The Book, The Ball, and The Skydiver



Kelsey Cooper neatly wrote the formula on the white board, marker squeaking, classroom otherwise quiet.

“F = ma”

Her 7th grade physics students at BASIS Phoenix watched her, knowingly. Ms. Cooper moved easily across the front of the room, occasionally gliding down a row, and circling back up front, aware of the eyes on her. She spoke quietly, casually. She could have been chatting with a friend while holding a latte.

The lecture was on Sir Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion:
force = mass x acceleration.


Students listened, and scribbled. Ms. Cooper watched, and spoke, and watched some more.

She suggested taking a look at the law through three examples. “This book” – she said, holding one up, before letting it fall – “on a table.”

She grabbed a rubber ball, rolled it lightly in her hands. “The bouncing ball,” and grinned as if to say, this is a vital prop in physics!


She pointed at a figure on a screen. “And the skydiver.”

On Ms. Cooper went, completing the lesson, amid a mix of understanding nods and scribbled notes; good questions and conversation.

I sat in the back of the class, contemplating Newton, and physics, and what’s changed since I last sat in a physics classroom (during the late Reagan Administration). Ms. Cooper never wavered — speaking breezily, her eyes fixed and assessing what the class had done in this lesson, and where it would go in the next — and why f=ma matters. It was an unassuming yet impressive site.

I sat tapping my pen on my pad – no, I couldn’t surmise any more on the Second Law, or the first or third, or for that matter even the name of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematicaa.

Instead I was drawn back to her examples, and how nicely they parallel several points about BASIS.ed schools. I jotted down:

The book on the table –
is American education through the 19th, 20th and 21st century. From the ubiquitous little red schoolhouse, to the myriad kinds of institution we call “school” today, that book represents an expectation, a way of doing things that has not changed all that much in most communities.


And whether when you think of “a school” you’re thinking of a grand, esteemed place or something that’s more troubled school than the children within deserve, you can draw a direct line from where American education began, and where it is today. You can see the lineage. We do have great schools and education has improved, and has become more inclusive, and how and what we teach our kids has indeed progressed in many places. But progress isn’t across the board – and as you move from “then” to “now” you can also see where we, societally, have failed. You can see where that textbook on the table has landed, for now, and where too many communities are stuck.


The bouncing ball –
is how education is publicly discussed today, the schools and teachers and curricula of our public discourse. It’s education in the media – the stories of success, tempered with the pieces detailing American kids falling behind. It’s education as a political issue, from Common Core to teachers unions to local standards and school boards, from prayer in school to science and evolution bucked for religious reasons, taken out of a place they very much belong. The ball bounces, the issues bounce, the victors and losers bounce and change – as if education has a scoresheet, besides the children we’re supposed to educate. We grow dizzy watching the bounces.


The skydiver –
is BASIS.ed, taking a leap, something different, but something brave, and worthy. BASIS.ed – via its 17 schools – is doing something perceived as off-the-beaten-path, even dangerous. But we are able to dive, and safely land, confident in a simple plan, simple goals, and relying only on ourselves to carry it out. A skydiver’s plan must be simple. BASIS.ed’s plan, indeed, is.

Forgive me for veering off of F = ma. It was Newton, anyway, who said that “we build too many walls, and not enough bridges” — and I’m pleased that Ms. Cooper’s Newtonian lesson served as a convenient bridge for some thoughts on BASIS.ed schools!



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