Debate Magazine

The Big Idea

By Stevemiranda

Here’s the story of the moment that changed my life.

It was the fall of 2009, and I had recently started working at PSCS after 10 years teaching in the public high schools. The phone rang, and a woman asked me, “Are you an alternative school?”

I was flummoxed. I know what she meant by the term “alternative school,” and by her definition, yes, we are an alternative school. But we don’t view ourselves that way. At PSCS, we see ourselves as a mainstream school for the 21st century.

I fumbled and stumbled my way through the conversation before finally hanging up. I walked into the office of PSCS founder Andy Smallman and asked him, “Are we an alternative school?”

“No,” he said.

“I know that, but what do you say when people ask that question?”

“Alternative schools use alternative strategies for helping kids understand geography and science and math and literature,” he said. “That’s not our product.”

“What’s our product?”

“Our product is this environment,” he said. “We provide a safe, loving, nurturing environment in which kids feel connected to a caring community, then we surround them with people of high character who are excited about life and excited about learning. Then we partner with them to help them figure out what they love to do, what brings them joy.”

I stood in his doorway for what seemed like an eternity, staring blankly. School is not, first and foremost, about the transfer of academic content from teacher to student. School should be about surrounding kids with role models who help them identify and pursue their signature strengths. School is about the journey from childhood to adulthood.

I am convinced that this is the transcendent idea in our conversation about transforming our schools. This is the idea that’s going to change everything.

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