The James and Helen Merritt Fund

Since 1993, James Merritt, philosopher of education and professor in the college of education and Helen Merritt, artist and professor of art history in the college of visual and performing arts have sponsored a series of presentations and colloquia featuring premier scholars whose works have deeply influenced educational thought and practice at local, national and international levels. As the first professor of philosophy of education at NIU, it has been Merritt's conviction that philosophy has a strong, positive role to play in teacher education. His enduring hope is that this series will continue to bring philosophical thought to a wider audience in order to enhance both our educational commitments and our participation as democratic citizens.

James Willis Merritt was born on June 25, 1913, in Dundalk, Maryland. He began his career as an educator at the age of 18, teaching fifth graders while fulfilling the requirements for his Bachelor of Science in Education at John Hopkins University. After graduating in 1943, Merritt served in a US Navy Pacific fleet stationed in Makalapa, near Pearl Harbor, until 1945. Afterward, he resumed his elementary teaching in Baltimore County where he also served a short period as principal. In 1946, he married Helen Virginia Henry, and in 1947, he completed his Master's in Education. He continued graduate course work on campus at Harvard until 1948, when he, Helen, and their young daughter, Deborah, moved to DeKalb, Illinois. In the same year, Merritt began work at what was then Northern Illinois State Teacher's College as an assistant director of Elementary School Student Teaching. He later served as a professor of education as well as the regional chairman for the Area of History and Philosophy of Education. While in DeKalb, James continued to work toward his Doctorate of Education through Harvard University, which he completed in 1951. Until his retirement from Northern Illinois University in 1979, he participated in a variety of professional societies and conferences related to teaching and philosophy and continued graduate course work near home at University of Chicago and abroad at Cambridge University. He also served as a Fulbright elementary school lecturer for a year in Japan. After retirement, he completed a Master of Divinity degree at the Meadville Lombard Theological School, and carried out local pastoral care and services for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb, where he was a founding member.

James and Helen came to spend much of their time in DeKalb involved in preservation and philanthropy. The couple was active in the preservation of the Gurler House and other nineteenth century homes in DeKalb. They donated forty acres to DeKalb County, which became known as the Merritt Prairie, and gave notable gifts to Hope Haven as well as the Northern Illinois University Library Book fund. The couple also donated multiple works of art to local libraries, schools and businesses, and endowed Northern Illinois University's Helen Merritt Art Scholarship and Award for Distinguished Service in Philosophy of Education. James was also involved in local politics as a democratic precinct committeeman and through letters to the editor regarding local conservation and public funding issues. Due to their commitment to philanthropy and education, James and Helen received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 from the NIU Foundation. James passed away on December 20, 2010, at the age of 97.

Year Recipient

Sheron Fraser-Burgess, Ph.D., Professor of Social Foundations/Multicultural Education, Ball State University
"'First they came for me…' Educational Implications of A.I.’s
Instrumentarian Power and Its Neoslavery."


Sarah Stitzlein, Ph.D., Professor of Education and Affiliate Professor of Philosophy, University of Cincinnati
"Teaching Hope and Reviving Democracy"


Lynda Stone, Ph.D., Samuel M. Holton Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina
"What Youth Can Do: Philosophy and Political Action"


James M. Giarelli, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University
"Democracy and Education in an Age of Spectacle"


Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr., Ph.D., University of Miami
"An Educational Cabinet of Curiosities: 40 Years of Research in the Philosophy, History and Sociology of Education"


Angela Hurley, Ph.D., Transylvania University
"The Importance of All We Do Not See"


Daniel Liston, Ph.D., University of Colorado Boulder
"Emotions in Teaching"

Cris Mayo, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Learning New Connections: Philosophy of Education, Relationality, and Educational Technology"
Thomas Wartenberg, Ph.D., Mount Holyoke College and University of Massachusetts
"Does Teaching Children Philosophy Educate Them?: Anti-Platonic Reflections on Doing Philosophy with Young People"
Barbara Thayer-Bacon, Ph.D., University of Tennessee-Knoxville
"Maria Montessori: Educator for Peace"
Harry Brighouse, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison
"How Should We Judge School Reforms?: The Place of Values in Evaluation."
Deron R. Boyles, Ph.D., Georgia State University
"Considering Philosophy For Education: A Curmudgeonly Challenge to Commercialism, Reductionism, and the Quest for Certainty"
Barbara S. Stengel, Ph.D., Millersville University
"Beyond the Comfort Zone, or Sallying Forth with Don Quixote: Facing Fear with a Philosopher of Education"
Lewis Gordon, Ph.D., Temple University
"A Pedagogical Imperative of Pedagogical Imperatives"
Wilma Miranda, Ph.D., Northern Illinois University
"Classrooms as Dangerous Educational Outposts? Arendt and Dewey on the Crisis in Teacher Authority"
David Hansen, Ph.D., Teacher's College
"John Dewey and the Education of Public Interest"
James Garrison, Ph.D., Virginia Tech University
"Compassionate, Spiritual, and Creative Listening in Teaching and Learning"
Martha Nussbaum, Ph.D., University of Chicago
"Liberal Education and Global Responsibility"
Nicholas C. Burbules, Ph.D., University of Illinois
"Philosophy of Education as a Form of Inquiry"
Deborah Britzman, Ph.D., York University
James Palermo, Ph.D., Buffalo State University
"Post Structuralist Readings of the Pedagogical Encounter"
Clint Collins, Ph.D., University of Kentucky
"A Philosopher's Concern: Regarding the Young as Equals"
Richard Brosio, Ph.D., Ball State University
"In the Spirit of Our Public Intellectuals: Problems and Possibilities for School and Society"
Betty Sichel, Ph.D.,
"Moral Stories and Moral Education"
Richard Angelo, Ph.D., University of Kentucky
"Scenes of Instruction In School and Out: Notes on Educational Worldmaking"
Hugh Sockett, Ph.D., George Mason University
"The Moral Base for Teacher Professionalism"

Merritt, James Willis. 1953. "Children Can Understand Social Conflicts." Educational Leadership 10, no. 5: 298-302.

Merritt, James W., Gayer, Nancy and Bollotte, Virginia. 1959. "A Professor of Education and Two Classroom Teachers: Reply to 'A Bill of Rights'." The Phi Delta Kappan, 32. JSTOR Journals.

Merritt, James, W. 1961. "The Province of Philosophy of Education." Educational Theory, 11: 45-51.

Merritt, James, W. 1964. "An Analysis of the Meaning of a 'Particular of Education." Educational Theory, 14: 204–209. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.1964.tb00176.x

Merritt, James W. 1970. "Should a Scholarly Society take Direct Social Action?" Philosophy Of Education: Proceedings Of The Annual Meeting Of The Philosophy Of Education Society 26, 243-246. Philosopher's Index.

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Graham 223
DeKalb, IL 60115

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