Journal article

Rural Education and Out-Migration: The Case of a Coastal Community

1 Jan 2005

It is common to think of universal access to secondary schooling as a feature of modernity, well established by the 1920s and 1930s (Sutherland, 1995). Yet, as spatially sensitive historical analysis has shown, time does not transform all spaces and places equally. In many of Canada's rural communities, the routines of secondary schooling were not effectively established until at least the postwar period (McCann, 1994; Perry, 2003). In rural Canada, such factors as diverse uneven development, local labour markets, patterns of informal education, and direct socialization to adult roles offered an educational alternative to the school and the oft enquestionable training it offered (Davey, 1978; Gaffield, 1987; McCann, 1982; Wilson and Stortz, 1993). Rural communities have also offered active and sustained resistance to early efforts to impose schooling on children, with little regard for the social, economic, or cultural composition of communities ([Michael Corbett], 2001b; Curtis, 1988; Popkewitz, 1998; Scott, 1985). Indeed, the normalization process of making protracted schooling and higher education automatic and habitual is not yet well established in some Canadian rural and coastal communities (Corbett, 2001a; McCann, 1994). As a southwest Nova Scotia fisherman pointed out to me, it is easy to say that young people "need" an extended formal education, "but the argument has never been proven." As a result, schooling in coastal communities, and in rural and northern places, remains a significant challenge for youth, for those who educate them, and for the Canadian state (Government of Canada, 1999; Rural Communities Impacting Policy, 2003). One core problem is that by implicitly defining educational success in terms of a mobile population of youth exported to urban areas, rural schools may tacitly promote the erosion of their own human capital (DeYoung, 1995; [Paul Theobald], 1997). On the other hand, many urban-centric policy analysts like Richard Florida (2002) see contemporary migrations of educated, uprooted people into vibrant cities as a principal motor of economic and social development. The relationship between modernization of economies, rural to urban migration, and formal education has long been the subject of policy discourse, often in the absence of clear evidence about how learning and leaving are related in specific locations in time and space. In this article, I have presented the results from a case study in which I investigated the link between formal education and out-migration in a coastal community in southwest Nova Scotia. The central questions driving this study are: who leaves, who stays, and what level of formal education credentials does each of these groups have?

Diminishing opportunity in western Canada and in Ontario for work requiring little formal education since the 1970s has also made it difficult for rural Atlantic Canadians to work in the classic "reserve army" fashion, moving in and out of coastal communities to serve the needs of capital (Veltmeyer, 1979). This compression of opportunity has been accompanied by increased living costs in western and central Canada. My data suggest that the new reserve army moving out of the rural hinterlands is comprised of formally educated, flexible workers required in a post-Fordist economy as opposed to the traditional multi-skilled, manual, "hard-working" migrant labourers who have been replaced by an urban-based, "bloated irregular workforce comprised primarily of minorities and the poorest segments of the population - a geographically concentrated and subservient reserve army of labour" (Soja, 1989,181). The traditional Atlantic Canadian reserve army labourer is now considered to be "stuck" close to home, mixing service industry work with primary resource harvesting and state transfers, never having to leave home. If there is a rationalization these days for formal education, it is to provide a labour force for the symbolic factory work of call centres, on-line support, and other forms of poorly paid, post-industrial work that cannot easily be shipped offshore because they required an inexpensive, fluent Anglophone workforce. It appears as though Nova Scotian rural women fill this bill nicely. As I write this article, a call centre has recently (2004) opened in Cornwallis, a small, around-here community with a decommissioned military base.

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Publication Place: 
Toronto, Canada
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