to support public education; to enroll my child in a public school; and to volunteer if I’m worried the school isn’t good enough.

It’s because these other kids deserve an education as good as the one I want my child to receive.

I’m just one person. I have just two children and a husband who feels exactly the way that I do. We can’t effect huge change.

But in the microcosm of our community, by supporting public education, we’re supporting marginalized children and families.

And, if I’m permitted to extrapolate, perhaps helping them get a good education is all they’ll need to step up into the middle class, and a world of possibility.

Extrapolating much, much further, the success of our most vulnerable, marginalized families will help stabilize the macrocosm of our nation; in the hope of avoiding the fates of many failed nations around the globe, where economic apartheid is so rampant that these nations are perpetually under siege.

Yes. I’m saving the world.

Okay, no I’m not. But, what if we all supported public education? Then we’d really be on to something!

Last week, I emptied the last of Mr. Bishop’s boxes. 

(I admittedly colluded with Mr. Wilson, the janitor, in sneaking a few boxes of what might have been Orca ovaries to the dumpster when Mr. Bishop wasn’t looking.)

Job done, I felt sad to go.

I don’t know what project I’ll undertake next.

I’ll simply continue to watch the families who inspired our decision to go to this public school — the Bollingers, the Feldmans, the Mannings and Globermans — tireless in their advocacy — try to follow in their footsteps.

4 thoughts on “How I Ended Up Holding A Package of Brains”

  1. Hear hear and hug hug! As the wife of a public high school teacher, I could not agree more with everything you say. Oh, except that part about holding brains. Ewwwwwwww And I am pretty sure I see a teardrop tattoo in your daughter’s photo. A tear of joy no doubt as you walk hand in hand with her through the school yard. Great post; well-written!

  2. This is a conversation my husband and I have over and over. Our son is only one, but I am pro-public-school, and he is pro-private. He went to a private Episcopal school. I went to a large, diverse public school. Public school teaches you how to navigate the world, and cooperate across many lifestyles and disciplines. I hope to be as involved with my kid’s education as you are.

    1. Hi Lisa — thanks. I don’t want to make any parent feel bad about any choice they make. Ultimately we all have to do what we think is best for our child. So far this is working for my daughter and I’m thrilled.

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