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Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

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Startling research shows that small towns—from Maine to Missouri—are in jeopardy from exporting their most precious resource: young people. A Midwest Connections Pick In 2001, the MacArthur Foundation dispatched sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas to a small town in Iowa to chronicle the exodus of young people from America’s countryside and to understand the p Startling research shows that small towns—from Maine to Missouri—are in jeopardy from exporting their most precious resource: young people. A Midwest Connections Pick In 2001, the MacArthur Foundation dispatched sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas to a small town in Iowa to chronicle the exodus of young people from America’s countryside and to understand the process of the rural brain drain. One in five Americans, nearly sixty million people, live in small towns, and the rate at which young people are permanently leaving has grave local and national repercussions. Carr and Kefalas follow the trajectories of college-bound “Achievers”; working-class “Stayers,” trapped in a region’s dying agro-industrial economy; “Seekers,” who join the military as a way out; and “Returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. Surprisingly, the authors find that adults in a community play a pivotal part in their town’s decline by pushing away “the best and brightest” and underinvesting in those who choose to stay. The emptying out of small towns is a nationwide concern, but there are strategies for arresting the process and creating sustainable, thriving communities. Hollowing Out the Middle is a wake- up call we can’t afford to ignore.


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Startling research shows that small towns—from Maine to Missouri—are in jeopardy from exporting their most precious resource: young people. A Midwest Connections Pick In 2001, the MacArthur Foundation dispatched sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas to a small town in Iowa to chronicle the exodus of young people from America’s countryside and to understand the p Startling research shows that small towns—from Maine to Missouri—are in jeopardy from exporting their most precious resource: young people. A Midwest Connections Pick In 2001, the MacArthur Foundation dispatched sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas to a small town in Iowa to chronicle the exodus of young people from America’s countryside and to understand the process of the rural brain drain. One in five Americans, nearly sixty million people, live in small towns, and the rate at which young people are permanently leaving has grave local and national repercussions. Carr and Kefalas follow the trajectories of college-bound “Achievers”; working-class “Stayers,” trapped in a region’s dying agro-industrial economy; “Seekers,” who join the military as a way out; and “Returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. Surprisingly, the authors find that adults in a community play a pivotal part in their town’s decline by pushing away “the best and brightest” and underinvesting in those who choose to stay. The emptying out of small towns is a nationwide concern, but there are strategies for arresting the process and creating sustainable, thriving communities. Hollowing Out the Middle is a wake- up call we can’t afford to ignore.

30 review for Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    This is a prime example of why sociology is not science. No testable hypothesis, or repeatable data, just a mélange of anecdotes from which sweeping generalizations are drawn. I live in a rural area (the closest town to me has a population of 2,500) and as a community college dean (population of the town 27,000 but a district covering hundreds of square miles that borders on NE Iowa) got to observe many rural high schools over thirty years. These two researchers, husband and wife, have the temer This is a prime example of why sociology is not science. No testable hypothesis, or repeatable data, just a mélange of anecdotes from which sweeping generalizations are drawn. I live in a rural area (the closest town to me has a population of 2,500) and as a community college dean (population of the town 27,000 but a district covering hundreds of square miles that borders on NE Iowa) got to observe many rural high schools over thirty years. These two researchers, husband and wife, have the temerity to move to a small town in Iowa for 18 months, interview some local students, and from those observations, draw all sorts of conclusions. To do so , it's obvious they have bought into the national mythology of the small town that probably never existed except in people's minds. Are rural areas in trouble economically? Yes. Are we losing population and youth? Yes. Has it always been so? Pretty much. Can it be fixed by adjusting the values of the local high schools? Hardly. It's become fashionable to blame the problems of rural areas on agribusiness. The size of farms has increased, but ALL of the farms in this area are owned by family corporations. It takes brains to run anything but a hobby farm, those quaint little small acreages that profess to be sustainable by selling "organic" vegetables at the local outdoor market. No way are they sustainable economically and ALL rely on a second income in the family to pay the bills. The problems outlined by the authors are not unique to rural America. They are descriptive of an ever increasing under-class that exists both in rural and urban areas, one that reveals disdain for unions, a desire for the cheapest goods which necessarily fuels jobs abroad and the need for undocumented workers. Their solution? Make the high school a "town-saver" by not pushing highly motivated students into four-year colleges and emphasize associate degree and vocational education. Just where the fuck have they been in the past forty years? Vocational adjuncts to community colleges were all the rage 30 years ago and have all withered on the vine for lack of students. "Gone are the days of plentiful, well-paying blue-collar factory jobs..." they report. Well, dah. That's why the vo-tech schools closed. Students don’t see a future in blue-collar work so they are flocking to four-year schools and community colleges to get into high tech and service industry jobs. My community college has a going program in training wind-turbine technicians, something they recommend starting. All they had to do was look forty miles across the Mississippi to see what they recommend already in effect. Their recommendation for small towns to embrace immigration, while laudable, would simply distort the labor market even further, driving down wages already too low. They suggest incentive programs to get professionals back to rural areas, especially in health care. The University of Illinois started just such a program forty years ago, building three regional medical schools precisely for the purpose of training rural family practitioners. Health care is thriving in my community but only because of gerontology and the movement of those who left as youngsters to return back. My college town of 27,000 has TWO dialysis centers. That tells you a lot. Many people resent sociologists like these two and I suspect their data suffers from the "Margret Mead" syndrome if not the "observer effect." We followed events in Postville, Iowa (could it be the same town pseudonymously named Ellis by the authors?) and read Stephen Bloom's "Postville: A Clash of Culture in Heartland America." I visited Postville and talked with a friend who was the chief deputy sheriff for a large county in NE Iowa. His take on Bloom? BS. Bloom only talked to a few people and many of his conclusions were just wrong. I have a feeling that Carr and Kefalas made similar mistakes and that they went to "Ellis" with a preconceived idea and found anecdotes to support it. There’s also an element of holier-than-thou that really frosts me. They move to a small town, spent a short amount of time there, and then purport to tell the residents everything they are doing wrong. I’m a liberal (albeit with libertarian tendencies) but this kind of paternalism I find repugnant. Note that Carr was born and raised in Ireland and Kefalas studied at Wellesley and the University of Chicago and they now live outside of Philadelphia, no doubt on the Mainline (full disclosure: I grew up on the Mainline.) A very weak book with few new ideas. Edit 1/19/14 After some poking around, it would appear that the community described in the book is Sumner, Iowa. Funny thing. My father and mother grew up in Fayette, Iowa, not fifteen miles east of Sumner.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    What an unfortunate book. Perhaps it's simply that a decade turns out to be too long for this kind of "research" and speculation to survive, or maybe it really is that the authors are so biased they couldn't see how flawed their premise was. My initial issue is with the idea of "brain drain" which I find completely insulting to the many farmers, manual laborers, and others who are often smarter than most of the college professors I've ever met. If the authors had limited their point to specifica What an unfortunate book. Perhaps it's simply that a decade turns out to be too long for this kind of "research" and speculation to survive, or maybe it really is that the authors are so biased they couldn't see how flawed their premise was. My initial issue is with the idea of "brain drain" which I find completely insulting to the many farmers, manual laborers, and others who are often smarter than most of the college professors I've ever met. If the authors had limited their point to specifically skilled work (ie: physicians, attorneys, veterinarians, scientists, etc.) I might have bought in a little more but the idea that just being college educated somehow makes you superior is the typical attitude of academia that I abhor. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, went to college in rural West Virginia, and currently live in what is technically a "city" but really is a small town on New Jersey (population 10k) yet the first thing that struck me about all the issues being presented was how much I identified with them. The list of reasons that students determine why they stay or leave Iowa is the same list why EVERY American teenager stays in or leaves their hometown - regardless of location or size. There is nothing unique to Iowa in this set up, and there's nothing addressing the myriad of issues that make it clear that the book's premise has nothing to do with the mid-west and everything to do with class and privilege. While the authors often talk about one (of the something like 300 people "sample" - is that science?) of their interviewees being given better opportunities than others specifically because of a good reputation or moneyed background, they never seem to get the idea that class is the actual reason for their hypothesis. Finally, the authors have no shame in making the the indirect indication that remaining in a small town, marrying young and/or having children is a poor or undesirable decision which seems like an inappropriate amount of personal opinion bleeding into the lives of folks who, by their own reporting, do not seem unhappy. Perhaps if the authors had provided substantial statistics indicating that the folks who stay behind are unhappy in the long run, or even that those who leave are happier, maybe they could have bolstered some of their arguments. If they had managed to prove, economically, how the town was dying out (there's little discussion of what local business exists vs. what doesn't, how tax bases are affected, what the annual income is, unemployment stats, etc.) maybe their hypothesis would have been proven. But as it is, all they really did was critique the lives of handful of high school alumni in a small community. I sincerely hope none of those involved in the interviews took any of the author's conclusions (ie: opinions) to heart.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Neil Griffin

    This was an interesting book with a clear thesis about an important subject; namely, the process of young talent leaving rural communities for cities with thriving economies. Those that stay behind aren't equipped to deal with the modern economy, since the education system in their town favored those who were "destined" to leave and the new economy doesn't provide middle class jobs for farming and factories anymore. Setting aside the reasons our economy doesn't work for blue-collar workers anymor This was an interesting book with a clear thesis about an important subject; namely, the process of young talent leaving rural communities for cities with thriving economies. Those that stay behind aren't equipped to deal with the modern economy, since the education system in their town favored those who were "destined" to leave and the new economy doesn't provide middle class jobs for farming and factories anymore. Setting aside the reasons our economy doesn't work for blue-collar workers anymore, which is obviously a huge deal, this book looks into how rural areas groom the kids they see as talented for college and then the coast, whereas they ignore other kids who aren't seen as having a chance for success. How they come up with these disparate categories for young kids is quite problematic. It's mostly based on class and family history, meaning that if you were born lower class in a small town you probably won't get much of a helping hands from the institutions that are critical to educational success. After the authors show the mechanisms on how the young populace is sorted by the town, they show the effects this brain drain have on the towns with examples of a lessening population, schools closing down, and a tired economy. It then shows how some towns have tried to woo these "high achievers" back to town, while at the same time not making use of the kids who had stayed behind and are currently either looking for work or stuck in a low-paying job. The lucidly show that incentivizing high achievers doesn't really work and that if they poured resources into young people who are already in town, they could do a little to invigorate the community. They then spend the last chapter talking about possible solutions and then an afterward that shows green shoots of hope for the small, rural area. Before one starts feeling slightly optimistic, however, they would do good to see when this book was written. Right at the start of the great recession and before the Heroin blight exploded in rural areas across America. So I would take all signs of hope or optimism with a hefty grain of salt. The rural/urban divide seems to me to be much more vast since this book has been written and therefore I feel it's an important one to read to help diagnose the problem, but I don't think the solutions they offer will change much, unfortunately.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Meagan

    Borrowed Nick's copy of this book - thanks Nick! I enojyed reading it, but it's a little hard to categorize it. It seems like it is supposed to be a work of sociology, but the authors' choice to center their entire study around one town is strange for an academic work. They do bring in some statistics here and there, but they spend more time telling the story of one town and assuming that would hold true for many small towns in rural/midwest areas (which it probably would). Personally, I would h Borrowed Nick's copy of this book - thanks Nick! I enojyed reading it, but it's a little hard to categorize it. It seems like it is supposed to be a work of sociology, but the authors' choice to center their entire study around one town is strange for an academic work. They do bring in some statistics here and there, but they spend more time telling the story of one town and assuming that would hold true for many small towns in rural/midwest areas (which it probably would). Personally, I would have enjoyed the focus on one town a lot more if there had been more personal detail in it (more vivid descriptions of the people and places, and a few more personal narrative threads woven throughout the book). Maybe I'm just wanting it to be something it's not though. They make a good case for viewing the depopulation/aging of small towns/rural areas as a serious issue that is worth attention and there is maybe just a very small romantic piece of me that wanted to pack up and move to Iowa. It was also very interesting to read this at the same time as "The Worst Hard Time" which proposes that a large section of the country (south of Iowa, but not far from it) is best fit to be grasslands for grazing buffalo and not really fit for farming. I obviously don't know enough about soil science etc. to have an opinion on this, but it was interesting to see the same idea crop up in both books.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brennan

    I can't say that I hated reading this book, because I actually was very interested in the topic and could hardly put the book down. However, the reasoning behind my quick pace was not because this book was good. It was because this book is written about my hometown in Iowa. Although all names are changed, I could guess most of the individuals' true identities. Because I could do this, it made it that much more interesting to me. I do have many criticisms having grown up in this place and been ob I can't say that I hated reading this book, because I actually was very interested in the topic and could hardly put the book down. However, the reasoning behind my quick pace was not because this book was good. It was because this book is written about my hometown in Iowa. Although all names are changed, I could guess most of the individuals' true identities. Because I could do this, it made it that much more interesting to me. I do have many criticisms having grown up in this place and been obviously stereotyped and put in the "Achievers" category. The one role that the community invests resouces, energy, and time in, but never returns or gives back to the community. I would argue that I gave 21 years of my life to that community. Although I have moved away, placing me distinctly into the category they describe, I think that they regreted to mention how many years I (as many "achievers" do) gave to the community. From working with kids at the swimming pool for 6 years to girl scouts and all high school activities. I love my hometown and the wonderful people that continue to support me, even when I am not there. I think that anyone from a small town in the midwest or "Heartland" as they call it, should take the time to read this and reflect on how they are living their lives now, originally coming from rural America.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was an interesting academic study of small Midwestern towns' struggles with staying alive as their young, well-educated residents hit the road and don't look back. The authors made some great observations on the different types of young people -- those who stay and those who go -- and why they act as they do. Most importantly, they hope to raise a discussion nationwide about why we should care that small towns are dying and how these towns may be contributing to their own demise. Interestin This was an interesting academic study of small Midwestern towns' struggles with staying alive as their young, well-educated residents hit the road and don't look back. The authors made some great observations on the different types of young people -- those who stay and those who go -- and why they act as they do. Most importantly, they hope to raise a discussion nationwide about why we should care that small towns are dying and how these towns may be contributing to their own demise. Interesting stuff.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lugene

    Interesting look at the rural "brain drain" through a community in Iowa. Rural high schools groom and nurture the best and brightest students who then leave for college and settle in urban areas, never to return. Schools and communities also fail to nuture those who stay, inadvertantly "hollowing out" small towns. Education reform and thoughtful investments in rural economies are some of the suggested solutions. Interesting look at the rural "brain drain" through a community in Iowa. Rural high schools groom and nurture the best and brightest students who then leave for college and settle in urban areas, never to return. Schools and communities also fail to nuture those who stay, inadvertantly "hollowing out" small towns. Education reform and thoughtful investments in rural economies are some of the suggested solutions.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I appreciated this take on the rural brain drain. Very reminiscent of a project I did in my last semester in college for a geography class. I'll admit to being a little defensive of some stereotypes presented, but in general there are truths to be told. Also doesn't hurt that Steve and I are included in the category of hopeful signs for the rural community. I appreciated this take on the rural brain drain. Very reminiscent of a project I did in my last semester in college for a geography class. I'll admit to being a little defensive of some stereotypes presented, but in general there are truths to be told. Also doesn't hurt that Steve and I are included in the category of hopeful signs for the rural community.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    I learned that the authors were biased against rural America and working class people based on their labels of Achiever vs Stayer. I think this book has some validity and is worth reading but apparently the authors think anyone who returns to their rural roots have not achieved anything in their life even if they are police, teachers parents etc.

  10. 5 out of 5

    edh

    (Note: this review was written about three books thematically linked. See titles in content:) Separately, these are all well-written and readable studies of Midwestern life. The authors have taken their time to interact and even live with their subjects, lending their portrayals of small-town folks touches of realism rather than resorting to caricature. Methland, naturally, deals with the methamphetamine epidemic in Oelwein, Iowa: one small town among many ravaged by the eponymous drug. The citiz (Note: this review was written about three books thematically linked. See titles in content:) Separately, these are all well-written and readable studies of Midwestern life. The authors have taken their time to interact and even live with their subjects, lending their portrayals of small-town folks touches of realism rather than resorting to caricature. Methland, naturally, deals with the methamphetamine epidemic in Oelwein, Iowa: one small town among many ravaged by the eponymous drug. The citizens of this small community are also struggling to find decent-paying jobs that will keep food on the table. Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism pulls back to focus on the region’s economic concerns, pointing at the entire midwestern region as a cross-section of the nation without a strong economic centerpoint and reasonable transportation/accessibility to unify business concerns. The argument is extended by pointing out that the lack of a spokesperson or solid regional identity also prevents the midwest from being a business or tourism powerhouse in any meaningful way. Finally, Hollowing Out the Middle takes small towns to task, chiding them for pouring the lion’s share of resources into the very youth who will move away and never return rather than focusing on the development and encouragement of the young people who stay behind. On the surface, these books deal with issues that seem very disparate. How do drugs, lack of infrastructure and leadership, and youth cultivation tie together? They have much more to do with each other than you believe. The working class “stayer” youth of Hollowing out the Middle are easily the younger versions of the citizens of Methland, working two or more minimum wage jobs in order to stay afloat financially while relying on illegal drug use and dealings to stay alert and to bring in extra much-needed cash. The inability of people to move easily about the region, highlighted in Caught in the Middle, drastically affects the “achievers,” who leave their small towns in order to have access to the global culture, opportunities, and multiculturalism that they cannot find at home. All of the authors champion these separate crises as major reasons for the death of the American small town and its culture. But considered together, these books are a call to action for a leader or group of leaders to step up and start making the changes that are needed to preserve the Midwest as a heartland that adapts effectively to the unique circumstances of the 21st century. Methland resources: NYT Sunday Book Review The author’s Methland page Caught in the Middle resources: The author’s Caught in the Middle page The Chicago Council coverage Seattle Post-Intelligencer coverage Chicago Tribune coverage Blogger coverage Hollowing Out the Middle resources: Authors’ official page, with book trailer Fun visualization tool from Forbes! Try this interactive map – click on any county and see both out- and in-migration data. This is a perfect complement to Hollowing out the Middle. - See more at: http://blogs.jocolibrary.org/staffpic...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nick Klagge

    I got interested in this book after reading a review in the Wall Street Journal. Essentially, it is a case study of people who grew up in a small town in Iowa, tracked down about twenty years after graduating high school. The authors are interested in the pressures and resources put into high-performing kids in small towns to get them to leave for better opportunities elsewhere, and the effect this has on the towns--in essence, the authors argue, these small towns are digging their own graves. I I got interested in this book after reading a review in the Wall Street Journal. Essentially, it is a case study of people who grew up in a small town in Iowa, tracked down about twenty years after graduating high school. The authors are interested in the pressures and resources put into high-performing kids in small towns to get them to leave for better opportunities elsewhere, and the effect this has on the towns--in essence, the authors argue, these small towns are digging their own graves. I was a little daunted by the prospect of reading a work of sociology, but this is very light on the academic terminology and reads like a popular book. A few takeaways: 1. I am glad there are people thinking about the issues specific to rural communities. It seems strange to devote so much effort toward studying the peculiar issues of urban environments but not those of rural environments. 2. I'm still skeptical of the authors' maintained assumption that the community itself is a unit of analysis whose welfare we should value beyond the aggregate welfares of the individuals comprising it. I especially was interested in the scene where the researchers boldly tell the high school principal that the school is killing the town by investing so many resources into the high-performing kids who are invariably going to leave, and the principal basically responds, "We all know that, what we care about is giving the kids the best start we can, no matter where they will end up." Is the duty of the community of today, so far as such a duty exists, to the members of the community of today or to the members of the community in perpetuity? 3. The book has an interesting treatment of the role of the US military in these small towns, and particularly in determining the futures of kids. It is not as simple as I thought. 4. They don't go too far in offering solutions, which I think is good, but they do give some recommendations. I do think they are right to oppose the Richard Florida argument of "If you build amenities, they will come," and to focus on the fact that the only things young people really care about are good jobs and the chance to meet other young people. I was surprisingly persuaded by the Popper proposal for the Buffalo Commons--in short, to return a great deal of Middle America to be protected wild prairie. I am not sure yet whether I think it is callous for me to like this idea. But the Wendell Berry voice in my head liked it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Notes and quotes for me: They identify the high flying achievers, the stayers, the seekers, and the returners within rural schools. Most of the resources go to the achievers in order to help them get out of the town, which ends up damaging the town in the future because of lack of qualified professionals. *** The seekers are the middle-of-the-road students who lack the resources to go to top colleges so they often join the military in order to leave the state. They often become returners after th Notes and quotes for me: They identify the high flying achievers, the stayers, the seekers, and the returners within rural schools. Most of the resources go to the achievers in order to help them get out of the town, which ends up damaging the town in the future because of lack of qualified professionals. *** The seekers are the middle-of-the-road students who lack the resources to go to top colleges so they often join the military in order to leave the state. They often become returners after they see some of the world and marry the stayers who never left in the first place. The achievers are usually groomed for adapting to the big city so well that once they get there they seldom want to go back to the small town. The exceptions are people who end up wanting their kids to grow up in a rural environment, but they have to accept lower pay and fewer professional opportunities as a result. *** Featured a real place in northeast Iowa (fictionally named "Ellis"). The "best kids" are the high-achieving, most-likely-to-succeed students destined for highly regarded colleges, a group we have termed the Achievers. Their families, teachers, neighbors, and coaches have raised them with a sense of manifest destiny about how their lives will unfold. What makes the college-bound Achievers distinct from other Iowans who leave is that they generally do not come home except for Thanksgiving or to celebrate the occasional wedding. The longer they're gone, the harder it is to readjust because they become accustomed to another life, often one with tempting options such as diverse cuisine and more varied shopping. They start locking their front doors and forgetting to greet people on the street with a warm hello, and their ability to follow the rules of a small town evaporates, becoming just another habit from childhood they put aside. After significant time away, they can't recall how they ever lived out in the middle of nowhere. Worst of all, they may start to Ellis the way outsiders do: parochial and just a little redneck." p.29

  13. 4 out of 5

    K.A. Jordan

    The entire country is becoming more and more polarized to the seacoasts and the big cities. This is not the figment of our collective imagination. "Hollowing out the Middle" is a book that explores the plight of the small towns in America's Heartland. Written by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas, "Hollowing out the Middle" discusses a phenomenon called 'Rural Brain Drain' where the Achievers, the best and brightest of a given class, are groomed by their teachers to leave home, never to return. The entire country is becoming more and more polarized to the seacoasts and the big cities. This is not the figment of our collective imagination. "Hollowing out the Middle" is a book that explores the plight of the small towns in America's Heartland. Written by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas, "Hollowing out the Middle" discusses a phenomenon called 'Rural Brain Drain' where the Achievers, the best and brightest of a given class, are groomed by their teachers to leave home, never to return. The others are Stayers and Seekers. Stayers are mostly ignored, though the future of the small town actually rests with them. The Seekers are self-motivated to flee the crushing grip of small town sameness, many of them join the Military. (There is a class of 'Returners', but most of them are Achievers who don't make it in the big world.) What I liked about this book is their honest assessment that this sorting process plays out in high school. That validation should make many of us sigh with relief. We weren't hallucinating, high school WAS rigged! The whole community operates in the favor of the 'Achiever' class, grooming them to leave home. As these people do leave and never return, they take all those resources with them, weakening the community left behind. For a town like my home town the result is clear – the Achievers leave – the Stayers stay – completely unprepared to handle the problems of their home town. So things get worse because the people who stay behind are brainwashed into believing 'they will never amount to anything.' They are not educated to take on the roles most needed in their communities. There are no 'Stayer' doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers or politicians. The Stayer students are left to rot – the compost heap that provides the next generation of High School students.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Campbell

    I had a strange experience while reading this book, of recognizing myself in a sociological study. Through copious data, Carr and Kefalas describe essentially my own childhood and young adulthood in rural Nebraska (they focus on Iowa), where as a high-achieving student, every academic resource in the school was directed toward me, and the expectation of literally everyone in town was that I would leave and make my life and career somewhere else -- which is exactly what I did. No one in town had I had a strange experience while reading this book, of recognizing myself in a sociological study. Through copious data, Carr and Kefalas describe essentially my own childhood and young adulthood in rural Nebraska (they focus on Iowa), where as a high-achieving student, every academic resource in the school was directed toward me, and the expectation of literally everyone in town was that I would leave and make my life and career somewhere else -- which is exactly what I did. No one in town had a problem with this -- it was just the natural expectation -- but Carr and Kefalas see it as a problem. According to the authors, Iowa's main export is not corn; it's educated young people. Schools in small-town Middle America, they argue, direct too many resources toward students who will not ultimately bring value back to their region, and they neglect those students who will go on to become leaders in the community. Small towns also fail to be proactive in attempting to draw educated natives back home -- though admittedly, these towns are a tough sell for young people who have lived in larger cities. After reading this book, I'm persuaded that the rural brain drain and dying small towns are a problem -- they damage our culture, our economy, our politics (I doubt that 85% of my hometown would have voted for Trump if more college-educated people lived there). I'm less convinced there's anything we can really do about it, though Carr and Kefalas are probably right that change would have to start with educational priorities.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Marvin

    This provocative book draws on interviews and participant observer research in a small town (pop. 2,014) in northeastern Iowa. The obligatory typologies that characterize sociological studies simplify almost as much as they illuminate, but these two sociologists do seem to have avoided the most egregious rural stereotyping of the sort that Stephen Bloom engaged in in his account of Postville, Iowa, and they do seem to have genuinely listened to their informants. And while they engage in clear-ey This provocative book draws on interviews and participant observer research in a small town (pop. 2,014) in northeastern Iowa. The obligatory typologies that characterize sociological studies simplify almost as much as they illuminate, but these two sociologists do seem to have avoided the most egregious rural stereotyping of the sort that Stephen Bloom engaged in in his account of Postville, Iowa, and they do seem to have genuinely listened to their informants. And while they engage in clear-eyed analysis that recognizes the depth and breadth of the problems faced by rural communities in Iowa and elsewhere, they avoid the hyperbole of Osha Gray Davidson's Broken Heartland or the book on Denison, Iowa. Their main diagnosis is that schools in rural communities focus a disproportionate amount of resources on the top 10% of students who are destined to leave the community, thus committing social suicide. Since rural schools, even given those efforts, struggle to adequately prepare their best students to compete at the highest levels, it's hard to see how shifting resources away from that focus is entirely a good thing. But they do have a point. And certainly their recommendations about the potential for immigration to contribute to the rejuvenation of rural communities--and its potential for ill if badly managed--seem reasonable and sound.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    I've been on a quest to learn about the 'middle of America' and the American small town these days and this book was an excellent step in that journey. I tend to divide sociology into 2 camps: "Pop Sociology" and the "Academic Sociology"...this was definitely the later. Thick in concepts and information, it really details the young people growing up in small town America and why they're encouraged to leave or ignored if they stay, breaking down the fabric of communities that are slowly dying. Not I've been on a quest to learn about the 'middle of America' and the American small town these days and this book was an excellent step in that journey. I tend to divide sociology into 2 camps: "Pop Sociology" and the "Academic Sociology"...this was definitely the later. Thick in concepts and information, it really details the young people growing up in small town America and why they're encouraged to leave or ignored if they stay, breaking down the fabric of communities that are slowly dying. Not something that I'd necessarily say was an "enjoyable" read (since it's info is so thick) but a great book nonetheless. The only problem I had was with their conclusions...In the end, the authors (who are no doubt city-folk) determine that the only way the American small town can survive is to become more like a city or metropolitan area. This conclusion, to me, undermined the whole point of helping small towns SURVIVE...instead suggesting they become something they're not. Regardless, lots of info here for anyone who wants to understand America as it really is.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Zahreen

    I read this as part of a research project for a policy initiative on rural education. No one at ED knows anything about rural education, so I was given the task to research and report. Now this book doesn't directly relate to rural education, but a lot of its conclusions have major implications on rural ed. This was an anecdotal look at the people who leave or stay in this small rural town in Iowa that is supposed to be representative of rural America. While I am not the biggest fan of "intervie I read this as part of a research project for a policy initiative on rural education. No one at ED knows anything about rural education, so I was given the task to research and report. Now this book doesn't directly relate to rural education, but a lot of its conclusions have major implications on rural ed. This was an anecdotal look at the people who leave or stay in this small rural town in Iowa that is supposed to be representative of rural America. While I am not the biggest fan of "interview research", where you interview a lot of people, and somehow come to grand conclusions from there, but a lot of what they talked about in the book bear out in the statistics. It was interesting to hear it from the perspective of people living in that town, and how they feel about leaving and staying. If you are interested in the topic, definitely read it. What the authors talk about also has implications about the economic health of America.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Carr & Kefalas present a phenomenal research project that examines the brain drain crisis affecting America's rural communities. The narrative that they provide is quite compelling in explaining why young people leave, stay, and return to rural areas. As the two have spent most of their lives in urban environments, they really provide a balanced outsider's view of the situation and maintain a very academic prose without being condescending or playing into negative rural stereotypes (like in What Carr & Kefalas present a phenomenal research project that examines the brain drain crisis affecting America's rural communities. The narrative that they provide is quite compelling in explaining why young people leave, stay, and return to rural areas. As the two have spent most of their lives in urban environments, they really provide a balanced outsider's view of the situation and maintain a very academic prose without being condescending or playing into negative rural stereotypes (like in What's the Matter With Kansas). They present the facts about the economic hardships people face, the push and pull on young people to leave or stay, and propose solutions to deal with the brain drain crisis. This book really is the best piece of research out there on rural brain drain and the need for innovative rural development. It really is a very interesting read as the stories that they tell keep the book from being overly academic.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Thoughtful piece on the emptying out of small town America. A husband/wife team of sociologists lived in a small town in Iowa (name changed to protect local sensibilities). Quite good at dissecting the comings and goings of the young kids finishing high school into achievers who leave, the stayers, and returners. The authors offer a variety of policy recommendations on how to stop the drain and prevent the demise of vast swaths of the Midwest. Unclear how much success the local and national poli Thoughtful piece on the emptying out of small town America. A husband/wife team of sociologists lived in a small town in Iowa (name changed to protect local sensibilities). Quite good at dissecting the comings and goings of the young kids finishing high school into achievers who leave, the stayers, and returners. The authors offer a variety of policy recommendations on how to stop the drain and prevent the demise of vast swaths of the Midwest. Unclear how much success the local and national politicians will have at implementing something like this. The writers seemed moderately hopeful (book came out in 2009) that Obama was prepared to change the direction, such as with agribusiness calling the shots in a race to the bottom, as well as farm policy to encourage sustainability and green approaches over monocultures. I fear that didn't come to pass, so the bleeding continues. Worth a read if the topic interests you.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Beth Neu

    Wow! Hopefully there is a future for "Middle America" and rural communities and you don't have to be a coastal city to succeed economically. In my travels around the U.S. and work with small to mid-size towns in Indiana, I have witnessed first-hand many of the issues and problems discussed in this book. On the whole, I agree with their analysis and conclusions. However, there is hope! There are some local leaders who have made a difference and are striving to improve their communities and the ci Wow! Hopefully there is a future for "Middle America" and rural communities and you don't have to be a coastal city to succeed economically. In my travels around the U.S. and work with small to mid-size towns in Indiana, I have witnessed first-hand many of the issues and problems discussed in this book. On the whole, I agree with their analysis and conclusions. However, there is hope! There are some local leaders who have made a difference and are striving to improve their communities and the citizens' lot in life. Education and leadership are key. Commitment to making a difference and hard work on tough problems are needed. Overall, the book is well-researched and well-written. A good case study of what has been happening and will continue to happen if we ignore the problems facing rural America and small towns.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    This book was fascinating for me, because the small Iowan town the sociologists studied is my actual home town. This book rings (depressingly) true; small towns do groom their best kids to leave and tend to ignore the people most likely to stick around. But I do wonder: Is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? I found myself wanting more out of the "solutions" section of the book. While I was glad to see that the authors acknowledged money as a major reason for people leaving, I wanted more, I guess, This book was fascinating for me, because the small Iowan town the sociologists studied is my actual home town. This book rings (depressingly) true; small towns do groom their best kids to leave and tend to ignore the people most likely to stick around. But I do wonder: Is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? I found myself wanting more out of the "solutions" section of the book. While I was glad to see that the authors acknowledged money as a major reason for people leaving, I wanted more, I guess, realistic solutions. A person I was talking to about this book asked the question, "Why are small towns worth saving?" I'm not sure this book does enough to fully answer that question. I'm not sure I have enough of an answer to that question either.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    From someone who lives in small town Iowa, I would say they hit the nail on the head. It was hard to read at first because I saw myself as one of the parents who raised their children in the 80's and early 90's. One was an achiever and one was a stayer. They described the school and community attitude to a tee. It was good to see something in print that most Iowans already knew. We were loosing our young people. I think that the small town will survive. We are after all the descendents of the pi From someone who lives in small town Iowa, I would say they hit the nail on the head. It was hard to read at first because I saw myself as one of the parents who raised their children in the 80's and early 90's. One was an achiever and one was a stayer. They described the school and community attitude to a tee. It was good to see something in print that most Iowans already knew. We were loosing our young people. I think that the small town will survive. We are after all the descendents of the pioneers who first settled here. We know how to survive. I recommend this book for anyone who was raised and went to school in a small town.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Galag

    My personal interest in the book comes from having grown up in the area near the town of "Ellis, IA". I grew up in South Central Minnesota in a town of an even smaller size (approximately 600). The description of the recent state of affairs in their book is a telling and accurate portrait of these kinds of places in the Midwest. The book has a very Iowan focus, centering the issues of coming of age for 20 and 30 year olds in one specific town. I am not certain how scalable there ideas are for ot My personal interest in the book comes from having grown up in the area near the town of "Ellis, IA". I grew up in South Central Minnesota in a town of an even smaller size (approximately 600). The description of the recent state of affairs in their book is a telling and accurate portrait of these kinds of places in the Midwest. The book has a very Iowan focus, centering the issues of coming of age for 20 and 30 year olds in one specific town. I am not certain how scalable there ideas are for other areas affected by the brain-drain phenomenon because I don't have the direct experience of living in other rural areas of the country. The book reads well, and is enjoyable.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joyce M. Tice

    Quick Read. These people have really hit the nail on the head in their understanding of coming of age in a rural community. Excellent research. It confirms what we all know through experience, about the socio-economic and cultural issues of small communities whether in the Midwest of their study or the Northeast. it is right on in describing the social layers in rural high schools and the expectations of those in each segment. Anyone who grew up in a rural area will recognize what they have docu Quick Read. These people have really hit the nail on the head in their understanding of coming of age in a rural community. Excellent research. It confirms what we all know through experience, about the socio-economic and cultural issues of small communities whether in the Midwest of their study or the Northeast. it is right on in describing the social layers in rural high schools and the expectations of those in each segment. Anyone who grew up in a rural area will recognize what they have documented.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This book is a very interesting look at the decline of small towns in the Midwest. As someone who grew up in rural small town USA it is easy to relate to the studies and results the authors found. I would enjoy if they would do a follow up study now several years later and see what the results are. I think that while some of the items addressed in the book are still relevant, I also believe there are other pressing matters such as lack of technical infrastructure and public transportation that k This book is a very interesting look at the decline of small towns in the Midwest. As someone who grew up in rural small town USA it is easy to relate to the studies and results the authors found. I would enjoy if they would do a follow up study now several years later and see what the results are. I think that while some of the items addressed in the book are still relevant, I also believe there are other pressing matters such as lack of technical infrastructure and public transportation that keep young families in the city instead of in small towns.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    The conundrum of what to do with the dying towns is one that will not be easily solved. The desire to keep things "as they always have been" will work at cross purposes with any plan. Those mindsets are firm. The middle states didn't see the take-over of big agri-business and the factories shuttering, much as the frog in the pot doesn't notice the water getting hotter. It doesn't help that the 2 coasts tend to look down on the middle states as backward, or that the middle states cling to a bygon The conundrum of what to do with the dying towns is one that will not be easily solved. The desire to keep things "as they always have been" will work at cross purposes with any plan. Those mindsets are firm. The middle states didn't see the take-over of big agri-business and the factories shuttering, much as the frog in the pot doesn't notice the water getting hotter. It doesn't help that the 2 coasts tend to look down on the middle states as backward, or that the middle states cling to a bygone era of homogeneous life.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Podaire

    Interesting book on the way the youth decide to leave or stay in a small community between the size of 500 and 1000 in rural america. This book is set in the ficticious city of Ellis Iowa. It came out of a real town in Iowa. Huge imiplications for places like Kanasa where I live. But, so are set to be able to address this issue better than others. Did book review on it and will hear author speak soon.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Recommended by the UI faculty engagement corps, the book seems to be spot on from what I've experienced as a lifetime Iowan. Small town mentality needs to change or their demise is inevitable. There will always be Achievers, the best and brightest who go on to bigger and better things, but focusing more educational efforts toward the Stayers is key to building a workforce capable of performing 21st century jobs. Recommended by the UI faculty engagement corps, the book seems to be spot on from what I've experienced as a lifetime Iowan. Small town mentality needs to change or their demise is inevitable. There will always be Achievers, the best and brightest who go on to bigger and better things, but focusing more educational efforts toward the Stayers is key to building a workforce capable of performing 21st century jobs.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    With surprising pragmatism, this sociological study suggests that there is no way to alter the culture (nurturing, caring and traditional/smothering, judgmental and provincial, depending on your point of view) that triggers "leavers," so the best solution is to invest in the young people willing to stay (community colleges, childcare support, job training). And yes, Mr. Skjelland, I am well aware that there is a ring of hell reserved for neighbors who outsource their lawn care. With surprising pragmatism, this sociological study suggests that there is no way to alter the culture (nurturing, caring and traditional/smothering, judgmental and provincial, depending on your point of view) that triggers "leavers," so the best solution is to invest in the young people willing to stay (community colleges, childcare support, job training). And yes, Mr. Skjelland, I am well aware that there is a ring of hell reserved for neighbors who outsource their lawn care.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Grosh IV

    As a resident of the rapidly developing (or should I say over-developed) Lancaster County, PA, I intend to place "Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America" on my to read list and see what insights might be transferable to my context. Some thoughts on the Chronicle of Higher Education preview/promo article can be found at http://blog.emergingscholars.org/2009... As a resident of the rapidly developing (or should I say over-developed) Lancaster County, PA, I intend to place "Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America" on my to read list and see what insights might be transferable to my context. Some thoughts on the Chronicle of Higher Education preview/promo article can be found at http://blog.emergingscholars.org/2009...

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