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.

Regards,

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

EDCI 335: Final Design Project

EDCI335 Final Design from Bryan Jackson on Vimeo.

You can read the full PDF of the paper here

Background Drawing identified-gifted learners from the Coquitlam School District, Gleneagle Secondary School’s TALONS (The Academy of Learning for Gifted Notable Students) Program offers Ministry-identified gifted learners interdisciplinary core curriculum (Social Studies, English, Math, and Science for grades 9 and 10, all at an honours level), as well as experiential opportunities to complete Planning 10, Leadership 11 and PE 11. TALONS learning is largely organized around inquiry-based projects that make use of outdoor education and community service elements to imbue learning objectives with a greater tangible relevance to students and their local, as well as global, communities. In addition to covering provincial Ministry of Education curricula in the above courses, the program is grounded in George Betts’ Autonomous Learner Model (Betts & Neihart, 1986), with an emphasis on metacognition and acquainting each member of the cohort with skills and habits uniquely tailored to their own social and emotional roles in cultivating interdependence and community.

This design project was conceived to align both the explicit and implicit foci of British Columbia’s Social Studies 9 curriculum (Social Studies 8 to 10 Integrated Resource Package 1997) with a larger narrative expressed in the personal and collective learning in the TALONS classroom. By bringing the “Hidden Curriculum” into the open in this manner, the learning design intends to conceive of means of engaging the course material which are congruent with its ends. 

John Steinbeck’s Adventure Trip Advice

Mobile Classroom

Tomorrow morning, the TALONS are driving out to the eastern edge of the Fraser Valley, and setting out in a fleet of Voyageur canoes with our friends at Ridge Wilderness Adventures to travel the Mighty Fraser River. In a few days, we’ll arrive at Fort Langley, and from there will be on bikes, returning to school early next week.

This time of year usually finds me comforted by John Steinbeck and the opening pages of Travels with Charley, a book I read on one of my own epic Canadian Adventures. The story of Steinbeck’s road trip around the US, accompanied by his poodle Charley, begins thus:

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.

When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay. This part of the process is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teenagers in new-hatched skin, will not think they invented it.

Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process; a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this way a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand.

Essential British Columbia

This week, we have been beginning our study of Canadian geography and our reading of the Golden Spruce by reflecting on what we might find as the Essence of British Columbia. In setting out to learn a few other TALONS skills – image manipulation, journal writing and a few technicalities of posting different items to our blogs – each of the classes have been selecting pictures from the TALONS archives of Flickr photos and adding text from different reflections on place to make the image come to life in a more personal and powerful fashion.

Which got me to thinking this morning that I and we have friends, colleagues and classmates out there in the world beyond B.C. There are our friends in the Idea Hive, and across Canada’s north and east through my connections in recent Unplug’d conferences. There are Jabiz’ classes, and Keri-Lee’s, and Mary’s students learning in Asia, and Europe. And while it gives me a personal charge to see our own provincial home characterized in so many memorable photos and personal reflections, it makes me curious to see others’ homes brought to life in a similar manner.

In a few weeks, we will be looking at Canadian Geography in the larger sense, and it would be excellent to see some of our co-learners from across the country attempt a similar remixing of their  own or their class’ pictures. But also those of you in our international ranks: this question of place is made more tangible with diverse responses to it, and we would love to see what you think of where you call home, and what you think it means.

 

Social Media as Connective Tissue – Presentation for BCSSTA

British Columbian Student Bloggers without Borders

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That time of year again

In response to Chris Kennedy‘s recent post of British Columbian edu-bloggers, and in the spirit of referring my fellow bloggers (and blog-readers) to the people that I read, I thought of putting together a short list of a few noteworthy local student-bloggers. I hope that their blogs can further become hubs of communication around their evolving educations, and that their voices might be lent to the rest of ours in a larger conversation about the future of education.

At the risk of highlighting the myriad astonishing aspects of the entire TALONS class set of blogs, I highlight these three student blogs as diverse examples of young learners continually creating the blogging medium in their own image. Arranged from oldest-to-youngest.

Live Life to Create

Olga is a TALONS alumnus – that ‘found’ blogging independently, after graduating from the program – who continues to document the life and trials of being a high school senior in the digital age as a prolific Twitterer, and frequent blogger on her Tumblr site (when they’re not down). As a peer tutor this year with the current morning class of TALONS, Olga has shared her insights on the nature of learning, meeting her heroes, and life at the doorstep of graduation, university, and the Future.

Frozen Tic Tacs

This is a group blog that began as a conversation following a Skype conference with some of Alec Couros’ student-teachers, and has followed eight Talons graduates into grade eleven and life beyond our gifted program in the months since. Originally conceived as a means of staying in touch while the girls travelled to Kenya, Quebec, and a number of points in between over summer vacation, the Tic Tacs have continued to share their hopes, fears, and works of art for the past many months.

Channels of Thought

Though I said I wouldn’t go to the lengths of presenting all of the TALONS blogging exploits, the burgeoning riot of freckles adorning Liam’s Clustermap speak to an inherent magnetism in writers who are discovering their voice, and seem capable of consistently delivering unique, and articulate ideas. Though his posts are often inspired by school assignments, the breadth of Liam’s historical knowledge, and ravenous appetite for news and political developments often combine with an effortless faculty of language to produce masterworks of student-blogging.

As I said, these are but three examples of young bloggers I have had the good fortune to meet and work with, and who challenge me to be a more prolific, progressive, and productive blogger with each new post. I’ve seen posts recently by Dean Shareski and Will Richardson asking about student bloggers pro-actively creating their own online brand, above and beyond what their class and student-blogs might ask of them, and heard Andrew B. Watt ask much this same question sometime last spring.

But I haven’t been referred to too many sources of student-blogging leadership (outside the international Student Blogging Challenge, and Comments4Kids program, which both tend toward the elementary, or middle school grades), and would appreciate (as would the Talons class, I assume) any leads and links you might be able to leave as a comment to this post.

Who are your most compelling student bloggers?

The TALONS meet the Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce won the Governor General's Award for English Language non-fiction in 2005.

“… a creature that seemed more at home in a myth or fairy tale: a spruce tree with golden needles.”

The TALONS classes have been beginning their study of English, Socials and Science with the Governor General Award Winning Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant, and begun their blogging year with a host of introductory blog posts – in poems, painting, prose and no shortage of personality – covering the first four chapters of a book that is about more than trees:
It is not simply a tale of a tree. It is the tale of a people, of the changes made to a land ‘west of west’ , the mixing of two very distinct cultures.  The tale of  a region, one of the most rugged and natural left in the world. Haida Gwaii exists not far from places such as Danger Island and Danger Passage, and the names were not given idly.  It is a place hard to understand for those who do not live there, and I certainly don’t.  It is the type of place you need to experience to fully understand.

Liam

I glower upwards through the murky water as the hull of a human boat passes over my head. Foolish humans, I think as I lay in the depths of a rocky and jagged bank, with my hands behind my back. So greedy,so malicious. These new comers with their intrusive floating crafts, how I despise them all.

Donya

Megan's Hecate Visions

Megan

As the days go by

do they sit and cry?

the loggers who cut

down the ancients?

Kelsey

We had begun our journey like any other ship and her crew; a group of courageous young men and a ship better than any other. We were going to conquer this wild land and use to its fullest extent. Little did we know, we were in for no easy adventure. We left our hometown over half a year ago. It was after braving Cape Horn and sailing northward for thirteen thousand kilometres when the nightmare truly began. At first, we were simply surrounded by a thick, opaque layer of fog. Then, we had to face heartless winds, uncaring currents, and frighteningly random whirlpools. My socks were the first of my belongings to be terrorized by this inhospitable environment. Then it was our ropes. And finally, our stomachs.

Iris

Donyas Wildest of the Wild

Donya's Wildest of the Wild

Every so often, an oddity is sent upon us. A twist to a seemingly identical fill of trees. John Vaillant reveals a truth to difference; that noticeable is none, unless it posses a difference which appeals to a set of human eyes. The “golden” spruce was extremely noticeable due to its colour. Other natural monuments may be noticeable due to identifying features. But as they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. In my opinion, beauty alone did not declare the golden spruce’s popularity.

Jonathan

They are gone now, the ancient chants that I used to hear, the heavy drum beats that would fill the night air with a pulse that could send shivers down your spine. It has come, and now it has gone. The houses they once occupied, bustling with life like an ant hill, have collapsed in on themselves. Now only moldering piles of wood that are giving in to the forests demands.

Megan

So now humanity (or rather, B.C.’s government) is faced with the decision of what to do with this natural resource. Do we chop it all down? (probably a bad idea) Do we leave it alone and make the mere thought of chopping down a tree a crime? (also, probably a bad idea) Personally, I think that there’s no simple answer to this question. Logging creates hundreds of jobs, and it’s one of B.C.’s primary ways of making money. However, we can’t just go off chopping down whatever we like. As you have no doubt heard before, trees are rather important to the environment, which, in turn, is rather important to us.

Nick

Cultural Geography Public Service Announcements

No sign of Boo BooAs a means to delve creatively into the cultural geography in Western Canada, our socials ten students will be undertaking the creation of public service announcements on issues relating to the present states of plants and animals across several different biomes. Having practiced digital storytelling skills in writing, performing and editing a brief time-line of human history in the local area last week, their sights will be set on documenting the evolving history of human interaction with, and use of, resource species such as the Rocky Mountains’ bears, the Plains’ buffalo, and the Pacific Coast’s salmon.

They were not a nation, nor even a tribe, but a loose association of groups consisting of up to a dozen families. All were, however, united in their allegiance to Tuktu – the caribou – which, in their millions, not only furnished the necessities of life but most of whatever else these people needed. Caribou skins provided clothing (the warmest and lightest known), footwear, tents, sleeping robes, covering for kayaks, even the heads of drums. Tuktu gave meat, and fat both to eat and to fill their lamps; sinews for sewing; and antler and bone for the manufacture of innumerable hunting and domestic implements, even including children’s toys. Tuktu was life itself to human dwellers in the Barren Lands.

Farley Mowat Walking on the Land

Unesco.

Each of the animals and biomes selected by the groups this week bear a similar tradition of use that reaches back to the dawn of humankind, and I look forward to seeing the class’ representations of these ecosystems as they once were, on through their current state. Even in our suburban setting, there is still a reverence for the outdoors in many of the class’ undertakings – whether natural or urban – and the energy in class today as the groups selected their biomes and animals and set out on research stemmed from a connection many members of the class feel with their local setting. In documenting the traditions of our ancestors on this land alongside modern Canadians’ stewardship of the country’s most valuable resources, the project’s lofty purpose will be to offer a message to those who will follow in our footsteps here.

“We are all five-fingered people, the holy people. My grandfather and uncles always said that when we are taught these things, they are for the people, the children, and whoever comes to you wanting your help and the medicine of our ancestors. It is our responsibility to help them.”

Brian Payton Shadow of the Bear

Hopefully we do better than Dwight.