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Feedback 8/26 

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The local, vibrant poetry scene

I was thrilled to see literature featured on the cover of CITY two weeks in a row and I highly commend Rachel McKibbens and Jacob Rakovan for the successful Poetry & Pie series they have launched here in Rochester, which does highlight marginalized writers in an important way.

However, the article states: "The only events available to local poets interested in sharing their work [before Poetry & Pie night was introduced] were structureless open mics and $150-a-head poetry functions hosted by prominent presses." This statement is untrue. Rochester has, and has had for many years, one of the most vibrant literary scenes for a city of its size.

Writers & Books is one of the country's largest and oldest literary centers, serving more people per capita than any other literary center in the country, and offering a wide variety of programs for all kinds of writers and readers. During its 34-year history, Writers & Books has hosted hundreds of poetry readings, including the monthly Genesee Reading Series, which is now in its 33rd consecutive year.

In addition, Rochester has a plethora of reading series which are free and open to the public, including the Plutzik series at the U of R, the Brockport Writers Forum, Just Poets readings and events, Words on the Verge, and countless others.

In addition, it is confusing that City would run an article suggesting a nearly non-existent literary scene in Rochester, when each week City actually lists several events in the literary section of the calendar.

I would also like to point out that one of the Poetry & Pie photos used in the article features two high school poets who are part of yet another Writers & Books poetry program, Breathing Fire Teen Poetry Slam. Rachel McKibbens does serve as host and coach for the program, but if it weren't for the already existing vibrant literary scene in Rochester, those two young poets most likely would not have graced the stage at Poetry & Pie night.

I commend City for celebrating Poetry & Pie Night, but to do so in a way that is dismissive of the rich literary culture here in Rochester is irresponsible.


Bittner Bonn is director of youth education at Writers & Books.

Photonics center belongs in Legacy

The Sibley building is over 100 years old. It was not built as an office complex and is in need of major investment (read multi-millions) to bring it up to today's standards and to house headquarter offices of the photonics enterprise. How much of the cost will be passed on to local taxpayers?

Remember the fast ferry? The former Bausch & Lomb (Legacy) building is 20 years old. It was designed and constructed to house offices of a major corporation. It needs virtually no structural or office layout changes – i.e., no cost to Rochester or Monroe County taxpayers. The choice is obvious.


Would we vote for a socialist?

In the past, those who opposed government programs designed to improve the life of lower and middle-class voters were able to kill them by identifying them as being socialism or communism. However, time, stagnant wages, and increasing concentration of the wealth of our nation in fewer and fewer hands seems to have changed that.

Whether Bernie Sanders could be elected president is an unanswered question, but his message that we need a living wage, that we need single payer national health care (universal Medicare?), that we need everyone to have access to affordable education, that we need to spend more on our nation's infrastructure (power grid, roads, bridges, and rapid transit) are resounding with the public.

Those of us who have been privileged to live and work in European countries know there is a lot we can learn from them. Perhaps we are beginning to. In a recent poll, the electorate was nearly evenly split on whether they would support a Socialist candidate.


Dealing with disruptive students

Will the restorative justice plan for Rochester school district student behavior work? Here is an easy way to find out: A disruptive student is referred to the program by his classroom teacher. Question: Is the referring teacher the person who determines if and when this student is permitted to return to class? If the answer is "yes," the program has value. If not, the anticipated "seismic shift" will amount to a dyspeptic hiccup.

I began my Rochester school district teaching career in 1971 and have occasionally subbed, tutored, and volunteered since retirement. In my experience, misbehaving students are handled by administrators, the same people charged with evaluating teachers' performance. The students are warned and sometimes letters are written, phone calls are placed, and suspensions are meted out. The students are then dumped back into class, often within minutes of the referral.

Believe me, our students are not impressed by this bureaucratic run-around. It reinforces their impression that they are not accountable to anyone, particularly the teacher. Peace is not restored nor is justice served. School district managers instinctively use their employer-employee leverage to require teachers, instead of students, to adapt to this baleful reality. And teachers do adapt, but their coping strategies come at a high cost: the inevitable loss of effective instruction.

Of course the restorative justice system will require lots of personnel. These sainted individuals should be charged with very specific tasks: 1) To help the referred student realize the consequences of his or her actions; 2) To guide the student in making a commitment to improve behavior, and 3) To coach the student in selling the referring teacher on the sincerity of this commitment. It is the referring teacher who must decide, free of overt or implicit administrative pressure, if the student may rejoin his class.

So start rounding up the troops it will take to make this program a success. If it is successful, eliminate social promotion and we might just have a school district worthy of this city.




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