Small-town America is dying, but not without help. According to Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas, it takes effort to leave your home, and small towns are doing a fantastic job of encouraging their best and brightest to do just that.
Hollowing Out the Middle is the result of a seven-year study by Carr and Kefalas (who are husband and wife). They sought to learn who stays in small towns, who leaves, who returns, and why; to accomplish this, they moved to a small town in Iowa. After gathering data from extensive interviews, the authors put the former students of the local high school into four categories: Achievers, Stayers, Seekers, and Returners.
The Achievers were the “class valedictorians and the first chairs from the orchestra, the track stars and student-government leaders.” They were the good kids, the smart ones. From the beginning, Achievers were groomed to succeed—and to leave. Their mistakes were excused by the local police. Their teachers expected them to do well and called them out when they didn’t. They knew that to get the kind of education and career that everyone always expected of them, they had to go elsewhere.
Stayers were everything that Achievers weren’t. They didn’t do well academically and tended not to participate in afterschool programs, but “[w]hen they skipped class, no one came looking for them, and...