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 —
— 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.
In GREATER GOOD, Isa, a Black teacher, is assigned to serve on the gala committee. During her conversation with the parents who run the committee, she pushes back against their insistence on fancy centerpieces and fingerbowls, asking them instead to consider the true mission and purpose of a school. In doing so, she invokes the image of the “promissory note” — similarly to the way Martin Luther King Jr deploys it in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
ISA: The thing is. The thing is. We do not. We don’t. Make anything. Schools do not make anything. We are promissory notes. Who trusts a promissory note? — “Our Fathers’ Parlors,” GREATER GOOD
Writing for The Grio, professor Alvin Tillery notes that “Dr. King stated that African-Americans and their allies had come to Washington to cash a ‘promissory note,’ written by the framers of the Constitution to all Americans, at the ‘bank of justice.’ In using this language, King was drawing on a long tradition in black political thought that highlighted the reality that African-Americans had been largely excluded from the American Dream despite the fact that they had been model citizens of the republic since the founding. In this same verse, King demands that America replace the bounced checks — ‘marked with insufficient funds’— that it had issued to its black citizens for more than 300 years with ‘a check that will give [blacks] upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.’”
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
There is no one person to blame in the downfall of Gleason but we can point to certain “strategies” in management that certainly didn’t help. Many times throughout the play there is mention of excess, that leads to waste, that we can assume then leads to a deficit for the school the ultimately causes it to close. The baccarat crystal, alpacas and lobster are some examples of this.
Marie Antoinette was an Austrian queen who was married to the French King Louis XVI. She is famously known for the quote “let them eat cake” and she is used as a symbol for excess, indulgence, and a doomed bourgeoisie. She was executed during the French revolution for the crime of “treason”.
We see her directly referenced twice in the play when Isa is talking to Kyle about their raise. Isa brings up Marie Antoinette to tell Kyle to embody the spirit of excess – she wants Kyle believe that they are worthy of “riches”.
ISA: At your summer review. Gordon should have offered. KYLE: I think I’d actually’d love a burger. ISA: You should just ask him. If they are gonna act like this is the Palace of Versailles… Then Marie Antoinette your inner self—
KYLE: It’s fine, it’s totally fine. They keep— ISA: Nodon’ttaketheirscrapsYouareMarieAntoinettewhatiswrongwithyou? Kyle. KYLE: It’s just bread. It’s just bread. Shift and KYLE seems isolated and ISA does not seem to hear Their. AlthoughIameyeingrottingfoodlikeit’sbeingservedtomeonasilverplatter. AlthoughIameyeingrottingfoodwhenitistimeIgotupfromthetable. Shift and KYLE and ISA are back on the same plane. It is just bread. It is just bread. It is just bread—
Kyle’s line of “it is just bread” is a meaningful (maybe intentional) reference to the quote “let them eat cake” that is attributed to Marie Antoinette but in French does translate more directly to “let them eat bread”
From wikipedia: ” ‘Let them eat cake’ is the traditional translation of the French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, supposedly spoken by “a great princess” upon learning that the peasants had no bread. Since brioche was a luxury bread enriched with butter and eggs, the quotation would reflect the princess’s disregard for the peasants, or her poor understanding of their situation.”
With each “It is just bread” that Kyle says, the gap between the extravagance of Gleason and Kyle widens.
In the same scene the Palace of Versailles is referenced to. The Palace of Versailles is where Marie Antoinette lived and is the ultimate symbol of waste. “As the most imitated building of 17th century, Versailles stood for power, wealth, sex and scandal….” [Five ways Versailles has influenced pop culture today]. Versailles started off as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII
Versailles, which is capable of holding up to 20,000 people, has 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 chimneys, and 67 staircases… Up to 3,000 princes, courtesans, ministers, and servants lived there at any given time. Palace inhabitants coveted spaces nearest the king’s apartments, as this proximity offered status. ….
While Versailles’ extravagance is dreamlike, keeping it running was a financial nightmare. Some estimates say that maintaining the palace, including caring for and feeding the Royal Family and their massive staff, consumed anywhere from 6-25% of the entire French government income.
Actual building costs for Versailles are debated by modern historians, because currency values are uncertain. However, Versailles’ price tag ranges anywhere from two billion dollars (in 1994 USD) all the way up to a maximum cost of $299,520,000,000! The palace represented an extravagance that presented a stark contrast to the working class in France. (Source)
The extravagance of Versailles caused tension amongst the different classes in France – much like the extravagance of the Gleason Street School gala leads to tension between the teachers, rich parents, poor parents, parents of color. Ultimately the french revolt and kill Marie Antoinette but they continue to pay for the upkeep of Versailles.