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We Need Fewer World Leaders, And More Good Neighbors

Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place, Jack Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro, University of Kentucky Press, 268 pages. [1]

“Learning made a boy leave the farm to live in the city—to consider himself better than his father.”

John Steinbeck wrote these words 65 years ago, in his classic work East of Eden. Even then, he sensed the deep schism growing between rural America and the elite, urban enclaves that housed many of the nation’s universities and colleges.

But if such things were true in Steinbeck’s day, they are only more common now. Our nation’s top universities have embraced a detached, globalized approach to education—one in which youths are unlikely to be sent home, and rather encouraged to join a larger sphere of success and influence.

On its website, Yale assures visitors that it is training “the next generation of world leaders.” Harvard boasts that it develops leaders “who make a difference globally.” The University of Virginia, meanwhile, promises to foster “illimitable minds,” and “endless pursuit.”

In his classic consideration of American society, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the United States contained an “innumerable multitude of those who seek to get out of their original condition …. There are no Americans who do not show that they are devoured by the desire to rise.”

But the consequences of such attitudes have been staggering. In America’s rural towns and communities, “brain drain” is sucking away talented youth, leaving an economic and social hole in its wake. According to a 2008 Pew poll, college graduates are far less likely to live in their birth state, and most young people still living in their hometown want to move in the next five years. Seventy-seven percent of college graduates change communities at least once.

Few in the world of higher education are taking a stand against this tide of exodus and globalization. But in their new book, Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place, Jack Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro explain the dangers of a higher education that is placeless and, in the words of UVA, “illimitable.”


Baker and Bilbro work in the English Department at Michigan’s Spring Arbor University. Both professors have long studied the life and work of Wendell Berry, and his writing and thought serve as primary inspiration for this book.

Berry himself, via both his fiction and essays, has considered the deleterious impact of higher education on small farming communities. As his protagonist Hannah Coulter notes in a novel of the same name, “After each one of our children went away to the university, there always came a time when we would feel the distance opening to them, pulling them away.”

Higher education fosters what Wendell Berry has termed “boomers”: individuals who “are always on the lookout for better career opportunities in better places.” He contrasts this group to “stickers”: those who root themselves in a place, and dedicate themselves to its wellbeing. Wallace Stegner first used these terms to describe the pioneers who settled in the West in the 19th and early 20th centuries; but our universities have long fostered boomers instead of stickers.

Coulter’s children, like most American youths, bought into “the destructive ideology of the university as part of an industrial economy—an economy in which schools bring in customers and send out displaced individuals with immense debts, having taught those individuals that the good life can be found anywhere but at home,” write Baker and Bilbro.

Many in and outside America’s universities don’t see a problem with this sort of displacement. Upward mobility, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted, has always been a present and accepted part of the American psyche. We increasingly strive to be cosmopolitans, global citizens, people who exist outside of place and its tribalistic ties. Today, as never before, the virtues of contentment, gratitude, and loyalty have fallen into disrepute.

But resurrecting such virtues, Baker and Bilbro suggest, is critical for the health and happiness not just of America’s small towns and communities, but also of its young people—for although independence may appeal for a while, living as a “global citizen” and “world leader” can be rather lonely and alienating. Cultivating opportunities for homecoming is not just a romantic or reactionary notion. It is a recipe for holistic healing and reintegration, in a nation that sorely needs it.

To foster this sort of reintegration, Baker and Bilbro suggest, we need to tell different stories to our youth: stories that foster the aforementioned virtues of place, stories that suggest home is in fact a beautiful place worth preserving. Baker and Bilbro thus begin to lay out a vision for reforming higher education—for cultivating a university in which students are encouraged to love their place.

While education means “to lead out from,” Baker and Bilbro argue that the university’s direction in times past was more metaphysical and intellectual than it was geographical. Universities in Athens and Rome served the polis. After the rise of Christendom, universities sought to serve the church, and most of America’s first colleges were theological in both their education and ends. As American society has grown increasingly pluralistic, however, the purpose and end of the university has shifted once more—this time to focus on economic success.

“The institution that began with the purpose of leading students out of ignorance to better serve their communities and the church now primarily serves the nation-state’s industrial complex,” Baker and Bilbro write. “In the absence of any higher purpose, the multiversity defaults to serving the economy, to training students to be effective cogs in a capitalist machine.”

In contrast, Baker and Bilbro suggest that universities ought to work like a rooted tree,providing students with a “trunk of truth,” which is surrounded and informed by a geographical context. They suggest that a strong core curriculum—the classical liberal arts’ trivium and quadrivium—is the best such trunk.

The classical liberal arts do not dictate or specify success to students. Instead, they cultivate wisdom and understanding—and from these seeds, students can and must cultivate their own, particular vision of the good. Great, classic works of the past—such as Paradise Lost, The Odyssey, or newer works such as The Lord of the Rings—foster a “rooted imagination.” But they also prompt questions of application that students must answer for themselves.

“We have found that our students struggle with imaginative work because it doesn’t provide neat, tidy answers,” note Baker and Bilbro. “In fact, it acknowledges that some, perhaps many, of their questions will remain unanswered.” But this sort of learning fosters prudence: the ability to apply certain virtues and skills within a variety of disciplines and places. Whereas others forms of education spit out machine cogs, the rooted university fosters diverse and multifaceted human beings.

As Berry once wrote in his essay “The Loss of the University,” “Underlying the idea of the university—the bringing together, the combining into one, of all the disciplines—is the idea that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good—that is, a fully developed—human being.”

In the second part of their book, Baker and Bilbro consider the four key dimensions “in which humans ought to be placed”: tradition, hierarchy, geography, and community. They then detail the virtues which ought to be fostered within these dimensions: fidelity, love, gratitude, and memory. They turn here to Alasdair MacIntyre, who has argued in After Virtue that virtue is “an excellence or quality intelligible only within a community’s tradition and story, oriented toward a common good.” Without this orientation and context, virtues become mere “skills,” which may not in fact further the good.

Baker and Bilbro thus argue that love and service are contextual disciplines; abstract love, “empathy” without subject or context, is not the proper end of human existence. And in a world in which the placeless, roving humanitarianism of Angelina Jolie and George Clooney receive highest accolades and praise, such a vision is both unique and deeply needed.

“When professors tell their students the wrong stories, stories of heroic success rather than quotidian faithfulness, it reinforces the boomer mentality of the broader culture,” write Baker and Bilbro. Such narratives, according to Berry, convince “good young people … that if they have an ordinary job, if they work with their hands, if they are farmers or housewives or mechanics or carpenters, they are no good.”

Baker and Bilbro contrast the heady, aspirational virtues of modern academia with what they call “the sticker arts”: the arts of “right livelihood” that focus on stewardship, sustainability, specificity, and love. In so doing, they aren’t just trying to convince students to stay home—they are also encouraging them to make a home wherever they may land. After all, as both Baker and Bilbro acknowledge themselves, Spring Arbor is not their original hometown. Although their vision is to cultivate students who can remain rooted in place, they are also aware that many may move away. But the virtues they present here—stewardship, sustainability, love, loyalty—should not only be applied to our birthplaces. They are deeply needed everywhere. Anywhere boomers have ravaged a community, seeking only to consume and procure, stickers are needed to foster healing and wholeness.

As our country increasingly becomes a fractured republic, a nation divided and splintered, it is such virtues that are most likely to bring wholeness and healing back. “Berry remains convinced that genuine change begins locally rather than in the halls of centralized power,” note Baker and Bilbro. And it is only the sort of vision this volume provides that can bring such change back to the communities that so desperately need it.

This book is not just for college students or professors. It is for all those who toil within a specific vocation. The thoughtful wisdom of Baker and Bilbro convicted and inspired me, prompting me to consider whether my work is as place-centric, thoughtful, and prudential as it ought to be. These thoughts will likely occur to any who spend much of their time behind a computer, who commute to work, or otherwise engage in labor than can often feel divided and displaced. The authors also encouraged me to keep fostering the “sticker arts” in my own life: the quotidian labor of mending and repairing, gardening and canning, cooking and cleaning. This book is more than a treatise on higher education. It is also, at least to some extent, a manual for the place-centric life.

There is no easy way to turn the tide of youthful exodus plaguing America’s communities. But the seeds of change are here. Perhaps the first step, as Baker and Bilbro suggest, is to reconsider the stories we tell, and the visions we cast. Perhaps, instead of telling students they ought to be “world leaders,” we should encourage them to be good neighbors.

Gracy Olmstead is associate managing editor at The Federalist and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. Her writings can also be found at The American Conservative, The Week, Christianity Today, Acculturated, The University Bookman, and Catholic Rural Life. You can follow her on Twitter @gracyolmstead [2]

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "We Need Fewer World Leaders, And More Good Neighbors"

#1 Comment By polistra On September 29, 2017 @ 4:10 am

Leaving home is part of Nature. All social creatures encourage youngsters to leave and find new hives or groups, or create new hives or groups.

Before universities, the guild system of apprentice to JOURNEYman to master formalized and tamed the outward impulse.

The current problem is not leaving as such; the current problem is that all leavers are pushed toward a few big cities. NYC, London, Lagos, Calcutta.

The guild system did a better job of distributing young workers into cities of the same type. This satisfied the need to separate from parents, but didn’t lose the social skills acquired in a smaller town, and didn’t empty out the smaller places.

Workers were relocated among businesses of the same type in cities of the same size.

#2 Comment By Stavros On September 29, 2017 @ 8:58 am

Back when economic and technical innovation consisted of developing new mechanical devices, rural areas competed very well. Maytag arose in Marshalltown Iowa thanks in part to the mechanical aptitudes of farm kids who had to maintain their own machinery. But today, innovation consists of highly complex, capital intensive IT or biomedical developments that simply cannot assemble the talent, capital and technology in a rural area. The people don’t exist; capital is invested not in technology but agriculture; and the idea density of a Palo Alto or Cambridge simply cannot be replicated in rural areas. There is a strong argument for educated young people to return to rural American, but not as economic innovators or technology entrepreneurs. Those roles by definition have to be located where the ideas, capital and talent lie. To ask young people to develop their technical ideas in rural America is to ask them to push water uphill.

#3 Comment By SteveM On September 29, 2017 @ 9:09 am

“On its website, Yale assures visitors that it is training “the next generation of world leaders.” Harvard boasts that it develops leaders “who make a difference globally.”

A Yale or Harvard education is actually a double whammy for the 99%. American Elites use academic pedigrees as proxies for genuine wisdom and insight. Harvard, Yale and Princeton (HYP) largely infuse their students and faculty with arrogance and conceit.

Fully loaded with smug superiority, they have parachuted into Washington and Wall Street for decades. They then proceeded to wreck businesses and entire economies, hatch pathological social schemes while oblivious to unintended consequences, and initiate and prosecute trillion dollar wars to nowhere thinking that they alone are smart enough to run the planet. All on somebody else’s many dimes.

As long as that cabal of Ivy League Idiot-Savants along with the MIC has that much power and influence over the rest of America, we’re hosed.

P.S. Funny how those Elites always walk away rich from their wreckage.

#4 Comment By collin On September 29, 2017 @ 9:49 am

For all conservative articles that argue that protecting local communities is very important (ie Rod Dreher Benedict Option), I don’s see any kind of economic plan for success. Local good neighbors will solve it! This reads a little bit like the minority urban populations in the late 1960s that they needed more community involvement instead of the successful minority populations moving out to the suburbs in the 1970s. The honest truth of the struggling Rust Belt cities is the smartest and educated ones got out in the 1980s and 1990s while the economics of the town diminished.

If we going to rebuild the WWC towns make some economic plans not this is important to do.

#5 Comment By mrscracker On September 29, 2017 @ 10:13 am

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Mr. Berry attend college & earn an advanced degree?
And do his current views on traditional family, marriage, & other social issues reflect those of his community-or of what he encountered in academic realms?
I’ve always felt a disconnect there.

#6 Comment By Rosita On September 29, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

Excellent article and discussion!

#7 Comment By Darrell On September 29, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

I don’t think universities “fostering boomers” is anywhere near the reason why young people move. They move because the jobs they’re being trained for don’t exist in their hometowns or there just aren’t enough job openings. If someone goes to college to study petroleum engineering, what are the chances that their hometown will have relevant work?

Looking at my own experience, I studied non-profit management, which would seem to be relevant pretty much everywhere (even if it doesn’t pay well), but the only job I get in my hometown was for the 2010 Census. I moved to a larger, nearby town, but could only find temp work. Finally, I got offered a permanent job in DC. I had no interest in moving to DC, but that was the only place offering me a decent job.

I feel like that has happened to a lot of friends. They’ve ended up in cities like Washington and NYC, not because they always dreamed of living in a big city, but because those were the places they could find jobs.

The internet seems to have made it easier for companies to concentrate work in just a handful of cities, rather having to build branches and offices across the country. Online retailers don’t need to build shops in small towns. My current mobile phone provider has no physical location to service customers. These companies could set up in smaller communities, but they don’t because big cities offer better infrastructure and business connections.

#8 Comment By NotOnTheFarm On September 29, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?

#9 Comment By John_M On September 29, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

Ties to place? I was born in a Catholic hospital for the indigent in Oakland. We moved to the Baltimore-DC area when I was 5 – due to my father’s work. 15 years later I moved to upstate NY for education and work. A decade later I moved to Central NJ for work. 15 years later I moved to Utah (3 years), California (3 years) and then the Seattle area (about 15 years) for work.

You go where the work is. And if you are highly skilled and educated, this tends to be in or near major metropolitan centers. The rural areas consume some doctors, teachers, lawyers, and the like; but not many.

I am a consultant now. My customers are in large metropolitan areas – so so am I. It is not that I like the big cities, I don’t, but that is the way the world works.

#10 Comment By Abelard Lindsey On September 29, 2017 @ 4:20 pm

Noticing that people leave their hometowns to seek better opportunities elsewhere is like saying that the sun rises each morning. It is rather silly thing to get hung up about. Having said that, if you want people to “stay home”, why not bring the opportunity to them?

The internet can allow for on-line education to replace traditional classroom education in areas that do not involve hands-on laboratory classes (such as in engineering). Efforts can be made to make venture capital available in various regions of the country where it currently does not exist. Same for attracting better industry to the same said regions.

The problem with this piece is that it does not make useful suggestions such as the ones mentioned above. It merely complains about the more competent, motivated people seeking opportunity elsewhere. Hence, it is nothing more than ranting and raving.

#11 Comment By Thrice A Viking On September 29, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

Great to see you back, Gracy, even if you’re affiliated with someone other than TAC now, and very interesting article! Unfortunately, I have to agree with Collin, that some sort of plan is needed to get them back, or keep them there in the first place. I consider myself a distributist, so my solution is a decentralized business system wherever applicable. Others may have different ideas for such a restructuring. But something is desperately needed, I’m sure of that.

#12 Comment By Dennis Tuchler On September 29, 2017 @ 6:19 pm

What does the graduate who accepts uncertainty and denies absolute truths about the world find in the small town to nurture her intellectual life? The flight to the city is not simply a matter of money and entertainment.

#13 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 29, 2017 @ 6:55 pm

Yeah, not seeing why small towns and rural areas that have nothing to offer economically must be preserved. Cities are better. For all of the reasons mentioned. And due to mechanized farming, there is no longer any need for large rural populations. Nor the small farm towns that formerly served the rural populations. We can simply “depeople” a whole lot of the country, which would yield cost savings, and also good for the environment. Perhaps start thinking about abolishing dying incorporated towns, and combining counties and the like.The rural population would consist of the few folks necessary to run the machines and to cater to tourists in vacation locales. What’s wrong with that? And people can establish neighborhoods and feel “rooted” and be “stickers,” or whatever, in urban areas, if they so choose.

#14 Comment By Tyro On September 29, 2017 @ 9:43 pm

You’re mixing up cause and effect. Most people are not “boomers.” Most people want to make a decent living without working to hard, go home, and not worry about too much else. The majority of people who go to college aren’t going to a place that purports to “train the next generation of leaders”– they go to a local state university that are there to produce the next generation of local teachers, accountants, engineers, salesmen, and small town lawyers. The reason they leave is because once they graduate, there are no engineering firms, no companies in need of new, young accountants, the schools are closing, and local government is downsizing the number of lawyers they hire.

I made a compromise: I live in the same metro area as my family, which provides lots of economic opportunities, but I live in the center city, which for most of my family might as well be the other side of the country.

#15 Comment By M. Orban On September 29, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

This “stay put and make the most of it” loathsome nonsense keeps cropping up on these pages.
Now don’t get me wrong there are good reasons to stay (wherever you happen to be): a good job, kids in school, elderly parents. But there is a time for everything and going to college, graduating from college, changing jobs- while kids are still young – are good times to move. With modern technology one can keep up with friends and family like never before.
We have children in the four corners of the US, and I for one could not look in the mirror if I advised them to stay close to home. They are where their profession took them but we still talk to them every few days and see them a few times a year.
Now I understand why Cultural Conservatives like localists, people who stay… and it has to do social controls. If you are too timid, too afraid to leave, you are less likely rock the boat. You are more likely to go along with whatever the community leaders dish out for you. You will stand for the national anthem, not kneel. You will never ask why we have to sing it at a game the first place? When did it start and whose interest it serves now? You will say that homosexuals are flawed individuals and laws should reflect that. … And we can go down the list.
You will say all this not because really truly believe it but because you know that if you don’t, the community will reject you. And if they reject you know there is no other place you can go to. It is a strange cold place out there and you no longer know how to make a living outside what your leaders dubbed for you “your community”

#16 Comment By BCZ On September 30, 2017 @ 8:20 am

Opposed to neat tidy answers. Explains the whole problem as a neat tidy answer with a common villain: the university.

This process is organic, has gone on for a long time, and likely has little to do with stories… and a whole lot more to do with values in the broader culture. Things like materialism, the worship of wealth (rarely a part of stories as university), the cult of efficiency, and many other elements of capitalist ideology necessary to maximize efficient markets which labor mobility is a key if not the key element.

Changing stories may do more harm than good. Small towns are hostile to the educated not merely the educated to small towns. I long to return to mine, but whenever I do or did everyone jumped to make clear that in their minds I was no longer one of them regardless of how I felt about the matter.

No amount of self-depreciating humor, not the signal that I was willing to give up a very lucrative career to return to far more immediately disastrous economic opportunity, not that I had a history in the town of being one who cared for the place mattered.

And now, y’all want to tell me the main fault lies with ‘the stories I heard in college’? Stories which stress tidy answers? Please.

Your villains are the market, all the incentives it has imbued cultures with across the developed world regardless of ‘university stories’, the reinforcing process grown over decades in towns with increasingly undiverse economic bases, unequal geographic dostribution of opportunity, and the mistakes of small towns themselves, and a lack of willingness to adjust on the sides of those communities… not just college graduates, to a local community with a space and role for educated critical thinkers dedicated to making those places the best they can be.

No easy tidy answers indeed.

#17 Comment By grumpy realist On September 30, 2017 @ 3:41 pm

Ironically enough, a lot of the small towns that have continued to exist (and draw people in spite of their “smallness”) happen to be the academic towns containing the universities the author is so contemptuous of.

Until small towns are able to offer decent salaries and interesting career paths for those of us who go to college, we’re always going to end up drifting towards the large cities. Especially when the people who stay behind are contemptuous of those of us who have decided to “rise above our station.”

#18 Comment By Lloyd A. Conway On September 30, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

‘Blue-collar labor exists in a local market, while white-collar labor exists in a national market.’ I read something to that effect in ‘The New Geography of Jobs’ and it’s a reality that the rise of a managerial/professional class portended as long ago as when James Burnham warned of it in the 1940s. This may be different in kind, but not quality from other epochs of centralization, where Court draws the most ambitious from Country.
The point Baker and Bilbro are making about Berry’s works, or at least what I have gleaned from the first 70 pages of the book, is that we have to choose: Kansas or Oz, home or the bright lights of the big city. This is essentially what a high school girl asked last week in a candidate forum in Charlotte, MI (my hometown). I am not on the ballot this year, or I would have answered her differently than the ones who are did. She wanted to know what City Council can do pr provide opportunities that will give her a reason to come home after college. That question is a central one for this book’s thesis. Why come back? The rejoinder might be: Why leave? If you are called to a profession, fine, but to go to college just because it’s the next step and then to have $40,000 in debt and no secure job (unless in a hot major and/or matriculating at an elite institution) may be a worse fate than staying home and working one’s way up. Jane Jacobs said pretty much the same thing in arguing that the goal of development should not be to attract a middle class so much as to grow one at home. How can this be done, when another poster pointed out that the idea density of the Palo Altos of the world has replaced investing in plant and equipment? Perhaps this is the time for ‘distributist’ type solutions like co-ops, employee stock ownership programs, and other forms of worker-ownership, either individually or collectively. Monetary success can’t be the measure here; it has to be stability, order and happiness. Locally-anchored capital may be our best path out, and if Dreher is right, entering the professions without a willingness to be p.c. may be a non0-starter. The small-bore oportunities of the homefront may turn out to be the best economic, as well as the soundest cultural and spiritual choice for anyone not willing to work for Mammon.

#19 Comment By Lloyd A. Conway On September 30, 2017 @ 7:42 pm

P.S. I am an adjunct at the school where Baker and Bilbro teach, but we’ve never met.

#20 Comment By Thrice A Viking On October 1, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

Lloyd A. Conway, I don’t believe that blue-collar and white-collar jobs are that differentiated in regard to localism. The latter, after all, includes so many jobs that are no higher on the totem pole than the typical blue-collar ones. Only the managerial-professional types may be said to have national and even international outlooks, and probably only a minority of even them. The jet-setters have always commanded a disproportionate share of media attention relative to their small numbers. But of course, I loved your reference to ditributism as a solution!

Philadelphia Lawyer, even ignoring the fact that many people don’t feel the same way you do about urban superiority to the rural and small town lifestyle, there are some problems I have with your post. One, can we expect many farmers to stay put happily if so much of their countryside is devoid of people? If I had the farming bug (I don’t), I’m fairly certain that I would be scared to death every time some malady hit our family, and we’d need to airlift them into a distant hospital. Or indeed, I’d lack any cultural opportunities which even a small town can offer. (Last I looked it up, a reasonably densely-populated area only has to reach a population of five thousand to be considered urban, and it was just half that a few decades ago.)

Two, one of the glories of small-town life is that you mingle with people from all walks of life. This is especially true of schools. Large cities can have areas that are unaffordable to all but the well-off.

Three, there’s such a thing as small-town neighborliness that will always be hard if not impossible to duplicate in big metro areas. It could be called the “unbought grace of life” as opposed to your economic figurings here. Also, I have some doubts about your claims of environmental benefits, but that’s a more complicated issue than I want to get into now.

#21 Comment By mrscracker On October 2, 2017 @ 11:12 am

Thrice A Viking,
I’m not familiar with farming/ranching in places like Wyoming, MT, or AK where folks might have more challenges to get emergency medical help but we used to live in a very remote, rural area in the South & in a pinch, neighbors would get you to the hospital before the helicopter could arrive. Each little community had volunteer fire depts., too. Neighbors know each other & really depended upon each other.
I can’t count how many folks knocked on our door late at night because their vehicle had gone off the road or broken down & we were the only nearby dwelling to seek help at. When it flooded, we knew which neighbor on higher ground we could evacuate to. When my youngest child was in the hospital, neighbors milked the cows & brought meals.
Small towns are a blessing, too, I think.

#22 Comment By Tyro On October 2, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

The classical liberal arts do not dictate or specify success to students. Instead, they cultivate wisdom and understanding—and from these seeds, students can and must cultivate their own, particular vision of the good.

For decades, there has been an ongoing conservative project based on the belief that a firm grounding in the liberal arts would create legions of well educated conservative thinkers, now with the additional claim that they would become at peace with local living rather than the ambition to make money.

The end result of these conservative experiments at places like St. John’s College just produced a lot of college graduates obsessed with philosophy and learning who moved to places and entered professions where their intellectual and professional needs could be satisfied, which turned out not to be small towns and not part of movement conservatism.

I myself would like to see people being more well educated and with a firmer grounding in the traditional liberal arts. However, I think it is extremely telling to look at the example of Rod Dreher and which people decided to stay in his hometown and what their intellectual priorities and interests were vs. what people with many of those classical liberal arts intellectual interests did.

This is the classic pundit’s fallacy: identify a problem (small towns are dying/not enough college graduates are conservative). Then claim that the solution to this problem happens to be for people to embrace the personal views of the pundit (two professors advocate for better liberal arts education to make people more conservative and willing to live in small towns).

#23 Comment By mrscracker On October 2, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

Tyro says:

For decades, there has been an ongoing conservative project based on the belief that a firm grounding in the liberal arts would create legions of well educated conservative thinkers, now with the additional claim that they would become at peace with local living rather than the ambition to make money. ”
I have no idea how that’s played out nationally, but it describes at least 5 of my 8 children. Two others live in urban settings & one just finished school & is still undecided but is leaning towards a small town/rural life.

#24 Comment By Thrice A Viking On October 2, 2017 @ 8:13 pm

Mrs. Cracker, thank you for your comment. I’ll admit that I was thinking more of Western farming and ranching (because that’s my section of the country) rather than Southern, which I believe is yours. I acknowledge that there may be many sections of rural area that may be just like yours was – at present.

But remember that I was responding to Philadelphia Lawyer, and he seemed to be rather ruthless in getting rid of these rural areas and their accompanying small towns. How far he’d like to go, I can’t say from his brief discussion. But I got the distinct impression that he might cut out so much rural fat that your former locale would seem quite dense indeed. I’m inclined to think that a certain population has to be maintained, if only to get phone companies to put up cellular towers or landline infrastructure. But perhaps I’m mistaken as to what PL would actually do if he were some sort of economic czar.

Yep, small towns are a great place to live for many, and I’d say the best place for kids to grow up for probably most children. The highly gifted is probably one group that could benefit from an urban setting, and those with “special needs” perhaps another. But for the majority, a small town K-12 education is the best for my money

#25 Comment By Gregory On October 3, 2017 @ 12:05 am

Settlement patterns change. Who knows what comes next? However, we do know that, soon enough, we’ll be living in new patterns with people writing nostalgically about the suburbs.


#26 Comment By mrscracker On October 3, 2017 @ 2:08 pm

Thrice A Viking,
Thank you for your comments, too!
I’m not real familiar with your part of the country & imagine there are much vaster stretches between communities than we have in the South or even South West.
I actually attended a one room schoolhouse & have always believed it was an ideal learning environment. One lone teacher could not instruct K-8th Grades at once-except for music- so older students would be assigned to help the younger ones, thereby reinforcing the older child’s grasp of the material.
The bookmobile would visit us on a regular basis.
Our school had a double outhouse: one side for girls, one side for boys, and no running water. Recess was jump rope for the girls, “King of the Mountain” on a trash pile for the boys
And this wasn’t 100 years ago either.
Up until the 1970’s there were no phone lines where we used to live. The first-and still current-phone co. was/is privately owned & the owner’s wife would man the switchboard from their home. Later they built a little office. Phone service was great & they eventually buried the phone lines & provided the latest options. I still exchange Christmas cards with them & a couple phone co. employees. They were like family. They owned the little community center, too & hosted baby showers there for moms & pancake breakfasts to benefit the volunteer fire dept. If you were worried about anyone in the community, like an elderly person, you could just give someone at the phone co. a holler & one of their trucks would go check it right out.
One of my children just finished up at an “Ivy League” school in NYC. He was offered a job there by one of his professors & lasted 2 weeks until they observed how deeply unhappy he was. It’s just a complete culture shock & rat race if you’re not used to that kind of hectic pace. And good luck calling the phone company for help.

#27 Comment By Jon On October 3, 2017 @ 2:58 pm

After living for awhile in a small town in rural America, I observed the following:

1) Young people had no hope in the future not having any work other than odd jobs (sporadic contractual labor) and service industry work which was steady due to the high employee turnover.

2) The service jobs (mostly counter sales and waiting on tables) paid the minimum wage which in that particular state is $9.75/hr. The contractual work paid upwards of $11-$12/hr — still insufficient to live independently.

3)Few youngsters found viable economic options which are as follows:
a) family business
b) entrepreneurial endeavors

I know one individual who helped run his family’s bed and breakfast in addition to web designing, photography, video shoots for advertising and whatever came along. His girl friend worked for her parent’s travel agency which she will eventually inherit.

But, what of the rest?

Farming might be an alternative to some but that would involve acquiring land, investment in farm machinery and the skill sets for mending fences and repairing equipment. Some decide to stay on the family farm as the land exists as well as the machinery. However it is precarious depending on nature.

One of the commentators entertain the idea that small towns can become resorts areas. Indeed, but the few sizeable businesses that cater to this industry benefit few outside of their confines. The staff employed mostly receive minimum wage without any possibility of obtaining merit raises.

Small town life sounds ideal. Where this New Urbanism fails is that it does not address economics. And economic policy must be created on a national level. How can we as a country invigorate small town America with work and business opportunities which would provide a future for our youth so that they can remain?