An Open Letter to BC Education Minister Peter Fassbender

Minister Fassbender visits the TALONS Classroom, October 2013

May 31st, 2014

Greetings, Minister Fassbender,

As a social studies teacher in the Coquitlam School District’s T.A.L.O.N.S. Program, my teaching partners and I work to support the learning outcomes of our course curricula by cultivating an experiential, interdisciplinary learning environment. In designing a program which meets the social and emotional needs of gifted learners, T.A.L.O.N.S. teachers strive to align the explicit purposes of schooling – to educate the younger generation in the concepts, skills and competencies required to construct their individual and collective futures – with the implicit messages about our shared democratic values as Canadians – that each voice in our society is valued within the system of laws and government we are handing down to young people.

As you may realize it is important to teach courses on the foundations and traditions of our democratic history within a context that is true to these ideals. To this end T.A.L.O.N.S. students are provided with opportunities to exercise agency and voice in the creation of their own learning, as my colleagues and I believe that teaching students about the principles of the Enlightenment in a classroom that does not honour collective expression and democratic principles would negate the lesson at hand before the bell had even rung. As Gert Biesta and other educationists have noted, “Young people learn at least as much about democracy and citizenship – including their own citizenship – through their participation in a range of different practices that make up their lives, as they learn from that which is officially prescribed and formally taught.”

As such the context in which the learning occurs communicates a great deal about the meaning that is created in the democratic classroom. And I raise these foundations of the T.A.L.O.N.S. program to your attention in part to refresh your memory that you’ve actually visited us in action. Along with our local MLAs, Coquitlam Superintendent Tom Grant, and other educational dignitaries, you were brought to see a few of our district’s exemplary classrooms at Gleneagle Secondary last fall. You were only with us for a few minutes, enough time to tout your government’s dedication to providing more education in line with how our students introduced the program’s philosophy, but I feel it appropriate at this time to highlight how incongruous your handling of the British Columbia Education file has been with public education’s democratic ideals in the time since.

Your government has been found twice to have violated BC teachers’ Charter rights to collectively bargain. Additionally, the Supreme Court found the Liberal Government to have bargained in bad faith to provoke a strike that would allow you further infringements of the province’s public servants. In the ten years that this affront to justice has been allowed to continue – in duplicated legislation and dubious appeals – the children of the province have seen their futures stolen out from under them with unstaffed libraries, under-supplied learning centers, closed language labs and counseling offices ill-suited to address today’s (significant) student needs.  The defense your government has raised when judged categorically by the Supreme Court to have broken the law (twice) is that adhering to the law as written would be “too expensive” at this stage in the game.

You can be forgiven for your lack of history education. But as someone charged by the government to teach young people about our democracy, I find it difficult to reconcile the lessons in my prescribed government curriculum with the context created by your Liberal government’s disrespect for the country’s highest law. After being told in 2011 that Premier Clark’s own Bills 27/28  were unconstitutional, the Liberals did not appeal the decision and proposed nearly identical legislation that was rejected by the Supreme Court yet again in 2014. Rather than take this judgment at face value, or even oppose it on the merits of the case, your government has instead hired a private trial lawyer at taxpayer expense to argue before the Court of Appeal not that the ruling was flawed, or that your government did not in fact violate teachers’ Charter rights, but that obeying the law would be too expensive.

As a private citizen you might be entitled to such unique interpretations of the country’s laws. In fact, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was conceived so that individuals would not be so vulnerable to the lumbering power of the State. But as a representative of an elected government, your continued disregard for the law of the land, taken together with the subversion of its very intent by using the Court of Appeal to further abuse educators and students is fundamentally opposed to the spirit of Canadian democracy as it is taught in the province’s schools. It is a shame that when you visited our classroom you weren’t given the opportunity to explain why it is you and your government feel it is that you are above the law.

Our public school classrooms are intended to reflect democracy as an ideal, a point beyond the horizon toward which humanity is forever striving. And this ideal holds that each individual’s voice is granted respect and protection by a mutual agreement that no one is above the law, or able to exert their will upon the group by sheer force or inherent power.  In attempting to design a classroom where these lessons are taught on the pages of our textbooks and in the activities we undertake as a class, the T.A.L.O.N.S. teachers’ intentions are to provide learners with lived lessons in democratic functioning.

What have your actions, and those of your government, sought to teach young people in British Columbia about democracy? About the rule of law? About our collective responsibility to one another?

When you visited us, and in the press releases I have seen in the time since, your words have often seemed directly in line with the values at the heart of the public education system. But your actions have consistently negated whatever weight these words might have carried, and such incongruence demands either an explanation or a change of course.

I would be heartily pleased to see either of these, though your past actions haven’t made me hopeful.


Bryan Jackson T.A.L.O.N.S. Program Teacher SD43


  1. Thanks for your lucid and articulate letter.

    Educating our children is noble work; our classrooms are places where students grapple with the heady work of what it means to be a citizen and to be a human being. We read the literary canon as well as works of the contemporary and the avant-garde. We study the visions and actions of madman and heroes. All this so students have a safe and protective environment to shape their identities as active agents within a democratic state. Active agents…doing…words are promises but action is the truth. Mr. Fassbender has promised many things to the students in our classes but his actions leave our lessons about democracy in limbo.

    Thanks again, Cq

  2. Brilliantly written, factual, & your passion shines through!

  3. An excellent letter, I have finished one as well but require your help, please get in touch with me.

  4. Thank you SO much Bryan for your articulate, passionate letter ! As a Social Studies teacher (and Special Ed), I share your many concerns, and find that this situation does indeed show quite starkly some disturbing elements in provincial government behaviours. Here is my letter, sent early today, along some similar lines. You are welcome to circulate it (without contact details) if you wish. Very best to you, Kari (Vancouver SD39) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A short Math & logic lesson > BC taxpayers due a refund !? TO: Hon. Peter Fassbender, Minister of Education, Premier Christy Clark, and the BC Public Schools Employers’ Association (BCPSEA)

    World Environment Day: 5 June 2014

    Dear Minister Fassbender, Premier Clark, and BCPSEA,

    I write to enquire about your mathematical calculations, RE: the 10% cut in pay for teachers in BC’s public education system. As a secondary teacher/teacher-on-call who typically works at least 8-10 hours per day (depending on the assignment), often with no breaks, I fail to see either the rationale or the logic in deducting 10% of my wage for time that, technically-speaking, is voluntary.

    Problem #1: A day in the life of a typical BC secondary school teacher, typical vs. locked out

    1 day = 8:35 am to 3:03 pm = 6.5 hours 6.5 hours – .75 hours (“break time” spent supervising or helping students) = 5.75 hours +/- “teaching time” NB: does not include preparation, marking, correspondence, supervision, meetings, helping students, photocopying, etc, etc.

    The current lock-out restricts teachers to being in school between 7:50 am to 3:45 pm = around 8 hours 8 – 1 hr (locked out of classroom) = approx 7 hours NB: Out of necessity, and because we really do care about our students’ success, most of us pick up all the slack elsewhere, after school: unpaid.

    So, that’s approximately 7.00 hours we’re permitted to “teach” each day, due to the employer’s lockout. (= 120%, approx) – Subtract 5.75 hours that we typically are paid to be in the classroom. ( = 100%) TOTAL = 1.25 hours (approx) of our time we’re permitted to be on school premises outside of teaching time. (= approx 20% voluntary)

    Hmmmmm. So, we’re present, still doing all the teaching, marking, photocopying, report cards and most other things in less time, and you reduce our wages (for which we have received no increase in four years) by 10%. Even though that time you’re “cutting” is our own, we are fulfilling all our classroom teaching duties. And you believe that is both rational and equitable. .

    Problem #2: 36 days out of 579, time spent by elected Members of the Legislative Assembly working in the Legislature (May 2012 to December 2013) *

    Here we have a situation whereby a group of people, also employed by the taxpayers of British Columbia, were not present and working accountably in their representative positions for a period of 543 out of 579 days (over an approx 18 month period).

    543 days (absent) divided by 579 days (total) = 94% absence rate (by government choice) > should be unpaid

    Or, put another way, 36 days (present) divided by 579 days (total) = 6% paid time

    That seems quite rational and equitable, and, 94% of your salaries would go a long way in our public education system towards purchasing: – the white board markers I can’t access in some classrooms due to budget cutbacks over the last 12 years or so (around $1.10 each) – the textbooks from 1986 that are still in use (Social Studies) due to budget cutbacks. – the printers and cartridges badly needed in some Special Education program because the students with IEPs do not have the fine motor co-ordination needed for printing/writing – the two clocks missing from Special Education classrooms in one program, 2 years running – the two manual pencil sharpeners (same program) – enough functional, evidence-based early reading literacy and support – the necessary supports for students with critical mental health concerns: counsellors, youth and family workers – reliable water filtration so that students in one school can have dependable access to clean drinking water I could go on, and on, and on. All these preventable problems and more due to budget cutbacks.

    • Reference: “So actually, it is not just that the legislative assembly will have only sat 36 days in 2013, it is that by the end of this year [2013] the B.C. legislature will have only sat for 36 of the previous 579 days going back to May 31, 2012”. source: “B.C. legislature sits 36 of 579 days. Is this responsible government?” by Mark Jarvis, 11 September, 2013. The Toronto Globe and Mail

    Problem #3: The logic portion

    If you must persist in reducing BC teachers’ wages by an amount which is not even demonstrably rational, then of course, it follows that you too must have your salaries reduced by the 94% you were not present and evidently performing your democratically-elected duties in the BC Legislature (2012 -2013).

    Minister Fassbender and Premier Clark: how soon can the citizens of BC expect to see the 94% repayment of government salaries due from the above time period, for days not present and accountable to the public (employer) in our Legislative Assembly (by choice) ?

    As any five year old will tell you: “You can’t have it both ways.” That would be irrational.

    BC’s public school teachers regularly put in 100% + of our effort, expertise, experience and time towards making our students amongst the most successful, well-educated, creative and compassionate young people on the planet. What will YOU do to improve the dire situations we all face ?

    I look forward to communicating with you towards a respectful, fair, and timely resolution of these pressing financial problems.Please respond to my questions in writing at your earliest convenience.

    Thank you for your time and consideration. Our students are always worth it. Regards, Kari Hewett (Ms) Social Studies and Special Education teacher Vancouver, BC

    copies to: Rob Fleming, NDP Education Critic; George Heyman, MLA for Vancouver-Fairview; Andrew Weaver, MLA/Green Party; BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF); CLC President Hassan Yussuff; the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, and the CBC; BC citizens BCCed for privacy

  5. Dear Bryan,

    You have written the letter that I have contemplated writting since the start of this fiasco. I enjoyed the tone that you took with the government and believe that your message may be lost on the minister and his staff. I have also been thinking about how we can use the democratic machine against the government…there must be something that holds a government to account not just an election?



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