Reading Between the Lines (2014–2016)

This two-year pilot program, sponsored by the Foundation and St. Leonard’s Ministries in Chicago, brought reading and discussion to men and women recently released from incarceration. The pilot established a model for helping participants practice their reading and verbal communication skills, bolstering readiness for employment and further education. In weekly sessions led by Foundation staff members and volunteers, participants discussed poems, essays, and stories from The Civically Engaged Reader and Taking Action, two civics-oriented Great Books anthologies. 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 (2006–2011)

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 awarded by the Trust. In December 2010, CME continued its support by awarding a $25,000 grant to implement the Great Books Roundtable™ program for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at Chicago’s Mahalia Jackson Elementary School. Students in the CME project made significant gains in reading comprehension and critical thinking. These findings are in keeping with those of other Foundation initiatives, which have demonstrated that all students, including less proficient readers, benefit from Junior Great Books.

Whose Democracy Is It? (2003)

This project, led by the Public Radio Collaborative, invited public radio stations across the country to produce and broadcast programs related to American democracy. The Foundation served as the educational arm of this initiative and created a website linking Whose Democracy? themes and radio programs to our anthology of seminal texts in American history, The Will of the People.

A Latino National Conversation (2000–2002)

Conceived as a nationwide project to encourage discussion of writing reflecting the diversity and richness of Latino culture, this initiative centered on two groups of readings published by the Foundation. Featured authors included Richard Rodriguez, Martín Espada, Oscar Hijuelos, Julia Alvarez, Jesús Colón, John Phillip Santos, and Judith Ortiz Cofer.

Difficult Gifts (1999)

This three-day program in Douglas County, Colorado, brought high school students and adult members of the community together to discuss classic texts about facing conflict. Difficult Gifts was conceived in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999. The program was hosted by the Douglas County Public Library and partially underwritten by the Douglas County Education Foundation.

US–Israeli Great Books Initiative (1998–2000)

With help from Haspharim Hagdolim B’Yisrael (Great Books Israel), a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization established to promote intercultural dialogue in the Mid East, 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 scholars from Brooklyn College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Foundation developed and published The Soul of the Text: An Anthology of Jewish Literature primarily for discussion in Jewish day schools for students in grades 7–12. The anthology reflects the great variety of Jewish literature, with selections including biblical narratives, rabbinic commentaries, and work by authors such as Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ivan Klíma, and Hannah Senesh.

Education Connection Network (1996–2000)

This innovative school reform initiative linked Junior Great Books with art and technology. Starting in 1996, the four-year project served a group of Chicago public schools that were small (and thus had few resources) and whose student bodies comprised a high proportion (more than 87 percent) of low-income students. Funded by grants totaling $775,000 from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and by $722,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from project technology partners, the ECN supported teachers in integrating Junior Great Books and art, increasing parent involvement, and building collaboration among participating schools. More than eight hundred students participated. Students showed significant gains in reading and writing, as measured by ITBS reading scores, and notable advances in their artistic work, as reported by teachers. The ECN’s culminating Student Fair at the Harold Washington Library Center in downtown Chicago attracted over six hundred parents, students, teachers, and guests to celebrate student work.

Ameritech Junior Great Books Project (1993–1998)

In this school reform initiative, the Foundation worked with fifty elementary schools in five midwestern cities—Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee—to establish sustainable Junior Great Books programs in schools with high percentages of low-income students. The project served some four thousand to nine thousand students each year. Overall, participating students showed gains in reading scores comparable to nationwide norms, a positive finding given the schools’ low baseline scores. Participating teachers rated students’ reading comprehension and critical thinking performance as “good” or “very good” at the end of the project, a dramatic improvement from baseline. Funded in part by an $840,000 grant from the Ameritech Foundation, the project demonstrated that Junior Great Books could successfully serve as an effective and integral part of the curriculum for all students, including less proficient readers. (See Research & Implementation for results of subsequent Junior Great Books implementations in similar schools in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC.)

A Gathering of Equals (1995–1996)

Funded by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, A Gathering of Equals brought Americans of all backgrounds together in a national conversation about both our differences—of race, ethnicity, and culture—and the values we share. Over twelve months, 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. To support this initiative, the Foundation published a collection of texts and a leader’s guide. Selections ranged from the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Maya Angelou’s “High School Graduation.”