Today was the first day of trial for Mark Twain in my American Literature classes. Mr. Twain has been charged with the crime of racism and my students are holding a trial to determine if he is guilty or innocent. Student are running the entire trial and I advise when asked. It has been an awesome experience. You can follow the tag #MTTrial for live updates of the trial during 1st - 3rd hour.
My students are playing characters from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well as the Lawyers and Jury. The spent a week in class on their iPads diving into the text and researching Twain's past. The prosecution in all three classes made strong cases that Twain was very racist and using satire as an excuse does not cover the language and ideas he portrays in his stories.
I think the part I love most about this trial is the case the prosecution has to create. I know that many of the students on the prosecution do not actually believe that Twain is a racist, but they dive deep into the text to prove their point. They are not awarded points based on winning or losing, they just love tackling this very controversial issue. Every year I do this project, someone working on the prosecution makes a very sound argument that makes me think. This year was no different.
My students nailed the opening statements and hammered witnesses on cross examination. It was one of the best first days of trial I've seen with this project in the 10 years I've done it.
The students used their iPads to keep all of their notes and present evidence. It was an easy part of their case and they said it was nice having the device handy to share information with other lawyers and witnesses on the case. The iPads made for a nice addition to this project and made the work flow a bit smoother.
I'm excited to see what the defense has in store for Tuesday. They always seem to have an easy case going into the trial, but the Prosecution's case always puts them on edge because there are always things they did not think of for their case.
One of the reasons I love this project is that it gets kids thinking about a very important topic in very different terms. To this day, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is banned in school districts across this country and parents do want this book taught to their children. My kids have a chance to debate some of these ideas in a class setting that allows them to really wrap their brains around it. Over the years I have had Guilty and Not Guilty verdicts because students approached the cases in so many different ways. I wish some adults would approach topics like this the same way. It would make society a little bit nicer, if not smarter.
If you're looking to expand your lesson plans on Mark Twain, we have an amazing teacher workshop planned for July and would love to have you attend, maybe even blog about it!
Check out our website for more info and some great lesson plans: http://www.marktwainmuseum.org/index.php/education/for-teachers
Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum