Friday, February 05, 2010

Columnist: Rural youth should leave for a while

The rural brain drain has become a catch phrase to describe the outmigration of high-achieving rural youth, but one rural columnist has a different take. "The rural brain drain is the collective expression of thousands of individuals pursuing their best economic-development strategy.," freelance columnist Curtis Seltzer writes for "When the reasons that brought people to the countryside no longer exist, it will make economic sense for people to leave and force these communities to find a new — and, admittedly, often lower — level of sustainability."

Seltzer describes the phenomenon reported by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas in Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America as one of numbers, not quality. "My impression of watching local kids leave over more than 25 years doesn’t square with the finding of Carr and Kefalas," Seltzer writes. "Both stayers and leavers in this county of 2,500 are a cross-section of their group. All the best don’t leave, and all the worst don’t stay—the pattern that Carr and Kefalas report."

Seltzer uses his own daughter's experience in leaving a rural area to go to New York City for a job to reach a provocative conclusion. "I’ve come to believe that all rural kids should leave their hometowns for a while, whether or not they go to college," he writes. "They improve themselves when they function on their own in a broader world. They learn skills and develop networks. They rub intellectual and financial elbows with people unlike themselves. They return better able to make a living and a difference." (Read more)

1 comment:

flyingtomato said...

Interesting article.

As one who moved from a rural community to a rural community halfway across the country, I can say that the inability of one's hometown to recognize that "little so-and-so grew up" can be a factor.

The collective memory of every misstep a teenager made can be a difficult burden on a young person trying to shape their life--to grow and change and make their way.

I have no plans to move back to my state of birth, even though after sixteen years, that burden of memory has mostly dispersed, and it would probably be easier to pursue my passion (intensive organic vegetable production) in Vermont rather than in my adopted home of South Dakota.

That's OK though--I welcome the challenge, and I feel like the possibilities in this rural place are a little wider-open for me than they were back there.

I don't know how common a situation like mine is, but I do know that one rural area's loss isn't always an urban area's gain--sometimes it's another rural area's gain.

--Rebecca Terk