Canadian coastal communities have a long history of capitalist underdevelopment mediated by powerful cultural traditions and place attachment. Today, these traditions are under siege as are the productive relations that sustained them. Using the work of Bauman, Giddens, and Bourdieu, I report on a three year study investigating the way youth identity is constructed and enacted in families in a coastal community in Atlantic Canada. I argue that the spatial and cultural dynamics of social class continue to shape orientations to education, work, outmigration, and the pragmatics of "getting ahead" managing risk, and becoming an adult. To accept the content of secondary schooling and university study, children in rural communities must do the difficult, potentially alienating and often dangerous identity work of developing an "impractical" self that embraces the abstractions and esoteric knowledges that serve as capital in university preparatory courses and in higher education. For most youth "born and bred" in the coastal community, formal education is imagined and valued in instrumental terms that support students in the process of acquiring known skills that are considered practical from the point of view of adults in the local context.