In today’s Wall Street Journal, I review Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas:

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Where have all the Iowans gone?

    Down Leviathan’s throat.

    On the way toward being ejected, in altered but not improved form, out Leviathan’s posterior end, to fertilize (yet more) “progress.”

  2. I agree that local small-town public schools do a lot to cut their own throats. But a lot of that throat-cutting is almost inextricable from the education process itself. You teach kids stuff, and who knows what they’ll do with it? Even if teachers (including myself and several folks on this blog) could come to accept and articulate the idea that the purpose of education isn’t to maximize opportunity and head for the big city, but rather to tend to one’s one community and place, you still have the question of which community it is to attend to. As I wrote before, in a world where school districts and curricula face hard choices driven by the demands of size and funding and fairness, some acts of consolidation–that is, some compromises between supporting the community by staying small and increasing individual choices by growing large–can sometimes make sense, or at least can make as much sense as any other option.

    In the end, as you say Bill, it’s a question of where people’s hearts are, more than anything else.

  3. Russell, I wrote an alternative history of school consolidation in my worst-seller, With Good Intentions? Wish I could figure a way to post that chapter on FPR. The rationale for killing small schools has changed over the years. Prewar, it was the progressivist faith in bigness: “The small district with its small school belongs to a social order which has long been obsolete.” Harry A. Little, School and Society, 1934. In the ’50s, it was the Cold War, as spelled out by the high priest of consolidation, James B. Conant, in The American High School Today (1959) and The Child, the Parent, and the State (1959). Today, it is economy, even though transportation costs effectively nullify the alleged savings of most consolidations. In any case, the dean of rural sociology, the late Thomas A. Lyson of Cornell, nailed it: “When a school goes in a rural community, it’s a death knell.”

  4. Bill, I don’t at all disagree with Lyson’s conclusion: the closing of a school in a rural community effective ends that community. But that doesn’t address the question of whether it is right, or fair, to maintain a school in a rural community when said community has already ended: because the factory closed, because the wheat fields were all bought out, or because the population has already shrunk beneath replacement levels. Tragically you can get to that point, sometimes.

  5. Yeah, but here’s another angle to the story. You don’t have to sit back and say, gee whiz, the community’s gone. Usually consolidation happens because a bunch of ideologues think it should happen, and they are always, always wrong. Communities have a way of sorting things out and surviving if there is even the slightest reason for them to survive. My home town has changed a couple of times, but the thing that didn’t have to happen was to consolidate school systems with our rival village and turn what was a perfectly good little school into an ugly middle-sized school that nobody feels any loyalty to even fifty years later. Schools, remember, are for teaching kids. Big consolidated schools are like big factories. They don’t teach anybody anything worth learning. Size matters, and in education big is bad. That goes for Little Bugger, Arkansas, as well as for Megatroplis, New Jersey.

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