Current Initiatives

Frederick Douglass

One Million Abolitionists

2018 marks the bicentennial of the birth of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The Great Books Foundation is proud to be a partner in the “One Million Abolitionists” project, led by the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. This program distributes free hardcover editions of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, and asks young readers to develop service projects, in the spirit of Frederick Douglass, that will aid their communities. As part of the project, GBF has contributed classroom activities built around close reading, writing, and discussion to a free curriculum, downloadable from

Studs Terkel

GBF/Studs Terkel Radio Archive Partnership

The Great Books Foundation is proud to be partnering with the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, the Chicago History Museum, and WFMT, to bring compelling audio to high school students across the country. GBF has developed an innovative high school curriculum based on interviews conducted by Studs Terkel with civil rights activists in the 1960s and 1970s.

The pilot program for these materials is now underway, and we are seeking more partner schools! Students listen to interviews with, among others, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and members of the SNCC, and from those audio encounters build their own responses through inquiry-based discussion and writing.

The Studs Terkel Radio Archive officially launched on May 16, on what would have been Terkel’s 106th birthday. For more information on the GBF/STRA audio pilot, please click the button below.

Talking Service

We ask our men and women to fight, and in the chaos of war, they suffer emotional and physical wounds. When their tour of duty ends and they return home, the turmoil too often continues.

44% of the more than 2 million troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan report hardships in readjusting to life away from the battlefield.

But many who are reluctant to express their deepest personal concerns do so more readily when viewing their experiences through a work of literature.

Talking Service, the Foundation’s discussion program for veterans, helps individuals come to grips with some of their most deeply affecting experiences. Your donation will help participants achieve greater objectivity, a feeling of balance, and new perspectives on family, friends, and the future.

Great Books Great Kids

When schools are unable to meet the needs of their students, our society suffers – now and for years to come. Junior Great Books gives educators and students the tools and training they need to turn a school from struggling to stellar.

In schools across the country, Junior Great Books helps students learn to think critically, sparking a passion for literature and ideas that lays a foundation for lifelong learning and effective civic participation.

We empower teachers, parents, and volunteers with Shared Inquiry ™, a method of learning that promotes close reading, careful questioning, active listening, and the respectful exchange of ideas.

Finding a Room of One’s Own

Building confidence, opportunity, and community involvement: this outreach program supports young women through the exploration and understanding of contemporary social and political issues.

In partnership with the Chicago Foundation for Women, Finding a Room of One’s Own supports young women through schools and community organizations that augment academic opportunities, career readiness, and life-crisis management. This program helps young women hone their reading and verbal skills and provides an open forum for the exploration and an understanding of challenges women face. Whether centered on the issue of equity in education and the workplace, or the tragedy of domestic abuse, Finding a Room of One’s Own offers a space for young women to discuss the world in which they live and to develop the skills and confidence necessary to build a new community.

Past Initiatives

Reading Between the Lines

Former convicts, after lives disrupted by incarceration in the harsh environment of prisons, realize that education and their command of words bring true freedom. These are powerful outcomes of Reading Between the Lines, a two-year pilot sponsored by the Foundation and St. Leonard’s Ministries in Chicago, a residential facility for recently released prison inmates making the transition back into community life. The pilot established a model discussion program to help formerly incarcerated men and women practice their reading and verbal skills toward the goals of employment and further education. From 2014-2016, in weekly sessions led by Foundation staff and dedicated volunteers, participants discussed poems, essays, and stories from The Civically Engaged Reader and Taking Action, two civics-oriented Great Books anthologies. Participants have been consistently enthusiastic about the valuable insights they gain in their group discussions. The program continues to be conducted by volunteers at St. Leonard’s and Grace House, a facility for women, also administered by St. Leonard’s. A new volunteer-conducted program is planned for the Salvation Army’s Pathway Forward center in Chicago, which houses inmates under the Federal Bureau of Prisons during the last months of their sentences.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange Trust

In December 2006, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Trust (CME) awarded the Great Books Foundation $470,000 for a three-year project to implement Junior Great Books programs in five Chicago Public Schools. The grant was one of the first grants awarded by the Trust. In December 2010, CME continued its support by awarding a $25,000 grant to implement the new Great Books Roundtable™ program for sixth-, seventh-,and eighth-graders at Chicago’s Mahalia Jackson Elementary School. The project, which resulted in significant gains in reading comprehension and critical thinking, was one of numerous Foundation initiatives that, since 1993, have demonstrated the feasibility of implementing Junior Great Books as a regular part of the curriculum for all students, including struggling readers in urban schools.

Whose Democracy is It?

In 2003, the Foundation collaborated with Public Radio Collaborative, a consortium of more than 300 public radio stations, on an annual project inviting stations all over the country to produce and broadcast programs related to American democracy. During one week in November, participating public radio stations broadcast talks and panels on the question “Whose Democracy Is It?” The Foundation served as the educational arm of the initiative, charged with helping teachers use the Whose Democracy content in their classrooms. To facilitate classroom activities, the Foundation created a website that linked Whose Democracy themes and radio programs to specific texts in The Will of the People, a collection of seminal texts in American history published by the Great Books Foundation.

A Latino National Conversation

In 2000-2002, the Great Books Foundation launched a nationwide project to broaden opportunities for the discussion of writings reflecting the diversity of Latino culture and the achievements of Latino writers. A Latino National Conversation brought people together to address the enduring questions raised by all great literature and to explore the growing importance of Latino history, ideas, and experience in our country. To support the project the Foundation published an anthology featuring the work of numerous esteemed Hispanic writers including Richard Rodriguez, Martin Espada, Oscar Hijuelos, and Julia Alvarez. In families, schools, and public libraries, the project reinforced the notion that a habit of reading and discussing ideas is fundamental to meaningful public and private life.

U.S. Israeli Great Books Initiative

With help from Haspharim Hagdolim B’Yisrael (Great Books Israel), a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization established to promote inter-cultural dialog in the Mideast, the Great Books Foundation secured a grant of $206,000 from the AVI CHAI Foundation to create a discussion program for Jewish adolescents in America. Working with a team of prominent Jewish scholars from Brooklyn College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Foundation developed and published The Soul of the Text: An Anthology of Jewish Literature (2000) primarily for discussion in Jewish day schools for students in grades 7 through 12. The anthology was also used in supplementary school programs and for adult education. Uniting one of the world’s richest and most enduring literary traditions with Shared Inquiry, the anthology captures the rich diversity of Jewish literature and invites readers to join the ongoing conversation that is an integral part of the Jewish literary tradition.

Education Connection Network

The Education Connection Network was an innovative school reform initiative linking Junior Great Books with art and technology. Starting in 1996, the four-year project served a group of Chicago public schools that shared three formidable challenges: high populations of at-risk students (more than 87% low income), small size (few resources), and community isolation. Funded by grants totaling $775,000 from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and with $722,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from project technology partners, the ECN helped teachers integrate Junior Great Books and art in the classroom, increase parent involvement, and establish ongoing inter-school collaborative activities. More than 800 students participated. In the course of the project, students posted significant gains in reading and writing as measured by ITBS reading scores, and teachers reported that students’ literature-art portfolios demonstrated notable advances in the “overall sophistication” of their art. The ECN’s culminating Student Fair at the Harold Washington Public Library in downtown Chicago attracted over 600 parents, students, teachers, and guests to celebrate student work.

Ameritech Junior Great Books Project

In a multi-year school reform initiative, the Foundation worked with 50 elementary schools in five Midwestern cities—Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee—to demonstrate the efficacy of establishing sustainable Junior Great Books programs in schools with high percentages of economically and educationally disadvantaged students. From 1993-1998, the project benefited some 4,000 to 9,000 urban children each year. The project’s learning results were impressive: Overall, students showed gains in reading scores comparable to nationwide norms, a positive finding given the schools’ low baseline scores, and 72% of the project teachers rated students’ reading comprehension and critical thinking performance as “good” or “very good,” a dramatic improvement. Funded in part by an $840,000 grant from the Ameritech Foundation, the project demonstrated that Junior Great Books, a program historically reserved for good readers, could successfully serve as an effective and integral part of the curriculum in urban public schools. (See Research for results of subsequent Junior Great Books implementations in similar schools in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C.)

A Gathering of Equals

Funded by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, A Gathering of Equals was an opportunity for Americans of all backgrounds to engage in a national conversation about our differences—of race, ethnicity, and culture—and the values we share. What does it mean to be an American? How are our notions of identity affected by the complexities of our lives and by our many different relationships and allegiances? What holds our diverse society together? Over twelve months in 1995-1996, the Foundation worked with three Great Books councils to host and conduct dozens of public discussions in San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia on the nature of American pluralism and identity. With each Shared Inquiry discussion, the project modeled the kind of informed, social discourse that lies at the heart of a working democracy while demonstrating the value of diverse voices in the nation’s life of ideas.