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One Book One College 2018-19: Small Great Things: Book Discussion Topics

More Discussion Questions – for Small Great Things

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❖ The title alludes to a quote attributed often to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things that are great.” In what ways do the actions of each of the narrators support this statement?

❖ Do you think legal action would have been brought against Ruth if she were white? How far back in the story do you need to go to consider this outcome?

❖ Turk’s ideology targets black people, people of Jewish heritage, and queer people.* With that in mind, consider the below three questions:

o  Do you think legal action would have been brought against Ruth if she was of Eastern European Jewish heritage?

o  Do you think legal action would have been brought against Ruth if her sexual orientation were other than heterosexual?

o  What are the similarities and differences between these three identities in terms of navigating hate groups? Everyday life in America?

❖ Of the three main characters, Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk, who do you most relate to? Why?

❖ Were there moments in each of the three characters’ stories that you could relate to and/or feel compassion for?

❖ How do each of the below systems contribute to Ruth’s sense of place as a Black woman in America?

o   Transportation

o   Education

o   Health care

o   Housing

o   Lending

o   Food supply

o   Human Resources

o   Policing

o   Judicial

o   Media

❖ White people have a historical habit of ‘helping’ and ‘fixing’ people whom they deem ‘other’ and inferior. This damaging pattern even has a name: “White Savior Syndrome.” The ultimate, and deadly, irony is that it serves mostly to reinforce ideas about white superiority and white goodness. Can you give three historical examples of this? Can you find three moments in this story where Kennedy falls into that inherited behavioral pattern?

❖ What do you think Kennedy learns in this story about the ways being white has shielded her from racial discrimination? Did you feel she was open to learning? If yes, how did she demonstrate that? If no, how did she demonstrate that?

❖ Can white nationalists such as Turk and Brittney perpetuate racism? How?

❖ Can people such as the hospital lawyer, the judge, Kennedy, or the police perpetuate racism? How?

❖ We see Kennedy wrestling with her own inner bias and racial conditioning. Are you in touch with your inner bias and racial conditioning? Can you list five moments over the course of your life when you were taught – through language or silence – what to think and feel about race in America?

❖ How often to you speak about racism with your closest friends and family?

o   daily

o   weekly

o   monthly

o   twice a year

o   less than once a year

❖ What do you think the impact is on a person who engages infrequently in conversations about a given topic? What about frequently? How does this differential play out when it comes to racism?


* As of this writing, queer is the preferred term by the majority of people who do not identify within the strict confines of heterosexual and/or the gender binary. https:// 

Additional Book Suggestion By the Author: Waking Up White By Debby Irving

Social Justice Discussion Questions (recommended by Jodi Picoult when reading Waking Up White in conjunction with Small Great Things)

1. What stereotypes about people of another race do you remember hearing and believing as a child? Were you ever encouraged to question stereotypes? (p. 6)

2. How have you understood racial difference? In terms of biology? Culture? Have you given it much thought? Why or why not? (p. 41)

3. Think of a time you grossly misinterpreted a person (of any race) or situation. What information was missing that allowed you to draw the incorrect conclusion? What in your belief system contributed to your misinterpretation? (p. 68)

4. What have you filed away? Create a column that contains these labels: African Americans, Asian Americans, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, Whites. Next to each, quickly write at least five stereotypes that come to mind for each. Do not pause, censor, or correct — rather, let emerge what will. Now look at what you’ve written. Does it surprise you? If you are white, do you have any stereotypes for whites? Why do you think this is? (p. 91)

5. Have you tried to form relationships across racial lines? How have they worked out? If they didn’t get very far, how did you explain that to yourself? (p. 123)

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Small Great Things: Teacher's Guide