WHITETOWN, U.S.A. by Peter Binzen


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This is a loosely structured, rambling study of a declining lower middle class white neighborhood, Kensington, in Philadelphia, a neighborhood of blue collar Poles, Italians, and Irish, and a prime example of the pathologies and the fierce pride, the grievances and prejudices, the true-blue Americanism and profound alienation to be found in the Whitetowns of urban America. After some historical background on Kensington and some sociological perspectives on various Whitetowns of today, the most substantial segment of the account deals with the stresses, strains, and shortcomings of Kensington's schools (although the Philadelphia school system is predominantly black, the poorest reading and arithmetic scores are in Kensington) and the resistance of the residents to reform (reform is generally equated with racial inundation). Binzen, Urban Affairs Editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, believes in first-hand investigation and first-person reportage. Not only did he interview and analyze Whitetowners, stroll around their streets and visit in their homes, he also took upon himself the formidable task of teaching fourth grade at old, obsolete Elkins Elementary School. Two days were enough for him to chuck that project, but his continued observation of teachers and principals, students and parents in action both in Whitetown and Blacktown, Philadelphia, form the basis for his perceptive commentary on the particular educational problems of Kensington in the context of recent developments in both public and parochial schools in Philadelphia and elsewhere. These observations on and personal experiences with urban education sometimes get off the main track, to the neglect of other aspects of Whitetown life and life styles. Even physically and statistically one never gets a very complete picture of Kensington, but Binzen's study nonetheless goes far toward answering the complaint of a third-generation Polish-American Whitetowner: ""No one listens to us and our problems, no one cares about us or appreciates the contributions we have made to American life.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1970
Publisher: Random House