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July 2, 2012
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Pine Nuts: For history in the classroom, the future is now

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — How far we have come since Thomas Jefferson suggested, “All a student needs is a professor to show him what books to read, and in what order.” Fast-forwarding to an age when I was taught history, I felt like Huckleberry when he learned that Moses was dead. “ then I didn’t care no more about him; because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”

Enter living history, 2012. Today we can deliver living history to the classroom via interactive video, and I’m not talking about one classroom, I’m talking about putting Mark Twain into 50 classrooms in fifty states at the same time -and that’s just for starters.

Our target date is September 21st, the name of our rocket ship is Cisco Jabber. “One small step for man, one giant leap for Mark Twain.”

During this initial launch, one class from each of our 50 states will have an opportunity to ask Mark Twain rapid fire questions and see how many he can answer. One week later we follow up with an enrichment program with four or five schools in one district, making such an endeavor affordable. That same district can then request a visit from Teddy Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Joan of Arc, among others. Chautauquans can then effectively slide out from under their summer tents and step seamlessly into America’s classrooms.

Teaching history is the art of connecting four dots, those dots being people, places dates and you. When the first three dots finally connect to you, well, it’s like a pinball machine lighting up.

I would not pretend that Mark Twain would teach history, as his sense of history was admittedly “atmospheric.” I site this example...

“Frankfort is one of the sixteen cities which have the distinction of being the place where the following incident occurred. Charlemagne, while chasing the Saxons (as he said), or being chased by them (as they said), arrived at the bank of the river at dawn, in a fog. The enemy were either before him or behind him; but in any case he wanted to get across, very badly. He would have given anything for a guide, but none was to be had. Presently he saw a deer, followed by her young, approach the water. He watched her, judging that she would seek a ford, and he was right. She waded over, and the army followed. So a great Frankish victory or defeat was gained or avoided; and in order to commemorate the episode, Charlemagne commanded a city to be built there, which he named Frankfort.”

However when it comes to getting Huck out of trouble in the classroom, this is something a capable impressionist of Mark Twain can do.

The unfortunate reality is that 847 students are dropping out of school every hour of every day -a figure provided us by the college board. How many of these students might find the classroom interesting enough to hang in there if they could ask tough questions of Mark Twain and receive some stimulating answers. Perhaps we can engage some of these discouraged students by providing them direct contact with living historical characters via interactive video. Let’s give it a try and find out...

— Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jul 2, 2012 01:12PM Published Jul 2, 2012 01:09PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.