The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
10.1 (Winter 2010)
courtesy of artrenewal.org
A Cordial Welcome
This section of the journal is completely new and, obviously, very much a work in progress. I urgently invite submissions from educators of any background who believe themselves to have insight into how we may prepare our children for life without the assistance of our morally, intellectually, and (in many locations) economically bankrupt public institutions.
The truth is, however, that Praesidium has indirectly been serving the cause of home-schooling since its inception. Our objective has always been to reanimate in the general public a love of fine literature and art, and to do so with minimal dependence upon arcane scholarly arguments and minute footnoting. It is The Center’s position, besides, that contemporary scholarship at the highest level often fails to understand the essential nature of literature: i.e., that a great work pleases before it does anything else–that it has a kind of harmony or intricate suggestion about it not shared by manifestos, political speeches, constitutions, legal codes, instruction manuals, etc., etc. No one familiar with higher education can deny that the mood in academe has long been that all is propaganda, including every item of the literary canon. Such self-styled scholars, then, are already hostile to the classical notion of universal human values that transcend specific struggles for power: they are pledged from the outset (unless they are intellectual-impersonators or duplicitous bandwagoners) to treat literature as a forked-tongued subspecies of history, which itself is a propagandistic record of political triumph. They are the demoralized, demoralizing kind of people, in short, from whom the home-schooler wishes to save his or her children.
May I point out, by way of illustrating our constant relevance to this issue, that the present edition of Praesidium has a great deal to offer the home-educator? Mark Wegierski’s article above refers to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World at length, for instance. This is a work which used to be standard fare in public high schools: no more. I cannot say if it has been “shelved” because the New Guard has found Huxley’s ironic critique too telling upon their own methods, or if the novel is simply too subtle for students and teachers alike in many such schools. (I incline to believe the latter: conspiracy theories should be saved for situations where relatively few minds are needed to hatch the plot.) Thomas Bertonneau, likewise, has directed the careful reader to several texts by H. G. Wells which he or she may wish to introduce to a teenaged son or daughter–and which will otherwise probably receive no introduction. Politically indexed irony of the sort that we see in these two highly astute authors of early twentieth-century Britain is indeed art in that it may be taken in several directions, often at the same time. (I believe that both Mr. Wegierski and Dr. Bertonneau actually remark that their authors have been claimed by various political groups at various moments.) The objective of the home-schooler, then, should not be to “indoctrinate” a child by use of such texts–a shady endeavor which is precisely what public schools are up to, let us remember. Rather, the real value in such art lies in its ability to make and keep the thoughtful person uncomfortable with reductive formulas, from whatever quarter they may come–to preserve his or her sense of mystery before life’s prospects.
I want to tender my own piece, too, as a possible aid to teaching mythic or folkloric texts to young people. Parents should familiarize themselves with the unique qualities of a text produced largely by oral tradition before they try to teach Homer (or even, perhaps, the Bible). The Irish romance to which my essay refers, and which appeared in the previous issue of Praesidium, is scarcely a classic of seventeenth-century literature… but I can pretty well vouch for its ability to amuse young people, and it delivers more than a few inspiring moral lessons.
Our own creative artists–poets like Col. Lythgoe and fiction-writers like Dr. Moseby–are seldom within easy reach of a young adolescent. Yet I am unaware of ever having published any creative work in the journal which a college-bound seventeen- or eighteen-year-old might not read with profit. Parents occasionally tell me that our fiction is a bit strong for their taste, and of course I have no wish to deride that taste or to “convert” it somehow. I would merely observe, once again, that the fitting of blinders to young eyes is exactly what we can least tolerate in the behavior of some of our public institutions, and that a late-adolescent child in today’s society will inevitably run head-on very soon into situations where the prevailing language and attitudes have much of the unsavory about them. In my view, it’s better to meet a snake for the first time in your boots than barefoot. ~ JRH