Book Review: Hollowing Out The Middle by Patrick J Carr and Maria J Kefalas

I have always lived near the coasts– first in New Orleans then later in Boston and now in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.   And like all too many people on the coasts I have tended most of the time to think of the area in between as “the flyover” and have rarely given much thought to those in-between states and the people who live there. Patrick J Carr and Maria J Kefalas are sociology professors who received a foundation grant to spend a year living in and studying a small town in Iowa, which is referred to as Ellis in Hollowing Out The Middle.

What Carr and Kefalas discover through interviews with hundreds of Ellis’ young people both in Ellis an all over the United States is that the best and brightest youth (“the Achievers”) are groomed from an early age to leave Ellis and go on to college then settle in cities and pursue professional careers,  while the rest  (the “Stayers” and the “Returners”)  receive little if any training, support or education.   And constantly sending away their smartest and potentially most productive young people has left Ellis (and hundreds of other rural communities across the United States) hollowed out and ill-prepared to thrive in the information economy.

While the authors do not in any way discount the effects of giant agribusiness and  the decline of family farming,  they make a strong case that biggest challenge rural communities face is the continual loss of their brightest young minds.   They urge that rural schools be re-organized to focus on providing the “Stayers” with the skills to compete in the new economy and also look to encouraging some of the best and brightest to stay and build up their rural communities.   If you have an interest in the future of American small towns,   Hollowing Out The Middle is Highly Recommended.

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