The Center for Literate Values was founded in 2000 by a small group of educators who shared grave concerns both about the young people exiting our schools and about those schools themselves. The word “post-literacy” was and is much brandished in exchanges among our board members and in our quarterly journal, Praesidium. The journal’s essays have often denounced the failure of the contemporary academy to present great authors as moral beacons or delightful visionaries rather than as political propagandists. Our contributors have decried, perhaps even more often, the Ivory Tower’s repudiation of its sacred duty to prepare responsible citizens serving reason over passion rather than politically correct footsoldiers shrinking reflexively from proscribed behaviors and “hate words”. The academy excommunicates “universalists” without a hearing: The Center promotes selfless conduct whose humanity transcends cultural conditioning and impulse. The academy encourages such absurd varieties of “self-expression” as exotic sexual experimentation and flippant iconoclasm: The Center defends the West’s oft-tested cultural tradition as a key to true self-discovery. The academy scrambles to assemble a patchwork cosmopolitan for release upon society, feverishly grafting quasi-moral platitudes upon students like so many tattoos: The Center would have our young people fear no word and flee from no opinion in full confidence that their humane heritage and basic reason will guide them aright.
The publication of Praesidium (whose name is Latin for “outpost”, in allusion both the endeavor’s loneliness and its hope) became The Center’s immediate practical objective. Originally a scissors-and-paste kind of creation under the faltering aegis of Arcturus Press (and dubbed Arcturus in those lean years), Praesidium drew submissions even in its infancy from professionals who deplored the decay of Western culture proceeding apace all around them. The battle, of course, is ongoing. Even today, almost a decade after The Center’s inception, the profile of our half-dozen board members would but faintly resonate with the faculty of a typical university’s English or History department. We are persons before professors, and we set the welfare of our children and our society far above our careers. Four of us are actively teaching in the college classroom: two of these have previously taught high school or grade school. Two of us have served the nation on foreign soil during wartime. All of us are married, most have children, and two have grandchildren. The languages we read range from classical Greek and Latin to Danish and Gaelic. One of us takes frequent missionary trips to Southeast Asia, and one occupied an executive position at the Smithsonian Institute for years. We all believe in a supreme power of goodness and in the life everlasting of the soul, but we adhere to four different Christian denominations. Two of us have fought cancer in recent years. We live all about the U. S., from New York to Texas to California, and we have an active advisor in Canada. Most of us are amateur musicians or artists. Two have written extensively about film, and one about baseball.
With a composition such as this, we have little interest–any of us–in milking the latest critical fad for another article to list under “professional development” on an annual evaluation. Yet it would be unfair to represent our enterprise as purely adversarial to academic trend. The truth is that the nation’s colleges are themselves responding (either in grudging acquiescence or, sometimes, sterile and unfocused resistance) to the barbarous notion of utility which reigns throughout our ailing culture. When the “rebels” of the sixties demanded “relevance” of their college courses, they were ironically voicing the bourgeois society’s core value: instant gratification. Half a century of intensely marketed high-tech playthings has pumped great wealth into our masses, but has also drained them of patience, introspection, a sense of duty, a regard for silence, an awareness of the past, and–in a word–soul. They, or we, can no longer distinguish between beatitude and material prosperity, between fine sentiment and turbid passion, between faith and frenzy. Our exhibitionist intelligentsia seems intuitively to have understood that urban sprawl and technological escapism indict both our taste and our sanity; the professoriate has simply not been able to state the root causes of this complex disease (for its histrionic hyperbole is infected with the same fear of stasis and routine).
We at The Center, then, aspire to conserve parts of our disintegrating culture which oracles who style themselves “conservative” these days often disparage, or even actively undermine. We value quiet neighborhood sidewalks, polite and eloquent exchanges, books that plumb human nature, music and art that arrest time, deeds that scorn selfish profit, modest privation that favors independence, modest struggle that creates beauty, and ambition that sees death as a chapter’s end rather than a fearful chasm. We understand life’s preciousness because we know its limits–as we know, indeed, that these limits shrink when starry-eyed, self-styled saviors seek to remove them. We are trying in our small way to recover the humanity, common sense, and adoration of goodness at the heart of Western culture.
Board Members (listed alphabetically)
Helen R. Andretta, Ph.D.
Dr. Helen R. Andretta, Professor Emerita at York College (The City University of New York)
Professor Emerita of English at York College-CUNY (tenured in Fall 2005, lately retired), Dr. Andretta worked actively for years at her institution to maintain an English major that offers the classics of the Western tradition and Shakespeare as required courses. A recognized Flannery O’Connor scholar, she authored “The Hylomorphic Sacramentalism of ‘Parker’s Back,'” an essay in the recent anthology, Inside the Church of Flannery O’Connor: Sacrament, Sacramental, and the Sacred in Her Fiction (ed. J. H. McMullen and J. P. Peede [Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 2007], 41-63).
Dr. Andretta’s earlier publications include Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde: A Poet’s Response to Ockhamism. She is also (she emphasizes) a proud grandmother. As her contributed essay reveals in Why Boys Shoot: Culturally Conservative Scholars Review Our Crisis in Masculinity with Minimal Statistics and a Classically Christian Sense of Human Nature, she believes that male and female roles are not identical or interchangeable and that the traditional family remains indispensable to the rearing of healthy children.
Thomas F. Bertonneau, Ph.D.
Dr. Thomas F. Bertonneau
Dr. Bertonneau is well known to many premier academics around the country as the former Executive Secretary of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. Having received his doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Berkeley, he proceeded to discover an unhappy truth divulged to many of us at that historical moment: that the past we had so attentively studied for so long was now considered irrelevant–even despicable, worthy of suppression only–by educational policy-makers. Also like many of us, Professor Bertonneau accepted a series of positions which allowed him to teach the past and speak the truth, politics notwithstanding; but he did so more courageously than most, and, by the hollow standards which academics use to size one another up, his road has been arduous. In particular, his Declining Standards at Michigan Public Institutions stirred the rancor of teacher’s unions for daring to objectify our culture’s progressive ignorance.
Yet such baying of the pack has not prevented Dr. Bertonneau from publishing abundantly, winning grants, and attracting the attention of influential figures alarmed at our culture’s sloping curve. He has become a familiar name, for instance, around the Kirk Center. He currently teaches English at the State University of New York at Oswego.
John R. Harris, Ph.D.
Dr. John R. Harris
Founder of The Center for Literate Values (first christened as The Center for Moral Reason) in 2001, Dr. Harris took his BA (English/Latin), MA (Classics), and PhD (Comparative Lit.) at the University of Texas at Austin during the 70s and 80s, where he had occasion to observe our cultural collapse close up. He confides that he was particularly stunned by the ravages which sexual liberation and recreational drug use had wrought in his generation’s self-esteem. A 15-year career as a college professor did nothing to persuade him that private, ostensibly more conservative institutions had a deeper commitment to the West’s beleaguered traditions than his alma mater. Indeed (he opines), the self-styled traditionalist colleges have betrayed Western Christendom as much in their rather cynical courtship of new-gadget consumerism and the accompanying tech-school regimen as the great flagship universities ever did in their surrender to ideology and ethical nihilism.
Among Dr. Harris’s scholarly works are Adaptations of Roman Epic in Medieval Ireland (Edwin Mellen, 1998) and Chaos, Cosmos, and Saint-Exupéry‘s Pilot-Hero (Scranton Press, 1999). Lately, he has also written a great deal of fiction, the climax of which is his novel, Footprints in the Snow of the Moon. Along with this work, he considers A Body Without Breath (Arcturus, 2002), a testament of faith both scholarly and personal, to be his writing career’s great achievement. This book is available through The Center upon request.
Michael H. Lythgoe, Lt. Colonel, United States Air Force (Retired)
Lt. Col. Michael Lythgoe reads one of his poems.
Like Archilochus of old, Professor Lythgoe has often leaned upon his spear to scrawl some very fine verse. Some of his poems recollect the tragic ironies of his service in Vietnam, a tropical paradise which became a scene of appalling slaughter. More generally, he meditates upon the natural cycles from which men suppose themselves liberated, yet which hem us all in with a thoroughness discernible only to the spiritual eye. His work has been published in Christianity and Literature (for which journal he also frequently reviews books), among other places. He was Coordinator of Educational Programs for the Smithsonian Associates until recently. He now lives in Virginia, whose natural beauty has proved highly amenable to his muse.