Founded by Pearlstein in 1990, the American Experiment is a conservative think tank in Minneapolis. It seeks to voice free-market solutions to problems faced by Minnesota and the rest of the nation. These problems include poverty, crime, and the issues of family value, taxes and education. Pearlsteins speech emphasized the value he places on civic engagement in solving problems affecting the community.
Pearlsteins speech was one of a series of events sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) this fall. "This seemed like an appropriate topic for the first event," said PAC coordinator Janine Wetzel 05. "We wanted someone to talk about being engaged. We hoped students would recognize the importance of being involved."
Being involved and civically engaged, according to Pearlstein, means participating in ones community and making charitable donations to less fortunate people. An advocate of compassionate conservatism, Pearlstein stressed the importance he places on aiding poor people "on a personal basis" through private charity, rather than by the welfare system. He quoted President Bush in saying that he favors donation through faith-based institutions over governmental involvement in the "war on poverty."
As society loses its "personal basis" today, Pearlstein sees an overall decrease in civic engagement. "We as a society have become less connected and trusting," he said. Pearlstein cited declining involvement in clubs and religious organizations since the 1960s, as well as a drop in the number of times people entertain friends in their homes each year,
"Were not eye to eye with each other," he said. "We dont assemble anymore." He sees this lack of connection as major evidence that people today are not civically engaged, not interested in participating in charity and community to help one another.
According to Pearlstein, this decrease in civic engagement is in part due to the problem he sees with todays family values.
"At the same time we see an erosion in civic participation, we see a striking decline in family values," he said. With rising rates of divorce and children born out of wedlock, Pearlstein sees the diminishing number of two-parent homes as harmful to civic engagement: "People cant be engaged in civic duty if theyre busy being two parents at once."
Pearlstein has been working to spread his ideas on family values and civic engagement for 20 years. After doing undergraduate work in political science at the State University of New York, Binghamton, Pearlstein earned a Ph.D in educational administration from the University of Minnesota in 1980. He went on to work as a researcher for then-Minnesota governor and St. Olaf alumnus Albert Quie. He was an editorial writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch from 1983 to 1987. He then spent two and a half years in the U.S. Department of Education under the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration. He has also been a professor of public administration at Hamline University.
In his personal life, Pearlstein, who is Jewish, is married to the Episcopalian Rev. Diane Darby McGowan and lives in Minneapolis. The couple has four children, ranging from ages 12 to 31. He is involved in the Partnership for Choice in Education based in St. Paul and the Center for New Black Leadership based in Washington. He has also been involved in the Aspen Institutes Domestic Strategy Program and the Steering Committee of Minnesotans for Major League Baseball in the past.