I was in a gifted and talented program in elementary school in the late 1970s. I remember sitting in a large circle in folding chairs and not being sure what to expect. When I was handed my anthology, a notebook and a pen; I was certain the class was going to be special. The stories that I read were completely different from the books I normally read but I remember how engaged I was in the reading, questioning, and conversations we had about the books. Presently I have the privilege to be able to lead a Junior Great Books program, share these wonderful stories with my students, and to provide them with fond memories.
LaShawn D. Jefferies
I am a instructional coach at a public school in the Bronx. Every time the coaches from my district discuss good literature, Junior Great Books are mentioned. I have lived on your website for the last two years. My school is finally in the position to create our own curriculum. And guess what we are going to use! Junior Great Books!!! I can’t wait!!!
I remember in 6th grade at Dearborn Street School in California (LAUSD), I would stay after-school and read and discuss great books in the teacher’s lounge of my school. This was over forty years ago, so the details are long forgotten, but the memory of participating in this reading group has stayed with me. Perhaps this was the impetus for my great love of reading, and the catalyst that launched my teaching career. I will never know; however, the fond memories associated with reading and Junior Great Books remains!!
Michelle E. d’Arcy
Goodness, your timing could not have been more impeccable. Fifty years ago (1966) I was in high school in Buffalo, New York and was deeply steeped into the joy of Junior Great Books. My long love of reading was fueled both by exceptionally kindly librarians (at a very early age — who would allow me to borrow more books than my library card limited) and spectacular teachers who not only fostered my love of reading but also encouraged my love of the written word. This desire and admiration has lasted my entire life, and just this Spring I offered a GB (Her Own Accord) class through the Lifetime Learning Institute here in Austin (Texas), where I now live. Last spring we sailed through Counterparts, and I am forever on the lookout for what new offering GB will present. Please keep them coming! And for those of you who are far younger than I, know this is a gift that will always be yours AND will always there for you. With a good book you are never lonely, and you are NEVER bored. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. And Congratulations to GREAT BOOKS!
Jo Ann Adams
When I finished the training to become a Junior Great Books leader, I had a hard time attracting teens to the library to read and discuss them. So I volunteered to take them to the Tryon Youth Center for incarcerated youth for a summer of reading. The administrators of that facility said that the young women I’d be working with were not reading “up to their grade level.” So we used a set of Junior Great Books that were meant for younger kids. They loved them. They read them without any difficulty because the stories were so well chosen and written. They asked if they could color with crayons while they discussed the stories. It was very relaxing for them and for me. I was a bit nervous because I’d never led a book discussion before. One young woman read the whole book of stories in the first week. I felt the whole experience was worth it to see their enthusiasm for the stories – especially, I remember, A Game of Catch.
PS. We’ve had a Great Books group for adults going at SCPL for thirteen years now. Thank you Great Books!
Peter Van Der Linde
I am a now long retired teacher and also a long time admirer of Mortimer Adler and the Great Books program. That program and another which unfortunately seems to have faded away called the “Jefferson Meeting” seem to me to be sorely needed to bring people together civically to share ideas and broaden discussion based on shared reading. If the public schools are to achieve their purpose as “public schools”, they need to make shared reading and discussion second nature from the earliest school years. I see the Great Books Program in the schools as meeting that need. It seems to me even essential to the health and survival of our democracy. I only wish it were more wide spread. There were some excellent reading materials produced in conjunction with the Jefferson Meetings that worked marvelously for adult meetings and discussion groups. Thomas Jefferson would have been delighted. So would have Robert Hutchins.
My inner-city public school had few resources, and I remember a lucky few of us (in 3rd grade?) being chosen for the Junior Great Books program. I clearly recall loving the contrasting literary styles in our collection, such as Xenophon’s “The Education of Cyrus” and Thackeray’s “The Rose and the Ring”, and the realization that I could go beyond children’s books. To this day I enjoy reading classics, and am a Proust-lover in particular. I am grateful for Junior Great Books and happy to know they are available to today’s children.
I have used JGB in my 5th grade reading classroom. It is a nod to the program every time a student says, “I can’t wait for our discussion! I love stuff like this!” I credit JBG for giving my students a chance to take sides on issues and develop their voice during a discussion—all while supporting their claims with rich texts. Timid students flourish, outgoing students thrive, and educators rejoice that the love of reading prospers!
I remember participating in the Junior Great Books program at Kirkmere Elementary School in Ohio in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Our group was lead by a community volunteer. I thoroughly enjoyed getting out of my “regular class time” to discuss the books we were reading! I consider myself a lifelong learner and an avid reader. Hopefully I have instilled that in my now teenage children.
I was in a program called Project Excel in the early 1980s, and one of my favorite components was the Junior Great Books program. I still have my little red anthologies, filled with “interpretive questions” and notes. The selections were vastly different than those in our regular literature curriculum; they challenged me, fascinated me and sometimes disturbed me because of their ambiguity and depth. I am convinced that my experience with JGB prepared me for upper level literary analysis and the critical thinking practices still inform the way I approach a text today.
Marlene P. Morgan
My 1st report card said “”needs to improve in reading.”” My Mother did not know what that meant. She was learning English. This was 1942. We had no books for children, a few written in German. I became a First Grade teacher and learned I had never developed reading skills. I studied the teacher manuals, became excellent, and in 5 years was promoted to Supervisor of Reading in Elementary Grades throughout my City. As a Mother, I volunteered in many Junior Great Books situations. I lead groups in grades K-12. Later I successfully taught ACT Reading Preparation classes.
Jeanne Kipp, Former Junior Great Books Leader
I now am a member of a Current Events class for seniors that meets at the Oakbrook Library every Friday morning from 9:45am to noon. We are a group of about twenty men and women. Of that number two women in addition to myself had been Jr. Great Books Leaders at the junior high level at The Avery Coonley School (in the 1980s). Small world. I had led discussion groups at the elementary level in Western Springs District 101 for about fifteen years. I used the questioning techniques I learned from the Foundation when teaching my math classes (grades 5 – 8) at The Avery Coonley School (1978 – 1999). One of my favorite short stories is “The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol.
Erica Minchella, Junior Great Books Participant and Teacher Leader
When my children were in a parochial grade school, I offered to lead an after-school Junior Great Books Discussion group. I had learned the Great Books Method of discussion as a student teacher and had spent 4 years working my way through law school, where the Socratic Method of teaching neatly mirrors the GBM.
The kids surprised me. They wanted to be there and wanted to learn. It was not merely their parents insisting on their taking this course. We really dug into “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, which I had never read before. It’s easily close to twenty years ago since I taught the course, so my memory is a little hazy on details, but the fact that I was able to captivate children of a range of ages, differing skills and different interests remains in my mind as the most important aspect of my season of teaching Great Books Method.
I started an Adult Book Club close to 10 years ago, and was the leader for years (until I just wore out). Our discussions were based on GBM of discussion and we always had an in depth discussion. When we started rotating the leadership, we started getting questions like “Who was your favorite character?”…almost made me go back to leading.
Katie Leander, Junior Great Books Participant and Teacher Leader
I participated in the Junior Great Books program in the 1980s at Lincoln Elementary School in Elmhurst. I loved it and remember it vividly. I was always fascinated by the stories because they were so different from what I typically read and they opened my eyes to the great big world around me. I am now a parent and take great pride in leading Junior Great Books programs for my kids at their elementary school, Central, in Riverside! I am very proud to have my kids be 2nd generation Junior Great Books participants!
Kim Heather Casey, Junior Great Books Participant
I was a part of a Junior Great Books reading program during elementary school in the early 80’s. I clearly remember how exciting it was to read and discuss the stories. The Junior Great Books reading program helped to foster a lifelong love of reading and learning that I cherish to this day!
David Tokarz, Junior Great Books Participant
These books introduced me to classical literature ( Euripides’ Alcestis), to important short works from 19th century writers (Melville’s Bartelby the Scrivener), and they suggested to me that there is good reason for reading beyond the syllabus of a particular English class. I haven’t stopped reading since.
Lydia Penosky, Junior Great Books Teacher Leader
I would say to a parent or child considering Junior Great Books to go ahead and do it because there is nothing better than to actually read a great book. Reading a book can take you places in your imagination that you could never dream of going.
I was introduced to Great Books as a reader when my mother and several of her Great Books buddies brought the program to our elementary school. I was in maybe sixth grade at the time. In elementary school I was in the post-Sputnik, accelerated “special” classes. “Special English” involved diagramming sentences, which I loved, but not much literature. . . . Book discussion, or really any kind of interpretive reading, was just not part of the curriculum.
“Perhaps this void was recognized by the adults who brought Junior Great Books to our school, or maybe it was just their personal enthusiasm for the program that motivated them. I think it was more likely the latter, because their obvious joy and engagement with the text and with us as new readers (interpreters) infused our meetings with a kind of passion that was recognized and remembered by the students who were involved. Several adult friends who participated in that program at the time later told me that it was the first time in their lives that an adult had interacted with them as though they had an adult mind, able to find meaning and grasp adult concepts in literature.
I believe that the Shared Inquiry method, practiced well (as it was by these adult leaders), was the true reason for this feeling of respect. When a leader presents to the group a genuine interpretive question, one that the reader cannot answer immediately or has no preconceptions about, there is an atmosphere of respect that doesn’t exist in other discussion formats. I believe that this feeling of respect for the thoughts of others and for the author’s words is the power of the program.
I remember those wonderful, even a little awe-inspiring, hours we spent in the auditorium of our old WPA school, digging into the deeper meanings of words and ideas in the kind of literature that most of us would not encounter again until our college years, if ever. We learned how to formulate interpretive questions and identify other types of questions, and we were required to read each selection twice in order to participate in a discussion. One adult friend told me that he will never forget having to sit out a discussion because he had only read the selection one time (we were so honest!), but he also said that it never happened to him again.
We cherished those times. When I meet other grammar-school friends who were involved in Great Books, they speak about the experience with the same kind of reverence for how it shaped their way of thinking and talking about a text, their understanding of how to approach a piece of literature, and their adult reading choices. The Shared Inquiry method that we encountered as adolescents—learning to formulate authentic questions that we did not have the “right answer” to, learning to withhold judgment as we worked with our peers to analyze a text and improve our comprehension—had a profound and powerful impact on us and certainly shaped our educational choices and interactions with other texts and thinkers. Aristophanes, David Hume, Joseph Conrad—these were some of the Junior Great Books authors of my elementary school years. I was a philosophy major in college, and there was nothing in my education, before or after Great Books, that prepared me for the kind of rigorous thinking, critical reading, and interpretive discussion that is fundamental in philosophy.
Erica, associate producer at WTTW11, Chicago
It’s a great model for teaching, not just reading, but for thinking about what you’re reading and creating context for it in the larger world. I try to emulate the method in discussing books with my daughter now that she’s old enough to really dig into more complex things.
Grace, WFMT Studs Terkel Archive and former Junior Great Books participant
We read a story about a man who had to sit alone on a mountaintop all night long without fire. Someone had told him to concentrate on looking at the fire on the next mountaintop and that would keep him warm. Decades later, on the most brutally cold days here in Chicago, I can’t help but think about that story!
Michael, WFMT production assistant and former Junior Great Books participant
I wanted another outlet for reading beyond the classroom. At the time, the reading was challenging for me, and I enjoyed tackling that challenge and learning beyond the standard coursework. If you know of a young student who can’t stop reading, who loves books, and is just curious in general, this is the program for them!