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October 22, 2009 - 10:35pm

The grass isn't always greener in the big city

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, books, bill kauffman, localism.

Why do a small town's best and brightest young people relocate to big cities?

The common assumption is that they leave to seek better opportunities or more excitement.

Bill Kauffman has a different theory -- our teachers, civic leaders, parents and American culture try to convince rural young people that to be an achiever, you have to go elsewhere. There's little thought to the notion that you can achieve right where you're rooted.

Kauffman discusses this idea in a book review for the Wall Street Journal:

The sharpest insight in "Hollowing Out the Middle" is that "small towns play an unwitting role in their own decline" by inculcating, in school and too often at home, the belief that fulfilling one's promise means leaving for the city lights or the manicured suburbs. The purpose of education today, as Kentucky poet-farmer Wendell Berry argues, is to train young people to leave home. And so, the authors note, "the investment the community has made in them becomes a boon for someplace else."

Batavia is full of bright, young people who have decided to stay, or who have come back. I've met them. Batavia's future would be even brighter if we could convince more of them to stay and help build new businesses and invest in the community that nurtured them.

Read the whole thing.

Chelsea O'Brien
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I would love to see the actual study, because the titles they give to the students is similar to other developmental theories. I also disagree with the findings. In order for me to understand where I belong and where my "home" is, I needed to move away. I needed to live in and travel around Europe. I needed to go to school away from my parents, to live in a city, to learn about myself and my real beliefs. I came home, I still live with my parents a few days a week. Peter and I have a home in Batavia, and for the most part, are happy in Batavia. However, given a chance I would move. It's cold, the roads aren't taken care of between Rochester and Batavia well enough, the city has stupid rules I hate and will refuse to follow. With my BA and future MA, I will be able to live just about any where. This state, and city, needs to prove that there is a reason to stay, other than my family. I can find a small town, working at a college, and raise a family anywhere in the US, so, why should I stay in NYS?
Howard B. Owens
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Chelsea wrote: " In order for me to understand where I belong and where my "home" is, I needed to move away." You state this as if it's something organic, as if you have no choice but to have or believe that attitude. How do you know it isn't your teachers and society that taught you to believe that's what was best for you? Maybe that wasn't what was best for you? How do you know for sure?
Chelsea O'Brien
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There are studies that show students with certain cultural background (specifically Native American students) who succeed when they attend school close to home or continue their strong connections with home. However, there are also studies that show college-aged people develop more independently (cognitively and morally) when away from the family unit. And it was organic for me. I was homesick, but I learned to deal with it. I learned how to get lost and ask for directions, how to find new things, how to interact with people I wasn't comfortable with, etc. If I had the opportunity to call my dad every time I got lost, would I have developed into the same person who functions the same way? Probably not. Moving away and coming back home also increases the diversity of small towns, both culturally and intellectually, which small towns need. If educated individuals did not "move back" there would be fewer businesses and other opportunities available in those small towns.
Howard B. Owens
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Chelsea, I'd say there's a difference between moving away and coming back -- probably a very good thing -- vs. the idea that Bill is really hitting on (and it can be found elsewhere in his own writing) that culturally we have a tendency to teach kids that "to succeed you need to get out of this hick town and never come back" -- that fulfillment can only be found in the big city.
Chelsea O'Brien
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But not all small town college students move to "big cities". While there is a percentage of students from small towns who move to large cities, a lot of them either move home or to other small-ish towns. There are few possibilities of going to college while staying in small towns. Upstate New York is lucky, you can live almost anywhere and be near a college within 30 minutes, in the mid-west things are very different. Don't get me wrong, I do think we, as a society put too much emphasis on big cities on the opportunities there. But, in reality, going to college increases so many opportunities, moving away is sometimes the only option.
Dave King
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As a 27 year old college graduate, who was born and raised in Batavia, and now works and lives in Rochester, I can certainly relate to moving to the "big" city for opportunity. I think that Batavia and the Genesee county area is a great place to call home...but let's face the facts; the diversity of opportunity is extremely limited. For those who spent many thousands of dollars, and years of time, to earn an advanced degree in a specfic area of study, small towns, such as Batavia and the surrounding towns, simply do not offer the types of opportunity / careers relevant to many advanced degrees. Howard, you stated that more young individuals should stay to "help build new businesses," but that is assuming that those young, college educated individuals want to use their degrees to open up a business. Where are the high tech, scientific, and corporate level careers in Batavia and surrounding towns? Why should young, highly educated and highly motivated individuals, who are looking to sink their teeth into a career, and get their lives started, wait around for a small town to maybe bring in an establishment relevant to his or her degree, when there are greater and more diverse opportunities elsewhere? And if that young individual did stick around, what kind of job are they supposed to get in the meantime, and for how long? The fact is, small towns are small towns for a reason. It is only logical for many young, bright individuals to leave the small town for an area that offers and embraces great and diverse opportunites that will lead to a "career" rather than a "job." Educators and leaders don't bring us to this conclusion...logic and sense does.
Howard B. Owens
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David, sure, not everybody wants to run a business, and some people will be pulled to careers that can only be fulfilled elsewhere. I'm guessing it would be hard to be an oceanographer in Batavia. But that's not really the point here -- it's not about diversity of interests -- its about a culture and a school system that TEACHES the FALSE notion that the ONLY way to find happiness is to move away. But I would still say: If you don't like the opportunities here, make them. The best opportunities in life are the ones you make for yourself. And you can make them just about anywhere, including where you're rooted.
Charlie Mallow
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Howard, you are back across the line with this localism you preach. You treat it like some kind of strange religion. Many of us have skill sets that do not fit within the smaller companies that exist in our rural setting. Kids that are paying $20K to $30K a year for an education should not feel guilty for taking a job that allows them to repay the loan. I highly doubt colleges are telling kids to move away from their families, that paranoia comes from the high priests of localism. The economics of a college education make finding a good paying job mandatory at this point. Maybe once we have socialized medicine Obama will focus on out of control education costs as well. Then maybe, kids will be able to stay home and make it where they are "rooted".
Bea McManis
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It isn't just kids fresh out of school. Many adults, who experience "reinvention" due to jobs that no longer exist also face this problem. I agree with Dave, not everyone is in the position to start a business in order to stay in this area. When I came back to Batavia, I knew that there would be no job available for someone who's most recent experience was in the realm of the dot.com industry. I left there as a project manager/online moderator. I had many interviews and all ended wth the fact that I was "over qualified" and that I would be "bored" with whatever jobs were open here (translation, we're afraid that you will leave shortly after you are hired for greener pastures). My good fortune was that my former employer, in California, hired me as a remote employee. Not everyone has that opportunity. Yes, I could have opened my own shop and worked as a consultant in the field of project management/quality assurance but I didn't feel that there was a niche for this in Batavia and surrounding towns. The belief that everyone, regardless of skill sets, can make an opportunity here in Batavia is a warm and fuzzy thought but not rooted in reality.
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Charlie,you are so right about the out of control education cost. Both the parents, and the kids are left with a sometimes lifetime debt. Mike and I put our oldest through the first 2 years,of a 6 year Master's Degree. My husband also still pays loans for himself, from RIT in Rochester. Its so hard to find the extra money to make payments, and it seems you will never, catch up with the interest.
Howard B. Owens
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Charlie, I never said colleges were teaching it. By then the propaganda of you must move away to be successful has already been deeply ingrained. And localism is synonymous with The Batavian. It's what we do. I doubt that will ever change. I'm on the same side of the line I've always been on. Nothing's changed.
Charlie Mallow
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Karen, it’s a crime what is happening. Our children and working families are burdened down with long term debt for school. These banks have found a new racket putting our kids deep in debt before they have ever gone to work one day. Then these banks send them credit cards so, they can live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of their lives. Then we are told we have to bail them out and should feel bad when their CEO’s have to back some of the money they have stolen.
Charlie Mallow
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Howard, the line I’m speaking about is between localism being an idea or a religion. Usually, you are on the idea side of the line. As for thebatavian being about Localism, nothing is perfect. :-)
Karen Miconi
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Your not kidding.They had the credit card companys set up at tables in the lobby at UB. They offer these kids credit cards($1000), its like givin candy to a baby. I feel the companies are targeting our kids. Oh lets not even get into the interest rates. One good thing is Mike and I dont have 1 credit card. We use our debit card and only spend OUR money. I cant imagine where we would be with credit card debt.
Charlie Mallow
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These banks know if they can get these young kids over extended, they will see windfall profits for years to come. People complain about taxes, but how many people pay 20% of their incomes to banks.
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They also trick our kids by telling them they cant rent a car, get a room, or reserve anything without that credit card. How do you think alot of them go on spring break.
Howard B. Owens
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Charlie, there's nothing in this post or my comments that is any more outspoken for localism than anything else I've ever posted. If we're ever going to turn this country around, we need to turn away from bigness -- big government and big conglomerates -- and we'll need our best and brightest in our local communities helping to make them better instead of feeding the maw of bigness.
Mark Potwora
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Its the school systems that tell these kids to go college,and put them into careers that go no where..They get out of college with a degree alot of debt...They should be pushing more for vocational schooling..Those jobs are local..College is a money making racket..Not all kids should be going..College is the money trap...They over charge for books,teachers salary's..Professor don't even teach classes..In elem. school small class roon size is important,but in college thats not true.. Don't blame the banks for offering loans to these adults..if they aren't smart enough to handle thier finances then they aren't smart enought to attend a college.. Whats the answer Charlie free college,,,who will pay..
Daniel Jones
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Mark-Where I go to college, there are no teaching assistants and Canisius gets a good chunk of change because of it. I don't feel that my professors are overpaid either.
Charlie Mallow
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Howard, you sure did take this one a little further. You basically said people should be able to make their own opportunities here for work and if they can't, they are what, not trying? That one hits a little close to home for a lot of us. I know for certain my skill set requires a large corporation to make use of. Is there something wrong with me because I drive 100 miles a day? ( I'll agree to that by the way) Is there something wrong with a kid who moves to find a job that can pay for education? You said teachers are brain washing kids, didn't you? Take a look at what you wrote. But that's not really the point here -- it's not about diversity of interests -- its about a culture and a school system that TEACHES the FALSE notion that the ONLY way to find happiness is to move away. But I would still say: If you don't like the opportunities here, make them. The best opportunities in life are the ones you make for yourself. And you can make them just about anywhere, including where you're rooted.
Charlie Mallow
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Mark, we as a nation need to compete in a global market place. To do that we need an educated work force. A collage degree isn't an option like it was when we were growing up. Education is a matter of national security. Yes, it should be paid for by banks, CEO's and the rich. You know, the same people that milk us dry every day.
Dave King
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I think you are right in that society gives the impression that health, happiness and prosperity is only found where there are skyscrapers. This notion started most profoundly during the Industrial Revolution and its resulting urbanization. During that time, millions flocked to the big city in search of wealth and a better way of life...and they found themselves working 16 hour days and living in squalor. Many would agree that a big city definitely does not equal happiness...at least not long term happiness. With regard to opportunities...I certainly can't disagree with the notion of creating opportunities for oneself. I think that Batavia and Genesee county are a shining example of hard working, smart and creative people who are not afraid to take on challenges and take risks to build and serve the community. Just look at the great upgrades and businesses that have come to Batavia's Main Street in recent years. Empty store fronts have been replaced by deli's, coffee shops, restaurants and fashionable stores. Between the opportunities for business, the fact that a main thoroughfare runs through the county, and the highly professional police, fire and EMS, I like to think of Batavia as the "big little city." But the problem is that Batavia, and other towns like it, have all of the great food, entertainment and services that anyone could need to live happily and comfortably...But they lack one critical component...they are void of too many of those specified jobs that would motivate a young, recent college graduate to stay. I will conclude by saying that I see Batavia as being in a very strong position to reverse the trend of young people leaving, as more young people choose the growing and successful community college that is right in town, and the community and leaders continue to work to develop and scout out opportunities.
Mark Potwora
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Charlie..How many kids go to college get there high cost degree and do nothing with it..all these companys and banks that are on the verge of collapase are run by college educated over paid people...When you say global market place you mean third world labor rates...Those jobs are over there because college educated people deceide that is how you make more and more money..And what Charlie, should we be trained to do..We need more plumbers,electricians,carpenters ..The world has enough bean counters..We need to be manufactoring products.. So i guess the way you see it is any one that rich should pay for health care and college for those that don't have has much... The people that milk us dry every day is goverenment ..they are the only ones adding jobs and getting raise's. You say Education is a matter of national security.If that is the case and inner city school graduation rates are at 50% we are in melt down mode..Must be the government isn't doing its job again..It is there job to educate..And it is free to go to school K-12..How do you figure these kids will do in college..They won't because the school system let them down..
Charlie Mallow
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Mark, we can not compete when it comes to manufacturing. We can when it comes to high tech and Bio jobs. 50 years ago we stood by and failed to make the changes needed, that's how we lost the manufacturing industry. Right now theses "third world" countries are taking our high tech jobs because they are educating their young. India is pounding us into the ground. What do we have left to lose? How are the poor bankers and bean counters going to survive then? The problem isn't taxes, it's our debt.
Chelsea O'Brien
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The media is playing a huge role in this discussion, and I wanted to point out some facts. I'm getting my Master's degree in Higher Education Administration, essentially I want to work at a college working with students. My BA is in "Politics", I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but found out I didn't want to do that after all. I could own a Porche with my OWN loans. While I am not set for "a job" I COULD do almost anything. I can read, write, communicate and critically think about things. I was accepted into every Master's program I applied to. If more people sent themselves to school or parents set up proper savings accounts, fewer people would need private loans. The amount of people who actually need private loans is not nearly as large as the media plays it out to be. The government subsidizes loans, which are much safer and lower-interest, but most people don't know or aren't interested because they don't educate themselves about it. I do not have a universal credit card (I do for individual stores, simply because using coupons they send is cheaper, especially since I pay them off the first bill I receive). Students DON'T NEED credit cards, work study jobs and part time jobs can fund the daily needs of students as long as they know how to save and budget. Raising kids and teaching them they can have whatever they want whenever they want it is not teaching them how to be fiscally responsible. This is not the banks' fault. There are many careers where people do not have the choice to live in a small town like Batavia, but many people do have that choice. However, for most of us we cannot "create" opportunities in our work fields. I cannot establish a university or college, or create an office where I can work at GCC. As for students of different nations attending our schools, higher education is one of our strongest exports in this country. And the programs that are applied for by these students are not of interest to many domestic students. Want more American engineers? Convince more people that a 5-year degree and continuous education is worth getting in that specific field. They then need to be paid enough to pay for that degree as well as regular living expenses.
Howard B. Owens
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Charlie, my how you twist. I said that people should be able to make their own way where they're rooted, but I also acknowledged that isn't an option for every one. I said, quite, quite explicitly -- how can I be any clearer, Charlie? -- that the problem is not about individual choice, but what society and schools teach about needing to go to the big city to succeed. You're twisting this into something about finding fault with people and their choices, and NO WHERE can you support that by anything I've said, except where I point out that maybe people should step back and consider there alternatives to simply going away. What's wrong about suggesting that people can consider a wider array of choices than what is shoved down their throats by media and educators?
Mark Potwora
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Amen to that Howard....
C D
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I can't speak for every college and university, but I haven't had any professor teach or encourage students to go to bigger cities to succeed. If I end up leaving Batavia (NYS in general), it'll be because of the laws, taxes, and the people. I'm right with Chelsea when she said something along the lines of "stupid rules in the city".
Charlie Mallow
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Howard, why would you believe teachers are telling kids to leave their homes to go find jobs in big cities? Is there a conspiracy? Or are they being trained for jobs that don't exist in rural settings? The whole idea of this post is silly. Your saying if I send my kids to school, they will leave town because, they will be brainwashed into doing so. I'm saying it is a loan from a bank that will take them away. Not a plot from teachers. Telling people they can create opportunity here when they have skill sets that requires larger companies is a fantasy. Creating a company is not a skill set a lot of us have.
John Roach
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Charlie, I don't think the "loan" is it either. It's where the kid thinks he make the best go of it. There are lots of kids paying off college loans living around here. And there are kids with no loans, who just think they can get better pay in a larger area like Buffalo. Young people (say 18-25 or so) also just might find Batavia a bit dull compared to Bufflao. This might come as a shock, but people have been moving from rural to larger urban areas for a long time.
C D
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Don't forget the small handful of "kids" who don't qualify for any loans or financial aid, grew up in the big city, and haul ass here in Batavia to make due on tuition, rent, and bills.
Bea McManis
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Posted by Howard Owens on October 25, 2009 - 10:48pm What's wrong about suggesting that people can consider a wider array of choices than what is shoved down their throats by media and educators? I understand your point, Howard, but can you give some examples? It is all well and good to say that those entering the work force should consider a wider array of choices in order to stay in this area, but what are examples of those choices? Mark has a point, too. Not every profession requires a college degree. BOCES provides the opportunity to learn a trade that can be put to use immediately after graduation. Each of those skills can be honed either on the job or, in come cases, may be the stepping stone for a person to decide to further education in a related field. (for example, a LPN might decide to go to college in order to get their RN). Do you feel that you were indoctrinated, by a school system, to leave California and come to New York? By your own idealogy, you should have stayed in your hometown and promoted localism. (as an aside, I'm glad you didn't.) There are many factors that enter into an individual choice. A young person choses to enter the military. He/She may make that choice based on opportunities they discover elsewhere. Personal relationships also enter into this. A mutual decision as to where to job hunt and set up housekeeping has little to do with indoctrination from a school system. It would be difficult, indeed, to tell a person that they should look at the wide array of choices, here in Genesee County, when offered to relocate in order to advance their career and earning power. Without giving concrete examples of this 'wide array of choices', the words ring hollow.
Howard B. Owens
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Bea, do you mean examples of people who have done it -- like Pauly -- or kinds of things people could do instead? And I've told this story before -- I think I've always been a localist of sorts, but it wasn't until after arriving in New York that it started to develop into a kind of political philosophy, something that I saw as an idea with wider consequences and a wider need. And I've thought about the very question that you ask, about staying in California. My circumstances weren't, as I see it, as advantageous as many people here. I was something very unusual in California -- second generation Californian, but only on my mother's side. Here, I meet people all the time who are fourth and fifth generation Batavians. And the small town everybody knows everybody is something special you don't find in California. As I've written before, the closest thing I had to a home town in California was El Cajon, but I didn't move there until I was 14 years old. I can't say there was ever any encouragement to leave, but then I was already in the big city (a hell of a lot bigger than Buffalo or Rochester). But I wanted to leave, which is one reason I am not too sympathetic to to the notion that "young people find Batavia is boring." I thought San Diego was boring when I was young. Any place is boring if you think it is. You make your own attitudes. And maybe that is something you can't teach, but I think there is cultural pressure to "get out of that hick town" (whatever small town it is), and I think it would be good to actively try to counter act that. I mean look at how we, as a culture, refer to small towns: hick towns, Podunk, back waters/woods ... even rural is a dirty word to some people, and people from small towns: clod hoppers, yokels, hicks, rednecks. Small towns and their virtues are not much admired in the wider American culture, and never have been. To be from a small town, in American culture, is to be dumb, uncouth and backwards. Of course, we know that's not true, but urbanites think only they are cool and hip.
Bea McManis
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Howard, I meant examples of the wide array of choices for someone who has skill sets and motivation available here in Genesee County. Other than starting their own business, which is not an option for many, what are the other choices one has to make a living utilizing their skills when the jobs just aren't here? Not everyone is in a position to finance or start a new business. As much as it would be nice to have an entire city populated by business owners, it just isn't going to happen. I like living in a rural community. We are blessed to be close to big cities where one can visit and take advantage of what is offered there. I don't consider those who chose to stay here 'hicks' nor do I consider them backward. We need a vision for this area that attracts businesses. Our location, midway between the two big cities could be the ideal location for corporations. That vision has never been fulfilled. When we can attract those type of businesses that require the skill sets our people have then we will provide our young people with the incentive to stay.
Howard B. Owens
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Bea, it doesn't take much to start a business, if you really want to start a business. And my statement about wide array of choices was exactly about including a start-up among your options. Don't just think that you have to move away to have a career (yes, as I said, in some fields, that's the only choice). That's narrow thinking. Expand your options by thinking differently. Why is that such a controversial idea?
Charlie Mallow
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Howard, why is running a small business expanding your options or thinking differently? That’s just one choice. For me personally the last thing I would want to do is go back to running a small business. I didn’t like the work. I realize you are living your dream, running your own small business and preaching about localism. You are coming at this from a perspective that is judgmental for people who are not living your dream and don’t care too. Some of us want to live in a small town and raise our families there and still would like to earn a good living. You can do both, it’s just going to cost you a good chunk of time behind the wheel of a car. I don’t think what you’re saying controversial either; this is just a discussion of differing viewpoints.
John Roach
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Here are some other factors. If somebody goes to a 4 year college, it will be out of town and out of Genesee County. If they go to say, RIT or UB, they will tend to look around there for a job when they graduate. Remember, they have lived there more in the past 4 years than here. Many, if not most, of their friends are now there, not here. Job fairs at those colleges will not often have companies from Genesee County. Another loss of young people is the military. Except for Fort Drum, most military posts are out of NY. Many are in warm weather areas with better economies and lower taxes. Texas and Florida are examples. They may come back later in life, but it was estimated that 9 out of 10 never come back. t
Charlie Mallow
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What John is saying makes far more sence then saying teachers are trying to convince rural young people that to be an achiever, you have to go elsewhere.
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Posted by Howard Owens on October 26, 2009 - 9:19am Bea, it doesn't take much to start a business, if you really want to start a business. And my statement about wide array of choices was exactly about including a start-up among your options. Don't just think that you have to move away to have a career (yes, as I said, in some fields, that's the only choice). That's narrow thinking. Expand your options by thinking differently. Why is that such a controversial idea? Howard, I have no problem with the option of starting a business, if one has the product or service that is needed - and if one can generate a market to make it successful. But, that is just one choice. You stated there is a " wide array of choices", in Genesee County, that should keep people with marketable skills here. You are blaming the school system for indoctrinating students to move away and not look at that 'wide array of choices'. I asked for examples (other than starting a business) of that wide array of choices that will provide a living wage here in Genesee Co.
Dave King
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going back to the notion that schools teach young folks to leave for bigger cities for the big corporate jobs...I should point out that the vast majority of large Universities are very liberal, and tend to actually be slanted away from the big city, big business mentality. Many University professors see the big cities and mega-corporations as the root of most problems. That is why this whole "Go Green" and back to nature idea is huge in Universities.
Howard B. Owens
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Charlie, the word of the morning is bull. You keep trying to paint what I'm saying very one dimensionally. Why are you doing that? It's silly. There is absolutely nothing judgmental in anything I've said. Stop making stuff up, please. Dave, again, we're not talking about what's taught in colleges.
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Ok, I have a 4-year degree. I'm in the middle of my Master's program. The only job I'm "qualified" for in Batavia right now, is Dunkin Donuts. Peter and I would love to open our own business, but with him going to school and working full time and me not working, that isn't an option right now. So, what options do I have? Not many.
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Howard, we are talking about young people leaving rural areas for the bigger city...and how society, namely schools, are promoting this action. College is the last step of schooling before that young person makes the decision to either stick to his / her roots or leave home for a bigger city. It is only fair that we factor this stage into the equation.
Howard B. Owens
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Bea, I wrote, "What's wrong about suggesting that people can consider a wider array of choices ..." That means, they can consider staying or going, starting a business, or picking a career that fits in what's available here, or look for a telecommuting job ... there is more than just the one choice of moving away.
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Howard, it’s obvious that you didn’t intend to say what I perceived you said. It’s not “bull”, it’s an opinion. This is also no different than any other discussion we have had on this site. You started the debate and said some things that struck a nerve. I’m sure I am not alone in my feelings or perceptions about what you said either. I think starting your own business is an option only if that is your skill set, you like what you are about to do and have the financial wherewithal to do it. It’s a life choice and not any more or less good than any other career choice. As for why kids leave the area for work. There are many reasons as we have seen here. All of them are viable. The only one that isn’t in my book is this idea that teachers tell kids they should live somewhere else. That’s just silly. Having a teenage boy who is about to go to college and just might have to leave the area for work, hits a nerve with me. You also hit another nerve, driving takes up a good part of my week because, there really isn’t an option for me other than changing what I do or downgrading my lifestyle. You have to understand it’s a choice to create your own business, not an “option” for many, many people.
Howard B. Owens
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Dave, by the time a person reaches college, the stage is already set. Also, the original study, the one that prompted the book, and prompted Bill's review, was about a small town's public schools at what was taught there (as part of a bigger picture of what went on in that town). And, for the record, just to be clear, I have NO IDEA what goes on in Genesee County schools.

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