Curtain rises on a workshop. A person wearing a suit is fiddling with a mannequin that looks like a young teenager. The mannequin is holding an open book in its hands. The manager moves various parts of the mannequin, leans in as if to listen, and shakes their head.
MGR: Hey, Potts! I’ve got another one for you!
POTTS enters stage left. She looks a little harried.
MGR: Oh, good. There you are. I’ve got another one with a glitch. Doesn’t seem to be reading properly. Gonna need you to fill the gaps.
POTTS looks at the mannequin a little sadly.
POTTS: Oh. Ok. Um…. do you know where the gaps are?
MGR: No, but there are definitely gaps.
POTTS: Do we have baseline data?
MGR, scoffing: No.
POTTS, almost timidly: I don’t suppose we can do any testing to see what might be causing the glitch?
MGR laughs loudly.
MGR: You’re a riot – you always ask that. You know we don’t have the money or the personnel for testing. Just fill the gaps. That’s all – nothing to it.
POTTS looks doubtful.
MGR: Oh, and I’m going to need you to fill the gaps and get this model working no later than June. That’s when we report and we’ll need to move this one along. (He pats the mannequin.)
POTTS: June? That’s three months from now. These gaps might have been growing for years. And we don’t know what’s causing them. And most of my training is about improving working models, not…
MGR interrupts: You’ve got a good reputation, Potts. I’m sure you can do it. And guess what? I’ve got a surprise for you.
POTTS eyes the manager warily.
MGR: Look, here’s a tool that’s designed for gap-filling. (MRG hands POTTS an all-purpose tool. She accepts it dubiously.) Just put this one (he pats the mannequin again) near the tool, and the they’ll practically fix themselves. (The MGR pauses and looks at POTTS appraisingly.) Speaking of “them” – this tool is the latest thing – loads of research, so we went ahead and bought a few. The idea is…
MGR trails off because POTTS is shaking her head. Then, MGR barges ahead.
MGR: … so, like I said, it’s the latest thing. It’ll really improve your efficiency, which is good because we’ve found a bunch of these guys who aren’t working quite right. Now the idea is you just use this tool and they’ll fill their own gaps. Should work like a charm – makes it as easy for you to fix ten as one. We’ll bring the others around in a minute.
POTTS: But… I… I just use the tool and the gaps fill? So why am I here? And what if it doesn’t work?
MGR: Oh, it’ll work. You’re here to make sure it works. By June – don’t forget – you need to fill all the gaps by June – but don’t worry, we’ve given you everything you’ll need…
MGR exits as he’s talking, leaving POTTS alone on stage with the mannequin.
Once the MGR is off-stage, POTTS lets her face fall. She approaches the mannequin.
POTTS (hides the tool behind her back): Hi there. It’s nice to meet you. I’d love to get to know you a little. Let’s see who you are before we think about gaps.
The mannequin, who is, of course, a real child, begins to soften and move as though they want to speak with POTTS but as POTTS starts to talk to the child, a line of similar-aged children begins to come on stage. Each one holds a book, like the first child. They form a single file line from the first child to the wings of the stage. POTTS looks at the child, at the children and then at the “miracle” tool she is holding. She starts to cry.
Notes: I hope it is obvious that I in no way think that children are mannequins. And the manager is not based on a particular person. I’m just musing about what it means to try to “close literacy gaps” for a group of students I do not know by using a (research-based) computer program. I find myself swinging between extremely hopeful – what if this works! – and despairing – I’m pretty sure there’s no quick fix for students who struggle with reading as they enter high school, especially when we don’t know what’s causing the problems and I’m not familiar with the program itself. SIGH. I guess I’ll be familiar with it soon enough. Here’s hoping that it works.