MHC's Wartenberg Wins Merritt Award

Professor Thomas Wartenberg with Deborah Merritt Aldridge, daughter of Helen and James Merritt

Thomas Wartenberg has been a full professor in the philosophy department for the past 20 years, teaching philosophy to Mount Holyoke students, then teaching those same students how to teach philosophy to elementary school children by taking them into classrooms in local city schools.

His work has now earned him a coveted prize within his field—the James and Helen Merritt Award for Distinguished Service to Philosophy of Education, presented to him by the College of Education at Northern Illinois University. The award has been given for the past decade to “scholars whose work reaches out in philosophically novel and provocative directions to challenge many of the dominant common sense approaches to education.”

According to Kerry Burch, cochair of the Merritt Award Committee, the committee was “particularly impressed by (Wartenberg’s) commitment to bringing the discipline, art, and craft of philosophy to children.”

“The committee took notice of both the quality of (his) writing in this field and active practice-based efforts to integrate philosophy into the elementary school curriculum,” said Burch. Among the achievements they noted was Wartenberg’s book, Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy through Children’s Literature (2009), he added.

Wartenberg is the author of several books; his most recent, A Sneetch Is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children’s Literature, uses the seemingly simple narratives of children's picture books to acquaint adults with the basic tenets of philosophical thinking, be it in social and political philosophy, the philosophy of language, or philosophy of the mind.

Wartenberg gave a presentation on his work and accepted the Merritt Award in a ceremony last month at Northern Illinois University. The award includes an honorarium.