September 15, 2022
Contending with a Painful Past
In 2018, the school appointed Upper School English teacher Heidi Hojnicki the Edith Evans Distinguished Chair in English to recognize her extraordinary accomplishment as a teacher and advisor. As the holder of this chair, Hojnicki has a five years stipend to support activities related to her teaching.
Hojnicki took advantage of the summer months and leaned into several professional development opportunities. As the Director of Faculty and Learning, Hojnicki attended an education leadership workshop entitled “WOnderwomen” for four days in Atlanta. The groups engaged in futures thinking, imagining if college admissions moved to a lottery system and its impact on the college process and its potential to reinforce the stratification of have and have nots. Other breakout groups considered the various problems that we would be facing so that we could figure out potential solutions. “We were brainstorming the kinds of skills and dispositions that our students will need to face these future challenges,” she said.
Following that workshop, Hojnicki headed to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit two cultural sites, the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. These landmark institutions narrate the legacy of slavery, lynching, racial segregation, and the connection to mass incarceration and racial bias. American lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson spearheaded the museum’s creation and is one of the authors of Hojnicki’s senior elective, “Incarceration Nation” reads in the class.
“Part of it was personal,” she said, “but in my class, we examine many issues related to the prison system, and we read Byrvan Stevenson, among other options.”
Hojnicki’s class wrestles with challenging, important content and examines why we as a society imprison: to punish, for community safety, or for rehabilitation. According to her course description, the class “uses writing as a vehicle for developing empathy while understanding that unless we experience imprisonment, we won’t truly understand the experience. “The class recently presented several background issues for a better understanding of the origins of the modern prison system. One of the topics was the establishment of Parchment Farms and Angola penitentiaries which were founded as plantation prisons right after slavery ended with the 13 Amendment. Another topic included diving into the explosion of mass incarceration due to the war on drugs. The class discussed what we do when we start decriminalizing some drugs.
“I want to hear everyone’s perspective,” she said. “I want the student to examine why they believe what they believe and explore logical fallacies and bias to think about how it affects our own writing.”
Nancy Brayton Krieble ’33 endowed the Chair in honor of Edith Evans, a long-time English teacher at Oxford School.