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I was thrilled to see Darienne Lake on the cover of City, and love City even more for showcasing her talent ("The Lake Effect").

I am an avid fan of RuPaul's Drag Race, and love drag entertainment. However, I would be even happier to see more real heroes who fall somewhere outside of the "normative" gender spectrum showcased in City. GENDA, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act is still pending in New York. The real heroes are trans* people who fear losing their jobs, housing, or other things due to their gender identity and expression.

Let's start celebrating some of these folks on the cover of City and get GENDA passed, already!


The fight against the Common Core

The massive resistance to the Common Core travesty, by concerned parents, teachers, and their unions, has finally moved New York State Regents, legislators, and the governor to backpedal. But this is only the first step in this struggle, for the Common Core juggernaut won't roll over that easily.

After all, the Common Core is the culmination of more than 25 years of a well-financed campaign by opportunist politicians seeking a standardized silver bullet for education and by corporate profiteers seeking a national education market for their ventures and wares. Their antidemocratic intrusions of standards, curricula, tests, and management schemes have been distracting schools and educators from authentic improvement for decades.

We in Rochester ought to recognize this decades-long campaign, since one of its key instigators and power brokers all along has been Marc Tucker, whose well-heeled National Center on Education and the Economy decamped here in the late 1980's to use the city schools as its laboratory.

Since then, NCEE and its subsidiary America's Choice have played a pivotal role in Common Core standards development. Tucker's goal then and now is, in his words, "to remold the entire American system" of education and workforce development into "a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave," using "international benchmarking as a lever for policy reform."

Back in 1989, a coalition of parents and educators spoke out against the Center's corporate management style and "benchmarks of student performance." One D&C op-ed from April 10, 1989, decrying the undue influence of the Center on city school district policy that was harming minority children, was co-written by a coalition founding member, Bolgen Vargas.

Fast forward 25 years, and Bolgen Vargas is now district superintendent. Curiously, despite his earlier concerns about outside influence on school policy, he, too, seems to have swallowed the Kool-Aid. Despite the current debates and growing refusal by other districts to use Common Core curriculum modules (all of which are "optional"), the city school district is, by all accounts, strictly enforcing and monitoring the use of this scripted, "teacher-proofed" material, much of it wildly inappropriate. District teachers laugh when I remind them that these state materials are optional. Not here.

They tell me their hands are tied; one veteran teacher told me that district teachers are the "most fearful I've seen in 25 years."

What's going on here? Why does the city school district insist on forcing its teachers into a lockstep embrace of this house of cards, even as its shoddy facade has begun to crumble statewide? Does the district think that enthusiastic, autonomous, and unafraid teachers are somehow not essential to a good education? Is it really convinced that Common Core curriculum standards will somehow address the grueling concentration of child poverty that is the real source of poor student performance? It's time for some answers, right here at home.


Addicts seek relief, not a high

Thanks for taking issue with the shameful D&C editorial, "What's Fueling the Drug Culture?" ("The Roots of Addiction," Urban Journal).

Addiction is indeed an illness, often related to depression and other mental illnesses. For the D&C to suggest otherwise shows a shocking lack of knowledge and fuels prejudice against those with mental illnesses.

Addictions, be they alcohol or heroin, often reflect a tortured soul for whom constant hopelessness and helplessness and emotional pain becomes unbearable. For these people, the attraction of the intoxicating substances is not the high that they provide. The high cannot hold a candle to the immediate cessation of pain that comes from the swallow or injection or inhalation.

Effective treatment for the underlying illnesses, when they prove chronic and unresponsive to medication and cognitive therapy, is sadly lacking in our society. And so their pain grinds on, unrelenting, day after day after day. The individual tries and fails again and again and again until they stop believing that any help exists and they begin believing that no matter what they do they will continue to suffer.

Please hear this: People who suffer from these illnesses do not experience the world in the same way that healthy people do. The D&C concludes, as do too many members of the public, that these people are weak, lazy or otherwise lacking in character. This indicates their ignorance of their suffering.

If you think I am incorrect, then you are fortunate indeed, because you and your family have escaped this pain and the terrible, terrible toll that it takes. Be thankful.

The rest of us will continue struggling to find some help, some relief, and we will endeavor to hold our heads high despite what you think about our loved ones afflicted with mental illness.


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