Tag: James and Helen Merritt

Merritt speaker to explore ‘joy of discovery’ during Oct. 19 talk

Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.

Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.

Don’t try to pigeonhole Eugene F. Provenzo Jr. It won’t work.

The professor emeritus from the University of Miami’s School of Education is a Renaissance man whose interests – and qualifications – reach far beyond his title.

“By way of my background, I’m a much more interdisciplinary scholar than most social foundations professors. I’ve got degrees in history, philosophy and history of education,” Provenzo says. “I branched off fairly early in my career, and I started looking at a much wider range of topics than I think is considered normal.”

What Provenzo truly enjoys is finding “the patterns that connect” the seemingly obscure and unrelated; his academic scavenger hunts are lined with clues in toys, fables, photographs, marine life, world’s fairs, computers, poetry, science, video games, books, puppets and more.

Uncovering those links reveal “a much more complex and interesting universe,” he says.

“I’m trying to get people thinking and understanding that there’s a deeper level of connection with things,” Provenzo says, “and if we paid more attention to these things, we’d be more at ease with the world.”

Provenzo is the 2017 recipient of the James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award for Contributions to Philosophy of Education, an award given by the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

He will deliver the annual Merritt Address, titled “An Educational Cabinet of Curiosities: 40 Years of Research in the Philosophy, History and Sociology of Education,” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in the Holmes Student Center Skyroom. A reception begins at 3:30 p.m.

Helen and James Merritt

Helen and James Merritt

Named for the late James Merritt, philosopher of education and professor in the College of Education, and the late Helen Merritt, artist and professor of art history in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the series spotlights scholars who have deeply influenced educational thought and practice.

All are welcome to attend; email lsassone@niu.edu for more information.

“Professor Provenzo embodies the Merritts’ commitment to the creative development of the function of philosophy of education in teacher education,” says Leslie A. Sassone, an associate professor in Foundations of Education. “With the changing climate of higher education, Dr. Provenzo will also appeal to students across the university who struggle with making meaning of their own schooling, as well as the current state of public education.”

Provenzo named his presentation after a centuries-old cultural endeavor in which he is a modern and enthusiastic participant.

“Going back to the late Renaissance, naturalists and art collectors – people sort of interested in the world, geography, things like that – began to collect objects together in large exhibit rooms. They would have collections of books, geological specimens from the natural world, paintings, sculpture. It was really the beginning of the first scientific laboratories,” he says.

“What I have done for this talk, and maybe it’s because I’m a serious artist, is that I’ve thought about this in terms of an exhibition hall,” he adds. “Where I live in Virginia, there is an extremely strong artistic tradition of landscape paintings – a lot look alike – whereas someone like myself is doing 10 or 15 things that may not look like they come from the same artist.”

cameraHe plans to walk his audience through, and around, a dozen of his fascinations and their broader meanings, from a 19th century photograph of a young, female teacher on the frontier of Idaho who’s harboring a dark secret to a look at how early advances in printing parallel the computer revolution.

These finds and other “crazy stuff that show up in the same context” come from trips into libraries and rare book rooms, where he pokes though the shelves for “what’s odd, what’s pushed out, what’s in a corner.”

When books or magazines pique his curiosity, he pages through them looking for places to start or continue an intellectual journey.

Educators should adopt and espouse his philosophy of curiosity to the practice of teaching-and-learning, he says.

“I’ve come to realize that we might be on a kind of dead-end approach to teaching,” he says. “We’re taking the joy out of things – the joy of discovery, the joy of creating things – and that’s a good bit of what education should be about. I always think that this stuff is self-evident. We need less testing and more creative play.”

Consequently, he will encourage teachers to do more than “teach to the test.”

“What do we need to know to be educated? Johann Sebastian Bach? Yes, but we also ought to know who Led Zeppelin is. Transgender? Lipstick lesbian? Those words maybe as important as a lot of other terms,” Provenzo says.

“If you ask me who’s more important in terms of social history – Queen Elizabeth or Queen Latifah? – I’d say that we maybe need to know both of those people,” he adds. “That’s probably a fairly radical point of view, but I’d like people to be more critical and inclusive.”



Merritt speaker to encourage valuing ‘everyday actions’

Angela B. Hurley

Angela B. Hurley

Good is all around us, Angela B. Hurley believes.

Unfortunately, says the professor of education at Transylvania University, the negative often distracts our attention and drowns whatever impact something positive might have made.

For example, almost everyone turns their eyes toward parents screaming at a misbehaving child, but few notice the examples and lessons of excellent parenting that are far more common while largely invisible.

Recognition afforded to people who “stand above the crowd” creates a similar disconnect.

“We live in a time when you have to be exceptional to be noticed, and we’re always telling our young people, ‘Be the best you can. Be exceptional. Go out and excel,’ ” Hurley says.

“But if everyone did that, we’d have to change the meaning of the word ‘exceptional,’ ” she adds. “And, in doing so, we devalue the importance of the normal, everyday actions that we do in our lives, that give us joy as human beings and give us meaning. Much of what is really important is what we’re not even noticing.”

Hurley, the 2016 recipient of NIU’s James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award for contributions to philosophy of education, will visit Thursday, Oct. 20.

She speaks at 4 p.m. on “The Importance of All We Do Not See” in the Holmes Student Center Sky Room. A reception begins at 3:30 p.m. All are welcome.

Named for the late James Merritt, philosopher of education and professor in the College of Education, and the late Helen Merritt, artist and professor of art history in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the series welcomes scholars who have deeply influenced educational thought and practice.

Helen and James Merritt

Helen and James Merritt

“Both shared a vision of philosophy of education defined by a belief that this subject could really help teachers in a practical way,” says Kerry Burch, professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, “not only to teach their respective subjects better, but also to gain insight into the deeper purposes of education.”

“It was Jim’s hope,” adds colleague Leslie A. Sassone, “that we would all better understand that, in his words, ‘Every feature of teaching and learning has a relevance to philosophy of education.’ ”

While Hurley will focus on a question – How do we live good lives in a culture that values exceptionality? – she also plans a direct message to current and future educators.

Following political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s notion that bringing children into the world “opens a space for them,” Hurley will challenge the audience to ponder “what our culture seems to be focusing on at this point that a new one coming into this life would see emphasized.”

“How should we transform education for children and youth so they live their lives in a more joyful and meaningful way?” she asks. “I hope everyone who comes realizes that the ordinary things we do have great meaning, and that it matters how we interact with all of the people in our lives and on the earth.”

For more information, visit http://www.niu.edu/philosophy-of-education/merritt/index.shtml.