Impossible Will Take a Little While - Classroom Use

"We assigned The Impossible's new edition to our first-year students, with faculty from more disciplines participating than any common read we’ve ever used. The Impossible works wonderfully because it covers so many issues and approaches to social change. It spurred great classroom discussions on issues like marriage equality, domestic violence, climate change, and democratic participation. Students also applied its message to their own personal lives. It helped them realize that change can be achieved by taking small steps to make their world a better place. "

--David Bugg, Dept. of Sociology, Louise Tyo, Student Success Center, Julia Rapczynski, counseling center, SUNY Potsdam, Potsdam NY

“One of my students captured it best: The Impossible turns social heroes into real people.' The book's power is in letting us hear the voices of those who have struggled for change, how hard it was for them, and what kept them going. For young people working to make a difference, this kind of first-person inspiration is invaluable."

-—Jackie Schmidt Posner, Director of Public Service Education, Haas Center,
Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

[Cover for The Impossible Will Take A Little While]

Purchase this book from your local Independent Bookstore.

“I picked your book The Impossible because it seemed like a handy way to organize a group of readings. The book has been magic! Thank you so much for taking the time to find and assemble these writings. This is the most powerful book I've used in my 45-year career teaching about social change."

-——Dan Garvey, President Emeritus, Prescott College, Prescott, AZ

“Your book has been a fantastic addition to my course "Contemporary World in Perspective," an option in our humanities core."

—Elizabeth Clark, Department of History, West Texas A&M University, Canyon, TX

“"My first-year students love the readings. We've had great discussions and their written responses are powerful. They said the book challenged them from different perspectives and helped them figure out what they believe and feel most passionately about."

—Joan Kopperud, Department of English, Concordia College, Moorhead, MN

For academic exam copies click here. Copies are available if you teach a relevant class or supervise a relevant program.

Like my Soul of a Citizen book, The Impossible is being used in hundreds of classrooms throughout America to help students get involved in the critical issues of our time. It's sparking powerful responses in every conceivable discipline and in all-campus adoptions, like for all first-year students. Professors say it offers a range of powerful and eloquent voices to help their students reflect on their lives and commitments. It seems to offer a particularly useful framework for hope in a time when many of our most idealistic and engaged students feel politically demoralized or cynical. It's also a great complement to Soul in that it offers a kaleidoscope of powerful voices compared to Soul's single narrative voice.

The Impossible Will Take a Little While was named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association, was one of six books chosen for the Sierra Club's new common reading groups, and has over 100,000 copies in print through 22 printings. Here are links to some of the wonderful responses from faculty teaching it and to the book's rave reviews, and selected excerpts. (Because of rights issues, previously printed individual essays are unavailable for academic course packs). I've also worked with diverse professors to develop academic study questions and will continue revising and adding to them. If you'd like to pass the word to other faculty, you can do so with this online flier. And if you'd like to give autographed half-price copies away to students in your service or leadership programs, as many schools have done, the information is here.

One of my favorite classroom uses came at Long Island's Adelphi University, whose first-year students were reading the book. They had their students write a mock letter to me, on how the book had affected them, and then sent me some of the representative responses, including those submitted for a school contest. The way the book inspired students to reflect on their commitments and choices was wonderfully inspiring. The Adelphi link includes the winning essay, comments from other essays, and reflections from students reading the book at West Texas A&M and at Stanford. A great community example was the Marquette, MI public library, which made the book the centerpiece of a year-long community discussion in 2015-2016, described here.

An even more amazing use came at Minnesota's Rochester Community & Technical College. They assigned The Impossible as a common reading across the curriculum, which meant sociology, English, political science, nursing, even some chemistry students. Their digital arts students read it, then made a wall opposite the college bookstore where you touch various tiles and hear the voices of different students reading their favorite quotes. Their speech students did dramatic interpretative readings of the poems. Art students created installations taking off from various essays. The school's health classes used the Terry Tempest Williams essay for breast cancer awareness week and the Diane Ackerman one for discussions of youth suicide prevention. One young woman did a whole slide show giving background on an essay about the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina and the people who succeeded in getting the Nazis to free 1700 imprisoned Jews from the Berlin police station. She asked people to write responses on Post-it notes while they watched, then assembled these responses into a poem that she read to the class. Students in most of the classes did accompanying community service projects, and those I met in a recent visit said they found the book completely inspiring. The school also created a special website including annotated study questions, profiles, and annotated bibliographies of the authors I included, and links to student multimedia presentations.

Academic Exam Copies

If you teach a course or supervise an academic program where The Impossible might work as a text, you can get a free academic exam copy by filling out this request form. If you aren't teaching a relevant course you can easily order the book from your local Independent Bookstore. I hope you'll get a copy and strongly consider it for your classes. The book has gotten wonderful classroom responses, at all academic levels and at every kind of schools.

Here are some responses from faculty who've taught the book. You can find info on Soul's classroom responses by clicking here. If you end up assigning The Impossible, please email me on how students respond and on any service learning projects. If you'd like to receive my periodic articles or information on future books and on my the national nonpartisan Campus Election Engagement Project that I founded, please subscribe to my education email list (form on right side of page.)

More Faculty Responses

“I've used The Impossible twice with great success for one of our school’s required service-learning courses The diversity of the readings, both in content and style, worked very well. They helped create great dialog about the recent election (our first class was in October) and the tsunami disaster. Both courses included service learning and social activism components. There really couldn't have been a better text. The online questions were a great help too."

-—Aubrey Lee, Department of Sociology Tusculum College, Greenville, TN

"My first-year seminar students thoroughly enjoyed the pieces they read from The Impossible Will Take a Little While. My colleague and I were extremely pleased with the success of the theme, "The Literature of Hope," and are interested in repeating it and using your anthology again."

-—Carmen Werder, first year programs, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA

"I’ve used The Impossible in three service learning classes for student athletes at the University of Central Florida. The readings stimulate interest, provoke informed and engaged discussion, and provide a meaningful context within which the student-athletes understand themselves, how they are viewed by others, and how they can use the power and appeal of sport to effect meaningful social change. We also used the book with great responses in programs with minor league players of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. And UCF’s civic-engagement coordinator is considering it for all-campus adoption next fall."

-—Richard Astro, Distinguished University Professor, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, Chief Academic Officer, National Consortium for Academics and Sports

"I use The Impossible Will Take a Little While to help students understand that politics is made up of living, breathing people, not just a bunch of abstractions. The book is truly wonderful for that. I use it in an introductory US and California government class that I'm teaching at Santa Monica Community College and at Cal State, Dominguez Hills. I cover the nuts and bolts of US governmental institutions, then complement that information with readings from your book. I have students read your chapters, then they write briefly about them and break up into pairs to discuss what they wrote with a partner. That way even the shyest students in a class of 56 students get to talk. The students really seem to 'get' your readings--the idea that activists don't have to be saints comes through very effectively. It really is a great book."

-—Brian Lawson, Department of Social Sciences, Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, CA & California State, Dominguez Hills, CA

"I’m eighteen years old, watching those at least twenty years older than I am making a difference in the world. Protecting their families, providing aid in natural disasters, dying serving their countries, or fighting for human rights. The Impossible Will Take A Little While has encouraged me to stop kicking the rocks on the road out of my way and to start re-paving the world for change. If I wait until I’m twenty years older it may be too late to start anything...After turning the last page of The Impossible, I wanted to do something, and I spoke to a friend of mine who has always been interested in social reform. We came to the conclusion that even the smallest action can spark change – even if the change occurs centuries after the spark "

-—Brandon Touhey, student reading reading the book along with all the other first-year students at Adelphi University, Long Island, New York

"I've used both The Impossible Will Take a Little While and Paul's earlier Soul of the Citizen with our Social Change and Human Services class. They really loved Soul, but they loved The Impossible even more. I had them reflect on one reading out of each section for open discussions on Fridays and also had them keep a pass-fail journal on their reactions to the readings and classroom discussions. Hey particularly enjoyed reading the voices of all the different activists. I taught the book in conjunction with Howard Zinn's A People's History. While that book shows real people doing real things, The Impossible gave more accessible examples of human action and courage to which the students really responded. Many read the entire book although that wasn't required. On one of my take-home exams for Zinn's book, I'd asked the students to write a story from their own lives that have shaped their own beliefs and values, and motivated their actions. While most Native students understood exactly what I meant (because they come from cultures where oral histories are part of the moral code), many Anglo students had a harder time until I paired Zinn with The Impossible and then they got it.''

-—Janine Fitzgerald, Department of Sociology, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO

"This book gave me hope and inspiration to keep moving forward--something that no one has told me in a long time."

-—Sam Selby, student, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, MD

"I assigned The Impossible in my cultural anthropology class. The students loved it. They're up against a lot in their lives. Many are immigrants. Most are struggling to pay for school. Some are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and lots have friends and relatives serving. It's very easy for them to lose hope about the culture and about their lives. The book gave them hope, a chance to feel their actions could matter. Each student had a different favorite essay, but they all felt inspired by it."

-—Peter Knutson, Department of Anthropology, Seattle Central Community College, Seattle, WA

“My students, many of whom are politically conservative, found these stories of ordinary people striving to maintain hope inspiring and motivating. The selections were great for discussion and even better for journaling."

-—Brian Stiltner, Department of Religious Studies, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT

“I am using The Impossible Will Take A Little While in an online course with adult students. Each student presents a paper on part of the book and the rest of the class discusses his or her ideas on the online discussion board. So far the reactions have been terrific. As one student said, ‘The idea that change can begin with one person, as a seed, is a simple yet powerful analogy. We must begin to believe that this is true and act as change-agents for those causes that we believe in.’"

-—Karen Mitchell, Department of Political Science, Ottawa University, Overland Park, KS

“My Social Problems students have been reading your books for several years. We used to read Soul of a Citizen and they are now enjoying The Impossible Will Take a Little While. Studying the causes and consequences of social problems can be very challenging, so it is essential to balance the frustration students feel with examples of hope and courage. The Impossible inspires our students in their quest for solutions by exploring how we can create community, nourish our spirits, and make a difference through actions, large and small."

-—Kim Smith, Department of Sociology, Portland Community College, Portland, OR

"I loved The Impossible Will Take a Little While and my students did too! I used it in a new course on Compassionate Communication and scheduled it near the end of the semester while telling students the first week that they could use it anytime they needed an 'emotional pick-me-up,' which they did. I really like your Soul of a Citizen book and am currently using it in another course, but I like The Impossible even better. You choose readings from a wide array of sources, but what impresses me most are your section introductions; they are incredible: You say just enough to make us interested, but not too much; we still need to read the original pieces. I will be teaching my course on Compassionate Communication again in the fall and look forward to using your book again. Thank you for collecting such an incredible array of wonderful readings by

-—Lois J. Einhorn, Professor of Communication, State University of New York, Binghamton, Binghamton, NY

“We used The Impossible in a leadership book group that brought together honors program students, faculty and staff. Each person had a 'favorite essay' that really spoke to them in a unique way. For one it was ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ Reading that essay while other Martin Luther King events were going on really strengthened the message. Another had visited Robben Island two summers before—the essay by Nelson Mandela made a strong personal impact. For another, Havel's essay was the most meaningful. Being in a group where we could share experiences and thoughts about the readings helped significantly. It's a great collection of powerful essays."

-—Kate Bruce, Department of Psychology, Honors Program Director, University of North Carolina Wilmington, NC

“Loeb's book was a great choice for our Community Service Action Seminar. Students said his writing and choice of readings gave them hope and empowerment. Our media offer fatuous content and the disease of hopelessness. This timeless collection is an antidote."

-—Tom Hastings, Director, Peace & Nonviolence Studies track, Portland State University, Portland, OR

“I’m using the book as a supplementary text in a graduate public affairs course on social justice and social activism. Since the students have already done a year or more of post-graduate volunteer work, e.g. Peace Corps, Americorps, Public Allies, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, they have a heightened awareness of injustice. As we examine major movements of social action from the peace movement to the civil rights movement, the readings in Impossible provide a sense of promise and hope. My students have been inspired by the readings, which are helping them to believe they can be an active part of making the impossible happen. Thanks."

-—Susan Mountin, Dept of Theology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

“I taught the book in a general studies class called Freedom and Authority. The students really enjoyed it. As one said, ‘the articles were inspiring and reminded me why I care about social justice."

-—Amanda Udis-Kessler, Department of Women’s Studies, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO

"I gave copies of The Impossible Will Take A Little While to every one of my graduates this year. They really love Paul's work."

-—Steve Chase, Department of Environmental Studies, Antioch New England Graduate School, Keene, NH

"I’m using the book in a Senior Capstone seminar in the Department of Human Services. My students will be going out to work with people living in poverty, abused and neglected children, people suffering from addictions, and others facing enormous obstacles in their lives. I thought that reading stories of hope and learning about social change would be hugely important to their future careers and lives. We've had some amazing and deeply meaningful discussions over the readings. For example, one student presented a beautiful analysis of the Maya Angelou poem, making it come to life with her descriptions of life as an African-American woman, along with examples from her work with women who have experienced domestic violence. Students do also need to learn some practical things, like how to write resumes, prepare for job interviews, find graduate school opportunities, and the like. But this amazingly beautiful group of essays has touched my students' lives in a meaningful way. I believe these stories of hope will nurture them on the challenging career path they have chosen."

-—Deborah Altus, Department of Human Services, Washburn University, Topeka, KS

“I used The Impossible Will Take a Little While in a first-year seminar on moral imagination and the students loved it."

-—John Walsh, Chaplain, University of Redlands, Redlands, CA

“I used The Impossible Will Take a Little While in two sections of a first-year seminar called ‘Individual & Community,"with great results. The book fills my classroom with courageous voices of civic engagement!"

-—Seamus Pender, Core Curriculum, Franklin Pierce College, Rindge NH

"My undergraduate students in the Service Learning-Capstone class are reading The Impossible, enjoying it, and benefiting from it greatly. I wanted them to be inspired while doing their service learning projects, and the readings seem to be hitting the right chord."

-—Tim Davidson, Graduate Liaison Department of Human Relations, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

"We were so impressed with The Impossible Will Take a Little While that we gave the book to several hundred entering graduate students in teaching and counseling. We felt it would challenge them to think creatively and courageously about how their professional lives can contribute to the struggle for social justice."

“I've been using The Impossible Will Take a Little While as the main text in my Call to Service course for artists and designers. These readings have really shifted our thinking. Together we have entered a deeper conversation, a dialogue grounded in substance and inquiry, a discussion based on thought and action. Our class sessions are ignited by the ideas and insights from the writers Loeb has collected. At the end of the semester we leave the course committed to our convictions, our conscience, and our unfolding presence in the world and our communities. Using this text has transformed my thinking and my teaching. I feel alive and alert and open to change. I love the challenge!"

“My students found inspiration and hope in the stories told in The Impossible Will Take a Little While."

“I’m a high school senior in Columbia, South Carolina. This past summer I attended the statewide Governor's School at the College of Charleston, and my teacher introduced me to your book. It has changed my life. Vaclav Havel's essay, "An Orientation of the Heart" helped me to re-evaluate the way I live. Your book has been, as you so aptly describe it, a citizen's guide to hope in times of fear. It was from my grandparents that I first came to believe in undying, unconquerable hope. The Impossible has reminded me of this and re-ignited my ambition to change the world, even if I have to melt a mountain of icy indifference in the process."

--Jackson Wyrick, South Carolina high school student.

Share this page.