Back in the day, Staples High School students marveled at the ham radio technology that — thanks to physics teacher Nick Georgis, a ham radio enthusiast — enabled them to talk with luminaries like Senator Barry Goldwater and King Hussein of Jordan.
Imagine what those 20th-century students would think of our 21st-century Westport Library, and teachers like Drew Coyne.
The other day, Advanced Placement Economics classes headed to the transformed library space downtown. There, in the Forum, nearly 175 students teleconferenced with a business and economics writer whose work has enormous relevance for the future of, well, the world.
The project began last spring. AP Economics teacher Rob Shamberg suggested a summer reading text for all incoming students: Steven Pearlstein’s “Can American Capitalism Survive?: Why Greed Is Not Good, Opportunity Is Not Equal, and Fairness Won’t Make Us Poor.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and George Mason University professor believes that without trust and social capital, democratic capitalism may be doomed.
Coyne worked with Library staffers Alex Giannini and Cody Daigle-Orians to arrange Pearlstein’s virtual (and pro bono) appearance.
Eight sections of classes filled the futuristic Forum. They spent a very interactive hour, engaging with the columnist and professor over the merits and logistics of a universal basic income, his theories on American social capital, China’s economic and political rise, income redistribution and the emerging 2020 political field.
When a student asked about the changes Pearlstein has witnessed since his book was published last year, the author noted the recent Business Roundtable redefinition of the purpose of a modern corporation.
Staples student Cassie Lang — who calls herself and her classmates “stakeholders in the American system” — describes the session as “the best introduction to the Economic course I could have asked for.”
Pearlstein’s talk reinforced what she learned from his book: “opportunity is not equal.” She uses this real-life example: “I doubt that Mr. Pearlstein would have been this accessible if we resided in a less affluent school district.”
Because the library Forum is such an open space, library-goers who are not AP Economics students participated too.
Student Owen Dolan saw his grandmother. They hugged, then watched the presentation together.
Capitalism may not survive. But family ties — and interactive education, Westport-style — sure will.