Calculations

In the play, Isa teaches math to elementary school students using an abacus.

We stumbled upon a great article today about how contemporary schools are using the age-old abacus as a way to teach mental math. Here’s an excerpt below. Find the whole article, “I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus — and it changed my life” by Ulrich Boser HERE on Vox.

A few years ago, I stood in a small basement classroom just outside of New York City, watching a high schooler named Serena Stevenson answer math questions in rapid succession.

An instructor read out numbers —

74,470

70,809

98,402

— and Stevenson added them in her head. For each question, she closed her eyes, and then the fingers of her right hand began to twitch, a progression of plucks and jerks. The movements were fast and exact.

For almost an hour, she used the abacus-based approach to solve math problems. Sometimes she would get problems wrong and smile and shrug. But she also answered many of the problems correctly, including the addition of multiple five-digit numbers in her head.

The key to her success was an ancient technology called the abacus. As I discovered while reporting on a book on the science of learning, the typical abacus has small discs that move up and down on thin posts. The small discs have different values, and the four beads on the bottom have a value of 1. The discs at the top have a value of 5. To calculate a problem, you move the discs up and down until you get to a solution.

Preschool Warfare?

This article from The Cut is first class bonkers, and worth a full read. The picture it paints of battles between factions of the 1% — over the traditions and future of a beloved, private, neighborhood nursery school for the rich and powerful — is unreal. That school is not Gleason Street, but there are resonances here of the power struggles, the privilege, and the dreams parents cultivate for their children.

An excerpt…

“Then there was the board. Once [School Director] Morgano realized it was an advisory committee, and therefore not really the boss of her, she displayed significantly less patience with the members, especially Ashley Phyfe, the new board president, a blonde stay-at-home mom who, according to Morgano, thought she knew everything about education because she’d taught public school for five minutes (It was actually seven years.) The board was well-meaning but, Morgano thought, clueless, as evidenced by what happened with the Diversity Committee, which was formed in 2017, after a request from a parent of the only child of color in her class. After the school rejected a motion to give up legacy spots to allow more diverse children into the school, they’d been spinning their wheels and coming up with piecemeal suggestions like busing children to Grace Church from other neighborhoods. ‘That sounds like more of an idea that would benefit your kids,’ Morgano snapped, and the silence afterward was deafening.

The Bumbling Man: Weaponized

In rehearsal we have discussed how Gordon weaponizes his “lack-of-power”. He doesn’t know how to do anything, he doesn’t have control over anything, it’s not his fault. A man who uses this excuse has been branded by the media as “The Bumbling Man”

In 2016, in the midst of the Weinstein scandal, Lili Loofbourow published an article “The myth of the male bumbler” – she described them as “wide-eyed and perennially confused”

The world baffles the bumbler. He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it. What power? he says.Who, me?

Lili Loofbourow

The bumbler is bad at his job, bad at menial tasks, so unaware of the world around them that they are not responsible for the fallout of anything that they were responsible for or anything they did.

There’s a reason for this plague of know-nothings: The bumbler’s perpetual amazement exonerates him. Incompetence is less damaging than malice. And men — particularly powerful men — use that loophole like corporations use off-shore accounts. The bumbler takes one of our culture’s most muscular myths — that men are clueless — and weaponizes it into an alibi.

Lili Loofbourow

The result of the bumbler at it’s best is that those around him have to pick up the slack (take over organizing office parties, change a diaper, feed the baby) – at it’s worst, the bumbling man uses his personality to get out sexual assault, contact with Russian agents, or complicity.

KYLE:
It’s a peculiar feeling, this kind of love, Gordon.
You have the ability.
Everything, all of it, is made up of people.
With you at the top.
It.
Functions through: people
That make it work and go and people can stop it, when it is not working. For everyone, and say
This is not good.
This can be different.
And better.
Gordon, you can do this.

GORDON:
Who owns–

KYLE:
Gordon–

GORDON:
Anything, really…
…I can’t

KYLE:
You own it.
You can.

p141 – p142

Huffpost article further explaining:
Beware The Bumbler (Huffpost)

I leave you with this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than since ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Chicken in a Can

VAL
Tin cans: soup cans: you can fit half a chicken in a can.
He’d ship those all over the country, all over the world.
I come from making things.
So I know.

As Val and fellow parents plan Gleason Street’s gala, she uses her family’s industrial background in tin cans as a justification for being “of the people” — people whose value is in making things. And while she rhapsodizes over the fancy china she grew up with, she conveniently leaves out how that family fortune set her up to be able to afford tuition at Gleason for three kids, plus one at Brown.

But the “chicken in can” also appears in a shared strange dreamscape. Like other kinds of nostalgia that are embedded in the play, this surreal ad for Franco American gravy is something that has been hanging around Kirsten’s brain for several decades. Revel now in the weird humming, the perfect manicure, the basting…

Mimeograph!

Some multimedia snacks to satisfy the mimeograph nostalgists and ink-sniffers alike…

“There was no ink used in the ditto process, which involved elusive ‘master copies’ that the teacher would keep filed away, far away from the reaching hands of students. The master was either typed on, drawn on, or written upon, and a second sheet was coated with a layer of wax that was impregnated with one of a variety of colors, usually a deep purple since that particular pigment was the cheapest, durable and had contrast with the paper. As the paper was hand-cranked through the bulky printer, a pungent-smelling clear solvent was spread across each sheet by an absorbent wick. When the paper came in contact with the waxed original, it would take just enough of the pigment away to print the image on the sheet as it passed under.” (Source)

The Systems Are Hungry

Embedded in the DNA of this play is a discussion of how class issues compound other forms of marginalization. The character of Kyle (they/them/theirs pronouns) is Gleason Street School’s only trans faculty member, and also one of the only faculty members who didn’t receive a raise this year. They are pulling extra shifts on their side gigs and still eating saltines, buying dented cans of tuna from the sale bin, and wearing a layers of sweaters until December to save on their heating bill. When Kyle asks Gordon, the Head of School, for a raise, Gordon blames the system and low budgets, but Kyle reminds him that it’s people who make the systems, and people who are responsible for acting as gatekeepers to change.

Earlier this week, Dev Blair (they/them/theirs pronouns) — the actor who plays Kyle — posted a Twitter thread that articulates many of the same issues Kyle faces. Dev and Kyle are not the same person, but Dev’s lived experience of a young queer/trans person of color in the gig economy is an important touchstone for the world of the play. Dev offered to share their twitter thread here as a way to shine more light on the issues embedded in the play.

Toussaint

MICHAEL:
Join us.
Our own Haitian Revolution up in here.
TOUSSAINT.

pg. 104

Toussaint is known as the Black Napolean, he took charge during the slave revolt in Haiti turning it into the Haitian Revolution against the French. “He helped transform the slave insurgency into a revolutionary movement. By 1800 Saint-Domingue, the most prosperous French slave colony of the time, had become the first free colonial society to have explicitly rejected race as the basis of social ranking.” (wikipedia)

Jacob Lawrence, General Toussaint L’Ouverture from the series The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Screenprint, 1986 (after a 1938 painting).. © Estate of Jacob Lawrence. ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017.
William H. Johnson, Toussaint l’Ouverture, Haiti, ca. 1945, oil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1154
Toussaint Louverture et la vieille esclave (Toussaint Louverture and the elderly slave)
Ousmane Sow 
b. 1935, Dakar, Senegal
1989 National Museum of African Art

baby monkeys share their meals

MICHAEL:
My point.
What I heard was, is:
That when people share food.
It creates.
It builds.

CHRISTINE:
Community.

……………..

MICHAEL:
They need a meal.
It’s important to share.
Baby monkeys share their meals.
BABY MONKEYS

pg 23 + 26

In rehearsal we have talked about how Michael’s views have changed since the Anne meeting. He believes in the greater mission of the school and wants to save it. Him bringing up baby monkeys is a sign of this.

He is referencing an NPR article of which they are some:
Apes Have Food, Will Share For A Social Payoff
Bonobos will share their food but only if it involves social interaction and will prefer social interaction with a new bonobo over someone they know. They will not share food if 0 interaction is involved.
What’s Mine Is Yours, Sort Of: Bonobos And The Tricky Evolutionary Roots Of Sharing
Bonobos will share food but won’t share tools. If someone is reaching for a tool but can’t reach it, some chimpanzees will hand off the tool(including young ones) but Bonobos won’t.
Why Do You Care About Fairness? Ask A Chimp
If chimps do a task and receive a reward they will become upset if another chimp who did the same task receives a smaller or less worthy reward. Sometimes the chimp that received the better reward will throw it away, other times the one with the lesser reward will kick up a fuzz.

What’s interesting about all these articles is that all authors frame “sharing” as an innately human trait that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Implying that not-sharing, hoarding, not having equity is an animalistic trait. In our play, the breakdown of civility and “calm” occurs when people are no longer willing to share – ideas, food, education.