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CURRICULAR CHANGE-UPS: Frosh will search for truth in English teacher Jason Hinojosa’s class

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Freshman and senior English teacher Jason Hinojosa

The quote that can best sum up English teacher Jason Hinojosa’s teaching style comes from poet William Butler Yeats, who said: “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.” Hinojosa said that he’d rather start discussions and have students control the conversations on their assigned reading than dictate his own opinions to the class.

Hinojosa is teaching freshman English, regular senior English and senior AP Literature and Composition and said that all of his classes will be reading “some really exceptional books.”

Freshmen will read “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, and “Warriors Don’t Cry” by Melba Pattillo Beals and follow an overriding theme of “truth.”

For example, among other things, “Animal Farm” is about propaganda and the manipulation of truth, Hinojosa said. And memoirs, like “Warriors Don’t Cry,” are one person’s account and can impact the big-picture truth. “The Things They Carried” – a book on the Vietnam War that has been central to Hinojosa’s writing and how he approaches teaching – also presents readers with a new way of considering truth.

“O’Brien makes the distinction between story truth and happening truth,” Hinojosa said. “He will embellish things in fiction in order to make you feel something (and to show) how the facts aren’t necessarily as powerful as the emotion or story behind the facts.”

Besides following the theme, Hinojosa wants freshmen to practice forming independent beliefs because he considers freshman year to be about “coming into your own as an individual thinker.”

“Ninth grade is the beginning of a new era in a thinker’s life,” Hinojosa said. “They’re taken seriously in a new way. You get to develop your own perspective in ninth grade. Seniors have already done that, so I’m just kind of keeping the ball rolling.”

Click to see all the books that seniors will read

Seniors in both regular and AP English will read a variety of novels from writers of different backgrounds. From these, Hinojosa hopes to get seniors to realize that all perspectives matter.

“All of the texts are written by people that I would consider marginalized,” Hinojosa said. “Even Charlotte Brontё had to write using a man’s pen name.”

Hinojosa said that he is most looking forward to reading “Beloved,” which covers the experiences of women of color after slavery was abolished.

“It’s really powerful,” Hinojosa said. “There’s something in that book that really upsets me. It’s hard in terms of content and writing style. It hurts to read it, and it’s challenging on a cerebral level.

“The pain that is described in that book is so profound and so impossible to understand that I feel like I’m primed for an authentic experience with (the seniors).”

Hinojosa said that he hopes by the end of the year seniors will learn to consider literature as “something that speaks directly to the individual.”

In both of his classes, vocabulary will come from the assigned books, and grammar lessons will be given as needed when problems come up in assignments, he said.

Participation makes up a considerably large portion of Hinojosa’s students’ grades, he said. Participation is worth 20 percent for seniors and 30 percent for freshmen.

“The class doesn’t work without the students (and) just implodes without participation.” Hinojosa said. “(Participation) is a necessary pillar.”

But despite all of Hinojosa’s planning, he said that he still considers how the class will play out to be “kind of a mystery.”

“I don’t know (what) exactly the school culture, my background, my pedagogical approach, (or) the combination of classes I’m teaching is going to be like,” Hinojosa said. “We’re just pouring things into the test tubes and seeing what works.”

To refresh himself on the curriculum for AP Literature and Composition, Hinojosa took a weeklong training course at Sacramento State University over the summer and found that the exam has not changed very much since he last took the course in 2005 at the University of Oxford in preparation for Hong Kong International School. He also spoke with fellow English teachers Brooke Wells, Jane Bauman and Patricia Fels to get an understanding of the school culture and what students feel comfortable talking about.

—By Sonja Hansen

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