Bringing Mark Twain to life
was Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens)? Why did he write “Huck
Finn” and what did he want to say to his readers in the book The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
Students in Lyn Cipriano’s English classes will
soon discover this and more thanks to a unique five-day workshop Mrs.
Cipriano attended over the summer.
Mrs. Cipriano received a prestigious National
Endowment for the Humanities grant to attend the Summer Teacher
Workshop “Huck, Jim, & Jim Crow” at the Mark Twain House and
Museum in Hartford, Conn. She and 40 other teachers from across the
country met with a panel of experts to learn about Twain, his writing,
and his perspectives on major issues of his day including racism and
post-Civil War life in the South.
“I will be using what I learned at the seminar in
all of my classes this year,” she said.
In the past, students might have read a Mark Twain
book, discussed it, written a paper, then moved on to the next book.
That changes this year as New York moves to a new national standard
known as the Common Core Curriculum. Under the new standard, students
will do more than simply read a book; students will look more closely
at the author, historical events and other writing in hopes of gaining
a better understanding of the work.
Mrs. Cipriano plans to use copies of some of the
letters, journal entries and newspaper articles she saw at the museum
to shed light on Twain and his work as one of America's greatest
Interestingly, her summer experience also provided
supporting information for another required ninth grade book, the
autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
Twain’s wife Livy Clemens knew Douglass because Livy’s family had been
abolitionists and members of the Underground Railroad that helped
smuggle escaped slaves to freedom. Both Twain and Douglass strongly
supported the advancement of freed slaves.
Mrs. Cipriano believes what she learned will help
students connect English to real life. In fact, she plans to use one
of Twain's humorous newspaper articles challenging the idea that
English is dry and boring.
On a personal level, she speaks with awe of the
many things she saw and did over her five days in Hartford. She toured
the Mark Twain House and the nearby Harriet Beecher Stowe House.
Stowe, another abolitionist, described the life of a slave in the book
Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Mrs. Cipriano enjoyed unlimited access to
the museum collection, which included letters, journals, personal
possessions, and many other materials. She listened to a reading of
one of Twain’s recently discovered unpublished works.
“I can honestly say that this was the greatest
learning experience of my teaching career, and I expect to use this
material in my classroom this year,” said Mrs. Cipriano.