Sunday, May 29, 2011

Which Bastards Do We Choose?

In an article in the March 2011 edition of Wired magazine, there is an article by Matt Schwartz entitled “The Overlords of Open Source: Why are people-powered projects ruled by tyrants?” The article begins with a quotation from Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame who, in answer to Der Spiegel’s question as to why he didn’t use his talents to build a fortune and a Palo Alto home with a swimming pool to go with it, said “I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable.”

To this he adds, “And I enjoy crushing bastards.”

Schwartz asserts that “[a] certain amount of megalomania is perquisite for any entrepreneur” adding quickly, “You can’t believe you’re the world’s best answer to an important problem without at times coming off like an arrogant prick.”

But Schwartz’s concerns are not so much with arrogance or even megalomania. His concern is that “when you create a dominant website but eschew the vast wealth that could come with it, conventional checks on your power no longer apply.” In other words, “people-powered projects” don’t play by the same rules as the big dogs in the free market fundamentalist capitalist world. And that’s pretty scary to folks like Schwartz.

His answer? “[O]ver the long haul, capitalism tends to act as a moderating force on the bastard-crushing fantasies of the web pioneers.”

Of course, the reality is that capitalism has rarely been a moderating force of any kind. Having just watched Too Big To Fail last night on HBO, the megalomania and arrogant pricks are clearly in no short supply among the free market true believers. These are the folks who came very close to driving the entire world into a depression three years ago, a looming disaster whose shadow still towers over the world despite massive governmental injections of tax moneys to stabilize the chaos resulting from what greedy bastards squandered away during the Bush years. There are a lot of things you could say about that market but from the standpoint of taxpayers, it was hardly free.

The notion that a capitalist would call his ideology and the greed-driven practices that flow from it a “moderating force” is beyond absurd. Indeed, the moderating force that failed was a government emasculated by corporate moneys and free market fundamentalist true believers.

That’s one of the reasons that Assange is a hero of sorts to many of us. His WikiLeaks brought to the surface the many behind the scenes dealings of government and business allowing the taxpayers to see what our money is actually buying. No doubt there are many who see Assange as a bastard for doing so. I simply find it sad that it requires this kind of semi-illegal conduct to create any degree of transparency in government and business, the two forces which most directly impact the lives of people in the 21st CE.

Mr. Schwartz should not delude himself. Capitalism is hardly a moderating force. Indeed, in its worst, most unregulated moments, its greed is the fuel for instability and chaos. Its captains can be bastards of the first order, making loans they knew were not repayable to people who stood to lose everything and then covering their tracks with creative accounting which told us the lies we wanted to hear about the financial abyss their greed had dug.

I cannot say that I am totally comfortable with folks like Julian Assange deciding unilaterally what aspects of government and business need to be exposed to the public scrutiny. That does present the megalomaniac potential that Schwartz fears. But the idea that we will be protected from such dangers by the moderating impact of the business world is the stuff of fairy tales. And so long as we have the best government corporate money can buy, we will sadly need the bastards like Assange to represent our interests.

The question is not whether we trust a bastard. It’s simply which one.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grading Teachers By Testing Students

The New York Times is reporting today the following:

New York City education officials are developing more than a dozen new standardized tests, but in a sign of the times, their main purpose will be to grade teachers, not the students who take them.

There are so many problems with this plan to grade teachers by using student test results that it’s hard to know where to begin.

At some level, schools have brought this on themselves by producing students lacking basic skills. When failure of students is seen as a failure of teachers – a highly problematic and simplistic presumption – teachers have a vested interest in passing students regardless of their level of achievement. The increasingly reported incidences of cheating on standardized testing evidences such pressures. Moreover, when parents pressure schools to pass those same children, often while criticizing them for the work loads they place on their children, chances increase that children will be awarded diplomas which increasingly mean less and less.

Clearly, there are some teachers, albeit a rather small minority of the total teaching force, who are not competent to be in classrooms. They are there by virtue of a cabal of their own lack of preparedness, often coming from the same kind of schools in which they now teach, plus an often less than demanding curriculum at the college level where instructors long ago threw up their hands about trying to remediate deficiencies arriving at their doorsteps, and finally school districts willing to hire them because their pay and working conditions cannot attract anyone competent enough to go somewhere else.

It is also true that unions sometimes protect teachers like this. But the role of unions is to protect its members, often from highly arbitrary treatment by administrators who have themselves most often been promoted out of the ranks of teachers – often coaches. Too many teachers can tell stories of principals who were barely competent themselves and often feel threatened by competent teachers. Without unions, such teachers are at the mercies of philistines.

Tenure is often blamed for protecting poor teachers. And in some cases, that may well be so. But if a case can be built against a teacher for incompetence, even districts with tenure in place have policies and procedures allowing a case to be built against them for incompetence leading to dismissal. Of course, that places the burden on school districts to demonstrate that incompetence and their own efforts to ameliorate it. But, given the deleterious effects of such proceedings on the teacher and his/her career, that is where the burden should be – on the district which ultimately has the resources to either improve the performance of a substandard teacher or, failing that, to fire them.

None of these factors can be adequately diagnosed or dealt with through the NY plan. Indeed, NY is deliberately misusing standardized testing by this action. Standardized tests are designed to identify competencies and weaknesses in student performance (emphasis mine). Their original purposes were to diagnose areas needing remediation in student learning. When used properly, such tests can be very valuable to teachers in constructing pedagogies and methods of addressing learning deficiencies.

But such deficiencies may or may not have anything to do with the performance of the teacher. While a causal link is presumed by this action between student performance and instructional competence, that is a very questionable presumption. The burden of proof of the causal nexus cannot simply be presumed. It must be demonstrated. And here, the NY school system has completely failed in its duties to the public.

Student performance exams test student performance, not that of their teachers. Whether a student performs well on an exam turns on any number of factors including their own efforts in preparing, their own native intelligence brought to bear on the preparation, parental educational attainment and resulting attitudes about the value of education, cultural understandings regarding the value of education and socio-economic conditions in which the individual student is being raised. None of these are within the control of a given teacher.

If, on the other hand, we wish to know if teachers are doing their jobs in teaching students, what we must do is much more demanding than a simplistic use of student standardized test scores. We must observe teachers in action. We must look at their preparatory materials. We must talk with their students. And we must talk with the teachers. Only such an approach actually provides an informed basis upon which to assess teachers’ – as opposed to students’ - performance.

Of course, a misuse of student test scores is a lot easier and cheaper. It is instructive to note that such cheap measures occur in the context of an ever-increasing defunding of public schools. But one gets what they pay for. And in NY, what they are paying for is a defrauding of the public and the demoralization of the public educational system. This may have major political appeal for those within our society who carry an onus against public education. And there are many of them, American culture often taking on an anti-intellectual hue. It may also be a means of conservatives striking at unions, often by means of incredibly distorted caricatures about teachers getting rich off the public till for little work in return. (Clearly, anyone who would believe such nonsense has never been a teacher).

Whatever it is about, it is ultimately not about an educated public, the goal of public schools. How sad to see a state as advanced as NY fall into such stupidity.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Monday, May 23, 2011

But on the other hand….

After working through my previous post in which I vent my own spleen about a lazy honors college student’s bashing me on in the context of that student’s mediocre performance in class, it would be tempting to dismiss all honors students as slackers with an inordinate sense of entitlement. Such a dismissal might seem readily apparent in the wake of this past very trying semester with a class I inherited from a colleague the day before the term began whose members largely embodied that assessment.

But as the cynical pundit H.L. Mencken is famous for noting,

“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat….and wrong.”

This fall I will have the privilege of once again teaching another student at the honors college in one of my courses in the humanities. This will be the third course in which I have taught this student and I am greatly looking forward to renewing our mutual love affair with higher education.

Drawing Presumptions into Question

This is a student who was homeschooled. Unlike the narrowly tailored products of homeschooling I so frequently encounter - students whose strengths are in their parents’ areas of strengths and whose unexamined prejudices and presumptions about the world mirror their parents’ as well - this student is intellectually curious, willing to explore areas of thought and experience outside the background out of which the student emerges.

While the truth is that most homeschooling is religiously and/or politically fundamentalist in its inception, seeking to create clones of narcissistic parents fearful that their children might actually become their own persons, this student has caused me to think twice about homeschooling. As it turns out, this student was homeschooled by a graduate educated parent out of fear for the child’s safety at the local public school. Smart kids often become targeted when they draw the mediocrity of their classmates to consciousness, often by their mere presence among them. As in so many other ways, the example of this student reminds me of Mencken’s caveat: one size simply does not fit all.

I originally became aware of this student in an intro Humanities course at the honors college a year ago. This science major/math minor produced some excellent presentations as a part of the group projects required by the course. I observed a natural teacher at work. I questioned whether science was this student’s real calling. As it turns out, it was. This freshman now turned sophomore is attending college on several competitive grants usually reserved for upperclassmen and graduate chemistry students and produced a presentation on an obscure chemical process for this spring’s Showcase of Undergraduate Research that was truly amazing. Even more amazing was the student's ability to explain the research in terms that even a non-science person could comprehend.

But what was even more amazing is that the initial contact with the humanities created a spark in this student which resulted in a burning desire to become the well-rounded product of a liberal arts university education. By the end of the fall semester, this student had become a double major, dropping the math minor and adding humanities to the degree program in one of the hard sciences, this all the while taking non-credit courses like swing dancing and attending a rally for the DREAM Act downtown to support one of the guest speakers in a class.

Perhaps the greatest joy in knowing this student is their engagement during office hours outside class. This student inevitably comes by with a question or something that they have been thinking about and wants to run it by me. I have learned a great deal from this student and this is one of the few students whose opinions I actually trust, not because they inevitably reflect my own but more often because they prompt me to reexamine why I think what I do.

Hothouses of Entitlement

I recognize there are some differences between this honors student and the ones mentioned in the previous post. The honors college houses their students in some pretty fancy digs over by the stadium along with the university’s other sacred cows, the jocks. Their quarters resemble private apartments more than dormitories and only honors students live in their section. On the one hand this provides an atmosphere where study could, in theory, actually take place (though from student self-reporting in my classes, it rarely comes close to the Carnegie Unit of two hours for every hour of class in any of their courses). It could also be the locus for some very interesting discussions with a wide range of critically considered perspectives prompting examination of the generally unexamined belief systems with which virtually all students enter the university. In theory, this is an excellent place for honors students.

But on the other hand, it tends to create a hothouse culture in which there are no disaffirming others to call group attitudes and understandings into question making the “common sense” of the body both self-evident and beyond question. I suspect it is precisely this closed circle in which values such as entitlement and seeing a less than average work load in a class as “outrageous” are forged and sustained. Again, one wonders what could be seen as honorable about this dynamic.

One of the things that became apparent to me last semester was that the students at the honors college I most enjoyed teaching shared something in common: they were almost to the student those who lived outside that hothouse. The student discussed here is a rather classic example of this, continuing to live and commute from home while embracing as much of university life as possible while here on campus each day. The groupthink of the honors dorm does not dominate this student’s understandings and I suspect that this honors college peer might readily draw that groupthink into question when they encounter it.

This student is constantly reminding me that there is a difference between students at the honors college and the honors program Again, one size does not fit all. There are few defenders of the honors college as devoted in their apologia for this program as this student. This is a student who readily admits to seeing the honors program as a privilege with enormous potential for developing the many aspects of the individual student. As opposed to the minimalist whining of this student’s honors college peer noted in my previous post, this is a student who sings the praises of a program that demands engagement, hard work, critical thought and creative, effective exposition.

I once asked this student whether they had ever used The blank look I got in response told me all I needed to know. This is a student who seeks out challenging classes, confident that they will probably make an A because they know that they will work hard enough to merit one. Indeed, this is precisely the kind of student honors colleges are made for. And the humble but eager manner in which this student takes advantage of this opportunity often reveals this student’s classmates for the self-focused and often lazy strivers that they far too frequently embody.

The Exception and the Default Role Model

I realize that every student will not be an instructor’s dream nor would they be appreciated if they were. One needs a little darkness to fully appreciate the light. I also realize that most honors students fall somewhere between the extremes of the whining slacker who used as a vehicle to vent the spleen and this student who consistently reads the assigned material, thinks it over critically and punctually attends class ready to discuss the ideas at hand.

What troubles me, however, is that it is the former who more often seems to be the default role model for this population than the latter. Indeed, out of the class just completed in which my character assassin was enrolled, only three of the 15 students came close to being even above average in their work ethic and performance in the class. That’s a lot of dead weight for any instructor to carry.

A friend of mine in higher education would point to this student as the student for whom she teaches. I suppose that is true for me as well. I would do anything in my power to help this student succeed though I suspect this student’s record will ultimately speak for itself without my help.

I am grateful for students like this and for an honors program which enticed this student to attend the university where I teach. Though the handful of students who are actual students don’t overcome the mass of credentials-seeking mediocrity we so often encounter today, even in the confines of self-proclaimed honors colleges, they do make carrying that weight a little more bearable. And in a day when teachers are more likely to be thanked for their devotion and hard work with bashings on anonymous websites than with genuine, heartfelt appreciation, I never, ever take for granted that handful of students who remind me of the joy of teaching that drew me and ever so tentatively keeps me in the world’s most noble profession.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Outrageous and Nitpicky and Bulls*t. Oh My!

A Response to a Public Character Assassination

A student dropped in during my office hours Thursday for advising regarding graduation and his plans to attend law school. While I’m not a Philosophy advisor, I was happy to offer my best impromptu advice given his transcript and our departmental requirements. I was also willing to offer some advice on how to approach law school given that he seemed to need it.

This kid didn’t know me from adam (i.e., Hebrew, from any other human being). So when he asked my name, I was taken aback by his response. “Oh. I’ve heard you’re a really hard teacher.” I felt like I was talking with a high school kid at this point but couldn’t help asking, “So who told you that?” I guess I should have been ready for the answer:

I’d told myself I was not going to spend any more time there. But that sore tooth needed just one more round of chewing. So I went to the site. This latest entry is what I found:

Do NOT take him! Amount of work assigned was outrageous, even for an honors class. Grading on essays was nitpicky (liberal use of commas) and his only instructions for length were to write "as much as you need to"; my 6 page paper wasn't enough for him. The next time I wrote 12 and got an A. Most frustrating bullsh*t class I've taken to date.

In all fairness, I ought to be able to respond to this comment on the site where it was posted. And I would if I could. I’ve twice signed up as a faculty member with two different names and passwords. I have yet to be able to get into the site. Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me, either.

Students think they’re a little slicker than they really are when they post these things. Of course, I knew immediately who this student was. The “nitpicky” reference to my comments on the writing on the first essay exam gave it away. This was the same student who, when confronted with the writing problems the essay presented, responded, “Don’t you think that’s just a little trivial?” Given that the student had only lost two points (out of 5) on the writing for improper use of punctuation, I did think it was trivial (hence only two points taken) but nonetheless in need of attention.

My evaluations from my three classes this term were generally quite good. That’s not surprising given that I cut the requirements in all three courses to bare bones. Of all of the students in the three classes, only this one showed up at to vent their spleen. Of course that ultimately says more about the function of the website and the character of the individuals it draws than anything about the instructors listed there. But it is a public site and, given its refusal to allow me to respond on site, I feel compelled to do so here. Lies unchallenged tend to take on lives of their own in cyberspace.

Let’s look at the post point by point:

• “Do NOT take him! –“

In all honesty, if the students who actually heed this advice are anything like the student who left it for them, they will do both of us a major favor. The student who brought this to my attention, for instance, simply accepted as gospel truth what he had read at the website, never a good sign. Moreover, it’s clear he has bought into the belief system that an instructor who is reported to be “hard” must be avoided if the GPA and Play plan is to continue. Students like this are not good candidates for a class that actually requires preparation, engagement and critical thought. So, if that is a student’s modus operandi, do us both a favor and take the advice seriously – Do NOT take him!

• “Amount of work assigned was outrageous, even for an honors class. – “
 A little context is needed here. At the beginning of the term I predicted I would get this comment. The total number of students who take classes from me at the Burnett Honors College had dropped over the past few semesters. Word came to me from college administrators last semester that “Harry is scaring them off.” Translation: They think he demands too much work, too much critical thought and they aren’t sure they’ll automatically get an A in his course.

I wrestled all Christmas break with this question: What is particularly respectable – much less honorable - about this?

When I came back for the spring semester, my response was to simply slash my courses to the bone. In the class in question, all the prep work required in previous semesters were cut. That included the short critical precis papers and literature review exercises required to be completed before class to insure students came to class with something to say worth hearing. The observation/analysis field work I always require of world religions students was cut. I enlisted six different guest speakers to tell about their religions including both a Protestant and a Catholic minister, this to deal with concerns from previous classes who found the consideration of their own religious understandings in the critical light of academic scrutiny discomforting.

So what was left?

• Reading – a total of 1002 pages. If distributed evenly over the 43 class days, that comes out to 23 pages a class. If one uses a high school average reading speed of 2 pages per minute, that comes out to 33 hours for the entire semester, or about 45 minutes per class, two hours and 15 minutes per week.

• Exams – The three exams covering a third of the material each contained a multiple choice objective portion (50 questions) and an essay portion. Students were given the day off from class when the objective portion was due and could take it online anywhere (and use their books to cheat, as some clearly did on the third exam). Students report spending about six hours on each exam - which is probably more than a student who has already read the material actually needs – thus a total of 18 hours for all three exams.
 • Total Time - If you add 33 hours of reading to the 18 hours of test time, that comes out to 51 total hours for the entire semester or about an hour and 10 minutes outside of class for every class hour including tests.

These minimal demands are what this student saw as outrageous. And if one is accustomed to using to select GPA and Play instructors who reward minimal effort with maximal grades, it may seem outrageous. But let’s put this into perspective.

Two Hours Prep/One Hour Class

The Carnegie Unit began to be used in the early 20th CE to standardize college credits thus making transfers and transcript evaluations possible. The Carnegie Unit was based in the premise that every class hour credited to students would be matched by either an hour and a half in a lab or two hours study outside the class or both. In a 43 class hour class like this, that average reasonably expectable prep time would be 86 hours. The time required for this course was 51 hours, 35 hours short of average.

In comparison to the requirements of earlier versions of this course in which an observation exercise and daily prep work was required, even at a high school reading speed the entire time required for an ordinary class was only 77 total hours, still 9 hours shy of the average 86. This term’s stripped down class required 26 hours less than the ordinary requirements of this class.

But to put this into bold perspective, the total possible a student could earn in an ordinary class was 700 points. This stripped down version totaled only 400.

This is the outrageous work load of which this student complains. I had predicted at the beginning of the term that no matter how much I cut, students would still complain about workload. Looks like I was right. My students have trained me well.


This brings me to the comment about “even for an honors class.” It seems that the majority of students I’ve encountered in this Honors College do not anticipate that the GEP courses taught there will be honors classes in anything more than title and, of course, credit. Anything beyond that is resented.

This was well articulated by a classmate of the student whose response to an exam question - which asked student to compare the honors college code of ethics to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (“of those to whom much is given, much is expected”) - was startling in its vehemence:

And how often was it said during my Honors orientation that “Honors courses are not designed to be more difficult”? Several times that day at least, and several times since. Yet we students are constantly faced with teachers whose ideologies directly contradict this statement—who believe that Honors-level=harder. We were at the start into believing that we were being invited into a community in which we could learn whatever we pleased, our values respected and our struggles understood. Instead, we are faced with a community that, like the rest of the university, means to force us into courses we do not truly want taught by teachers who feel they have a responsibility to make our lives difficult, ignoring almost entirely the possibility that we have numerous other classes with equal or greater demands on our time.

In my experience, this is how most honors students actually see these classes – maximal grade (80% of these students reported on their End of Term Survey that they came into the class expecting at least an A-) for minimal work (85% report spending an hour and a half or less per class hour in any of their classes). And when they are actually required to do more (or perceive they are being required to do more, as was the case in this class), they complain that it is “outrageous.”

Again, I keep trying to see any sense in which this approach to higher education is particularly respectable – much less worthy of the term “honor.”

• “Grading on essays was nitpicky (liberal use of commas) – “

Clearly, it’s possible to ignore students using punctuation any way they desire. But when such usage begins to affect the readability of an essay answer on an exam, it’s hardly nit picking to point that out and to take two points off. Pedagogically, the idea is that bringing the problem to the student’s attention early on allows them to correct it over the course of the semester, as, in fact, did occur here, as I note below.

• “his only instructions for length were to write "as much as you need to"; my 6 page paper wasn't enough for him. The next time I wrote 12 and got an A.”

This is a good example of why student evaluations are not terribly informative and should not be taken seriously by grownups. Asking undergraduate students who have never actually taught a college course to evaluate the teaching of a graduate educated professional is a risky bet on a good day. It reinforces their mistaken impression that they are consumers with no obligations to their own educational process. Moreover, such evaluations also rarely produce much an instructor can actually use to improve his/her course. This comment is a good example.

To begin with, it evidences a confusion of quantity with quality. It is certainly possible to write an A paper in six pages. But it’s not terribly common. The exam included grades for content, support for their answers and originality. Mere repetition of the text or the class notes was insufficient. I tell students I want to know what they know, not what the textbook author (or a website) has to say.

While this student complained loudly about the two points lost for writing, they actually lost the most points on that first exam (4 out of 50) for failure to fully explain and support an answer provided. The student also lost an additional two points for a lack of originality. More than 10% quoted from other sources costs them a single point, more than 15%– as was the case here – costs them two points.

Thus, the problem with the first exam was not length or quantity. Rather it was the quality of what was submitted. So, it’s not surprising – though not necessarily a given - that the student’s second exam, which was twice as long, got a higher grade. On that exam, the student’s originality and support for the answers to both questions were both graded excellent and received full credit.

In all honesty, given the improvement from Exam I to Exam II, it looks like the student actually learned something in this exchange though clearly they would be unwilling to recognize this or credit their instructor for actually having done his job here. Indeed, this same student wrote on the faculty evaluation that everything they learned in the class came from reading the text alone - this in a class taught by a Fulbright scholar!

Again, what is particularly honorable about this pattern of performance?

• “Most frustrating bullsh*t class I've taken to date.”

Clearly the student’s improvement in the ability to articulate ideas had a limited shelf life. But it’s not terribly surprising given the pattern of performance – or lack thereof – of this particular student.

Were there a site which allowed instructors to publicly humiliate their students like, this student could be in serious trouble. My observation is that this student has a fairly decent level of native intelligence but that this is rarely tapped. Indeed, it’s hard to tell whether this student’s defining feature is laziness or the capacity and willingness to whine. This student rarely engaged the course throughout most of the semester, sat silently scowling through most of the class sessions and a couple of times when called upon in discussion simply said they had not read the assigned text. (For the record, this response is precisely the reason I created the prep assignments in the first place.)

But what is more troubling about this student is a nearly total lack of insight. The comment about writing 6 pages and the instructor gave the student a B followed by the student earning an A for simply doubling the amount of writing is both simplistic and a classic example of the Fundamental Attribution Error at work: The teacher gave me a B v. I earned an A. Clearly it’s possible this student will mature in time. But the chances of that are not looking that great at the moment.

Were I asked to provide a recommendation on this student, it would read something like this: Until this student matures and develops a bit more insight, they are not a good bet for graduate work or employment in any profession requiring an adult work ethic and the ability to think critically. While I clearly will not have the pleasure of this student’s company in any of my classes in the future - for which I am grateful - I pity the instructor who has the temerity to actually demand that this student prepare for class, write at the college level, engage the class discussions and perform at a level beyond a B on exams. Get ready for the howling.

This student should be glad that we instructors are bound by law and by ethics not to reveal their actual identity in a public forum. While this student ought to be ashamed of themselves for such a stunt, my guess is that they probably wouldn’t be even if confronted. And while I probably wouldn’t return this student’s poorly considered bashing at with the critical assessment above in a manner which publicly identified the student, it certainly would be fair play.

Thank G-d all the students at the honors college are not alike. For the other side of the coin, please continue on to my next post.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Burnout, Context and Online Teaching

Yesteday, a lengthy article appeared in Inside Higher Education which made the following claim:  “In this light, burnout risk for online instructors seems less about the medium and more about personality.”

My bullshit detector went on red alert at that point. Here is the response I offered the site. We'll see if they actually publish it:

Hmm. Why do I hear notions like “rogue agents” buzzing around in the background of this comment? Why would burnout risk turn on personality of the individual while completely ignoring any kind of contextual considerations? That sounds like a rather not-so-subtle attempt at exculpation.

I’ve taught online courses for seven years now at a state megauniversity. I also use online components for all of my courses. While I think there is some truth to arguments in the article about extraverts (like myself) needing more personal contact than online settings provide, I think that is but a fraction of the total picture and probably not terribly informative regarding burnout.

Here are some other considerations:

Best and Highest Uses

1. Online technologies probably have their best and highest use as adjunct technologies to F2F courses. They provide means to create and store assignments, readings, images and links to videos while simultaneously requiring students to actually appear and perform. Online components provide constant access to schedules and assignments. Thus students have constant notice of what their responsibilities to the course are with no excuse for not meeting deadlines.

2. Online technologies have their second best and highest use as actual distance learning. Students who are responsible enough to arrange distance learning are usually mature enough to handle its demands. Some of my best online students have taken my courses from study abroad sites. However, few of your students will actually be distance learners.

Conversely, distance education works both ways – I have taught courses from all over Latin America from Bolivia to Cuba. Online courses can be used to engage summer educational travel as well as to cover days when the instructor is out of the classroom due to conferences or illness. This is one of the few real incentives for online teaching.

3. Online technologies are most frequently misused for reducing classroom overcrowding. This confuses an administrative imperative with a pedagogical concern. It also results in an influx of students who often don’t want to be there but feel they have no other choice if they want to graduate.

Adult Learners

4. The more adult learners on board, the better the content of the discussion, cooperation and performance online. Adult students offer wisdom based in life experience that kids fresh out of high school could stand to hear. Conversely, courses loaded with FTIC students, many of whom have never taken an online course before, and graduating seniors who saved general ed requirements until last when they finally couldn’t avoid them anymore, are recipes for misery. You will spend hours dealing with technical issues with the former and the latter will simply not show up until the end of the term and wonder why they’re failing.

Setting - and Keeping - Boundaries

5. Setting boundaries is critical, as one of your sources noted. This is a college course, not a convenience store. Instructors are not on call and assignments have deadlines. Set a particular time for students to be assured their emails will be answered. Consider holding on-campus office hours for those who feel the need for actual human being contact. Be emphatic that the only schedule that matters in a successful online course is the course schedule.

If you want to survive, lower your expectations

6. Bottom line for survival: Lower your expectations. Your students are going to cheat. You probably won’t ever know it and you will never be able to prevent it. Undergrads simply see online exams as open book, joint projects.

Your tech services are going to largely be unavailable and unhelpful. Worse yet, you should anticipate that it will inevitably be your fault, whatever the problem actually is, when you do finally catch a technician at home.

Your students will expect As and easy classes. They have shopped for such courses on And they will whine if you require anything more. Moreover, up to a third will withdraw, mainly due to poor time management skills and underestimation of course demands confused with the minimal amounts of work they actually want to complete. And the chances are they will punish you at evaluation no matter how hard you’ve worked (and you will work at least as hard if not more so than real classes) and how good a job you’ve done. The impersonal dynamics arising from never dealing with a human being makes it very easy to evaluate you and your course in exactly the same manner.

This is simply the context of online courses. If you expect more, you will be disappointed. And if you continue to expect more, you’ll burn out.

At least that’s how I see it. Your mileage may vary.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Monday, May 16, 2011

CNN, Franklin Graham and Barack Obama

A Dangerous Two Step

This weekend, CNN online ran an opinion column under the headline “Franklin Graham wrong to question Obama's Christianity.” Written by Roland S. Martin, the column began by noting that despite repeated assurances by Barack Obama that he is a Christian (UCC in tradition), “for some reason, the question as to whether President Barack Obama is a true Christian continues to be challenged by many...”

The irony of the column is that it appears under a thread heading which reads “MUSLIM.” As one reads the story, it becomes clear very quickly that there is nothing about Islam in the story itself. Indeed, the focus is on the son of evangelist Billy Graham, Franklin, and his dissembling about Obama’s religion. Not only is it not about Islam, Martin is neither a Muslim himself nor prone to write about Muslim issues.

But the irony in Martin’s statement that “for some reason, the question as to whether President Barack Obama is a true Christian continues to be challenged by many...” is that the very placement of his column under a heading of “MUSLIM” suggests an obvious reason why people continue to wonder about this. The column’s placement under the heading of “MUSLIM” by CNN webmasters clearly suggests that this story about President Obama is in fact about Muslims.

So while the thread heading is just a little bizarre if not deliberately misleading, it's little wonder that people continue to think Obama is somehow a Muslim. CNN, a usually respectable news source,  is implicitly telling them that’s what they ought to think. Usually one must turn to “We deform, you consume” Fox for such antics.

Of course, railing about the irresponsibility of the press today is a bit like complaining that it was too cloudy here in Orlando to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor lift off this morning. In the second decade of the 21st Century in the west, it is simply a reality that the press deliberately confuses its role of informing the public with its profit-driven desires to entertain us just as surely as clouds rolling in from the Atlantic obscure the horizon toward the coast in May in Florida. And what better way to entertain us than an ongoing manufactured scandal about nothing? It certainly keeps our mind off the fact that the same corporations who own the media also own our governments and prevent them from dealing with real concerns like climate change, immigration, education and unemployment.

In all fairness, Martin’s column, even with its awkward sentence construction in its lead, deserves a little more consideration than simply the thread heading under which it appears. Martin draws a bead on the disingenuity of Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham and the heir apparent to his evangelical enterprise. It is well placed criticism.

I have never had much respect for the elder Graham’s approach to religion. The egocentrism, simplistic theology and inevitable absolute certitude of evangelicalism is much more than I can stomach on a good day. I also have always found it a bit amusing that Billy would lend himself to rent-a-cleric services when presidents from Nixon to both Bushes needed a clergyman to legitimate unnecessary and destructive wars and couldn’t get anyone mainstream to come to the White House. This from a preacher who regularly rails about prostitutes.

But I always had the sense that what Billy said was what he meant, even if I found it completely untenable. Franklin, on the other hand, is a bit slicker. As Martin reported in his column, Franklin said the following regarding Obama’s religion:

"For him, going to church means he's a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior. That's the definition of a Christian. It's not as to what church you are a member of. A membership doesn't make you Christian."

Martin goes on to say “This two-step that Graham is doing is dangerous because all of a sudden he has become the arbiter of who is and who isn't a Christian through the eyes of those in the media. By even asking him the question, we are affording Graham a level of respect that he doesn't deserve.”

Evangelicals have always defined Christianity on their own terms. In the 1980s the Southern Baptist Convention of Alabama took a “census” of those going to heaven and came up with an exact number. Lo and behold, it was exactly the same number as Southern Baptists in Alabama! Hallelujah!

Of course, no one has ever delegated the right to define Christianity to conservatives though they regularly presume such an entitlement. At a very basic level, it is little more than an exercise in intellectual dishonesty – if not arrogance - to presume to speak for the faith of other human beings. If we want to know what another believes, the only intellectually honest way to find out is to ask them. Everyone is entitled to speak for their own faith, but beyond that it is mere speculation.

Ironically, evangelical pollsters George Gallup and George Barna both use frequency of attendance as one of the defining factors in their constructs of authentic Christians. Clearly this approach well measures individualistic, pietistic and moralistic approaches to religion even as it fails to account for more communitarian, sacramental approaches. But Franklin appears to be asserting an essentially gnostic approach here, discounting church membership and attendance in favor of his personal discernment as to whether one has “given [their] life to Christ and are following him in faith...” In other words, only Franklin really knows if Obama is a Christian, as Martin notes.

What nonsense.

Martin has hit the nail on the head when he says, “By even asking him the question, we are affording Graham a level of respect that he doesn't deserve.” Sadly, it increasingly appears that while Franklin’s Daddy was entitled to a modicum of respect even if his religious constructs were not always so respectable themselves, Franklin is probably not entitled to either. While it is our duty as fellow human beings sharing the divine image to respect his humanity and his right to form, hold and articulate his views, there is never an obligation to respect unrespectable opinions or behaviors. One wonders what Daddy must be thinking these days,his time on Earth growing short, as he watches the antics of his eldest.

What kind of a world emerges from societies in which the media deliberately misinforms the public for entertainment value? What kind of society is constructed in which religious leaders deliberately dissemble regarding the faith of its leaders? How long can a house built upon such precarious foundations remain standing? As Martin says, “this two step... is dangerous.”

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Fabulous Cheap Grace

This past week the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) officially lifted its ban on ordinations of gay and lesbian clergy. Like the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) before it, this comes at the end of a long, hard struggle. The vote by the Minnesota Presbytery to accept the denomination’s vote at its last general convention paves the way for the open and official ordination of LBGT Presbyterian clergy.

At some level, congratulations are in order for the Presbyterians. Indeed, I spoke with some Methodist friends this past week who long for their own (and my former) denomination to get its act together to finally do the right – and ultimately the inevitable – thing on this issue. And I know a ton of Roman Catholics who have stopped holding their breath for the boys in Rome to have a lucid interval on this issue.

But I must admit I find myself with mixed feelings as I read the accounts of this vote. The Episcopal Church’s Integrity news feed ran this headline amidst the reports from the PCUSA vote: Is that fabulous, or what!?

Well, maybe.

On the one hand, the fact that yet one more Christian tradition has finally come to grips with its long history of homophobia, in ever so limited a fashion, is, indeed, fabulous ( if we simply must live into the stereotype). For many of us whose sexuality does not fit into the reductionist notions of “normal” in this society, any breakthrough in the struggle for justice is a good thing. It’s not just fabulous, it’s absolutely unexpected given where our society was just a mere two decades ago.

But what troubles me about this assessment is the sense in which the straight people of the PCUSA (and all the denominations before them) seem to see themselves as having done something really noble for "those poor people" in their denomination. No doubt, they are presuming that for this noble act they should be thanked profusely and the beneficiaries of their generosity should never lose sight of their magnanimity.

Except, of course, none of that is true.

This vote by PCUSA, like every other denomination dealing with this issue, is ultimately about the denomination, not its gay parishioners. The treatment of LBGQT people is simply the context here. The text is the integrity of the denomination.

The Prime Directive of Christianity has long been the two Great Commandments, the second of which is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” It is impossible to simultaneously love one’s neighbors as oneself and discriminate against them. It is also impossible to live into the Golden Rule –doing unto others as one would have done unto themselves - while treating others as second class citizens. No one would agree to be treated this way themselves.

These principles and actions are simply mutually exclusive. And, as such, when they occur, they expose a lack of authenticity and integrity on the part of those whose words and actions do not meet their principles. Hence, the decision to end blatant discrimination against LBGQT clergy says very little about the clergy themselves. But it does suggest a glimmer of recognition on the part of the denomination.

Saturday morning, I celebrated the Eucharist at the profession of a new brother in the Third Order, Society of St. Francis. I employed the training I was afforded in the Episcopal seminary I attended. I wore the black clerical shirt and white tab I am entitled to wear as ordained Episcopal clergy and a beautiful quilted stole made for me by one of my Franciscan sisters.

I am grateful that the Episcopal Church at large found a way to accept my gifts for ordained ministry even as the diocese in which I currently live (and Saturday served at the altar) vehemently refuses to do so. My guess is that many Presbyterian clergy in presbyteries which agree to follow their new guidelines (recognizing that many will not and others will simply find disingenuous ways to continue discriminating) will soon feel much the same gratitude as that which I relate here.

Recognition of religious orders is always an enormous gift to those called to ministry, particularly when that calling is recognized and honored by the tradition of which one is a part. I never take that for granted and I always am grateful for the diocese in California which took a chance on me when they ordained me priest. And yet, the further I am from that event, the less I am inclined to see my ordination in terms of the church having done me - or any other gay ordinand - any kind of particular favor.

The question of the ordination of LBGQT ordinands is not a question of whether their traditions are willing to do those seeking orders a personal favor out of their magnanimity. The only genuine questions that ecclesial hierarchies can ever legitimately ask about any candidate for ordination are the questions of calling and competency to minister.

When the answer to those questions proves to be affirmative, traditions which only now have proven willing to ordain LBGQT clergy must forego the self-congratulatory celebrations to address the question of why they have not previously ordained them in the first place. Their willingness to countenance that question indicates whether those traditions actually are capable of recognizing the wrongful attitudes which have marked their attitudes and behaviors for far too long.

There is a part of me that wants to respond to the “Is that fabulous, or what?” question with a rather snippy response: Actually, no. It’s not fabulous. It’s taken far too long. These folks have known for a long time that their actions and the understandings that informed them were not defensible. But more importantly, there is no sense in this action of the critical aspect of this change – repentance.

I have never forgotten the response two decades ago of a friend when I told him I was going to seminary to become a priest. His face darkened as he said, “I haven’t had anything to do with the church for years. And I’m not going back until they are willing to say they’re sorry for what they’ve done to us.” At the time, I thought it was a rather childish response. But as the years have gone by, increasingly I see that he was right.

The only reasonable response to the recognition that one’s wrongful behaviors have hurt others is an apology. And the only reasonable response to the recognition that one’s attitudes and resulting behavior have betrayed one’s own professed value system is repentance. None of that is apparent in this so-called “fabulous” turn of events at PCUSA. And it has been missing from the changes in policy in all the traditions prior to this as well.

In many ways, this is the cheap grace of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke. This “fabulous” decision by PCUSA is little more than “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession.” It’s a version of the tired phrase “let’s just move on” used in politics to avoid responsibility for one’s wrongdoing.

In all honesty, I cannot help but hear in this event and the resulting commentary the self-congratulatory white liberals I remember only too well from my childhood speaking about the end of desegregation in the early 1970s. To hear them tell it, we Southerners saw the light, recognized our sin, turned over a new leaf and then did the right thing. In fact desegregation occurred mostly due to court orders and only rarely because the racist society which had maintained Jim Crow segregation for a century after the Civil War ended slavery recognized they were wrong – indeed, sinful – in maintaining such a dehumanizing system.

I do not look for church people in America to recognize anytime soon that their homophobic attitudes and policies have been sinful. Their investments in their personae of righteousness are deep-seated and time worn. And the cognitive dissonance which almost always results from admitting that a foundational understanding of the world as one knew it was not only wrong but harmful - and thus sinful - is probably more than most are willing to deal with. As a friend of mine is quick to point out, the power of the human mind to engage in self-delusion is unlimited. No doubt, it is in hyperdrive over at PCUSA right now.

I suppose that one day, perhaps a few decades from now, children will ask their parents with sincerity why our society was not able to see how destructive their understandings of LBGQT people were. And I suppose some well meaning person will offer the obvious answer about ignorance, stubbornness and the unwillingness to admit their mistakes, very human traits, all of them. In the meantime, pardon me if I don’t attend the ticker tape parades and the fabulous parties celebrating this great new event. I guess I simply want more than this. Like my friend, I’m waiting for the repentance…and the apology.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rowan Williams on Uganda

Tepid, timorous, cynical

In the news today there are reports that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has reiterated his statement of 2009 regarding the pending legislation in Uganda which would make being gay a capital crime and failing to turn in gay people a felony. Williams, in his usual tepid, timorous manner, says the following:

"Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can't see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades. Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible - it seeks to turn pastors into informers."

That such a bold statement could come from the leader of a worldwide tradition whose fundamental understanding about religion is that salvation comes through the exercise of good manners is astounding. What is striking in this statement, however, is what it does not say.

The Problem is not severity

The first problem is that Mr. Williams appears to confuse degree of harm with harm itself. The problem with the Ugandan legislation is not its severity. Clearly, as someone who has represented juveniles facing Florida’s electric chair and who opposes state killing in any of its forms, I agree that the criminalization of being homosexual as a capital crime is severe. But even a misdemeanor or fine for simply being homosexual would be too severe.

The problem is not the severity of the penalty, it’s the very substance of the legislation. Criminalizing an ascriptive factor such as sexual orientation is not only logically indefensible, as the absurdity of criminalizing being heterosexual readily reveals, it is barbaric. Ask anyone who grew up Jewish in Hitler’s Third Reich or black in the Jim Crow South.

What Mr. Williams fails to say here is also telling. This bill is not simply logically and legally problematic. It is morally and theologically bankrupt. What Mr. Williams refuses to confess here is obvious to anyone outside his communion and many within it: misanthropic laws based in social prejudices are sinful. Homophobia, which clearly animates this legislation, is the failure if not the refusal to honor the image of G-d in the other, to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Mr. Williams and all of us who follow a religious tradition based in the way of Jesus – a consummate truth teller and fearless confronter of pathological social norms - need to be honest enough with ourselves to call this legislation what it is: sin incarnate. Of course, that does require the willingness to violate the prime directive of Anglicanism – salvation through good manners (as defined by the white upper middle class). It also means being willing to speak the truth plainly, something Mr. Williams has found increasingly difficult since, according to the tired joke within Anglicansim about bishops, his spine was apparently removed during his consecration to the archbishopric.

Entirely Consistent with Anglicanism

Perhaps more troubling is his assertion that any Anglican “committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades” would be unable to support this bill. Given Uganda’s strong Anglican history, that is a shorthand plea to Anglican legislators to vote against the bill. At some level, that is admirable. But it is also problematic in its own right.

Truth is, this bill which would allow Ugandans to kill queers legally is merely the logical extension of the attitudes and policies enacted by the Anglican Communion over the past two decades. The 1998 Lambeth Conference resolved that any kind of gay sexual activity was “incompatible with scripture” and voted to ban gay ordinations and marriages. The conference was marked by bishops making statements from the conference floor comparing homosexual unions to bestiality, by physical assaults on bishops in an attempt to “exorcise them of their demons” and even the call by one bishop to kill another bishop who had the temerity to support gay rights, suggesting that he ought to be blown up by a landmine. This from folks who become morally indignant over being seen as savages.

Since 1998, the Communion has been marked by repeated threats by bishops, primarily from the southern hemisphere in which the majority of Anglicans now live, to shatter the Communion over the issue of gays and lesbians. Homophobia has become the ultimate litmus test of orthodoxy for many within Anglicanism.

Thus, it’s not too difficult to see how the Ugandan kill the queers bill is merely the extreme case extension of that logic. These bishops and their counterparts in the Ugandan parliament operate under the presumption that G-d shares their prejudices. And if G-d doesn’t care for the lives and souls of these less than human beings, what obligations should human institutions - religious or political - have to them?

Deadly Precedents

There are precedents for this. When German theologian Martin Luther began his ultimately successful protest against Roman Catholicism in the 16th CE, he believed that once Catholicism had become purified of its corruptions accreted over a millennium and a half of Roman domination, the world would see the light of Christianity and embrace it. That included the Jews, of whom he initially spoke warmly as brothers within a shared tradition.

However, when the Jews proved to be disinterested in becoming Christians some 20 years into the Reformation, Luther’s tone and his words changed. In one of the more violent polemics ever emerging from a Christianity with a very bloody history, Luther said this of the disaffirming other in his midst:

“The sun has never shone on a more bloodthirsty and vengeful people than they are who imagine that they are God's people…They are a base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth….full of the devil's feces ... which they wallow in like swine…

“What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy….

"First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians…Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies…Fifth, I advise that safe­conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like." (Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543)

Given the authority afforded Luther in Protestant circles generally and Germany in particular, it should not be terribly surprising that 400 years later the German descendants of Luther dressed themselves in brown shirts and spilled out of Germany’s beer parlors into the streets of Berlin on November 9, 1939, and did precisely what Luther had told them to do. Destroying synagogues, homes and businesses alike, the true believers in Aryan superiority were protected in their murderous rampage by anti-Semitic attitudes which would soon become laws passed by the Third Reich, laws which would ultimately oversee the deportation and systematic annihilation of Jews all over Europe.

Contrary to the nursery rhyme, words can hurt people. Indeed, they ultimately have the power to kill.

The themes that one hears in Luther’s words ought to sound eerily familiar in light of this discussion. At Lambeth, gays and lesbians were compared to participants in bestiality, thus less than fully human. They were constructed as demonic beings requiring exorcism. The conference asserted that homosexuals are rejected by G-d and refused to treat gay and lesbian coreligionists with dignity and respect, much less as first class citizens. Since that time, its members have sought ways to enforce those understandings through legal strictures and threatened schism should they not be successful. And at least one of its members has publicly urged the murder of those who would even question such attitudes.

What the Ugandan parliament is poised to do is ultimately little more than actualizing the homophobia repeatedly expressed by the Anglican Communion. Contrary to what Mr. Williams asserts, not only can the kill the queers bill be supported by Anglicans, if they are taking seriously what the Communion has said and done over the past two decades, they probably have no other choice.

Who Saves Us from the Pastors?

That’s why Mr. William’s comments on the law’s making pastoral care “impossible” ring so incredibly cynical. Pastoral care meets very human needs for nurturing, for marking the rites of passage in life. Pastoral care deals with the most intimate aspects of human existence, much of it centered around intimate relationships.

Mr. William’s failure to speak the truth about homophobia not only makes pastoral care impossible, it contributes to the very conditions by which pastoral care becomes needed. It fails to treat gay and lesbian Anglicans as fully human much less nurture them. It fails to honor the very human need for relationship. And it fails to speak the truth when the demand for truthfulness is urgent.

Homophobia injures everyone. It injures its targets, telling them they are less than fully human, unloved by G-d, unwanted by their fellow citizens. It also injures its agents, requiring them to buy into lies about human existence, to treat other humans in ways they would never consent to being treated themselves and then to compound that misanthropy with yet another lie that would seek to legitimate it with divine approbation.

So who provides pastoral care to those whose injuries are inflicted by the pastors?

I long ago lost any respect for Rowan Williams. His pusillanimity in dealing with the conservatives of his communion rivals the appeasement of Hitler by Lord Chamberlain in the run-up to WWII. In the end, I suspect it will have much the same result - destruction of the very things the appeasement sought to protect. His obsession with holding the Anglican Communion together even as it has steadily lost any kind of integrity - and thus credibility with the world outside its parish doors - is saddening and will ultimately come back to haunt all of us who call ourselves Anglicans.

What makes that even sadder is that many of us had such fond hopes for him when he was appointed. Unlike his predecessor, George Cary (often called “Margaret Thatcher’s Revenge”), Williams is intelligent and in his earlier days as Oxbridge don showed signs of thoughtfulness. At a very basic level, it is not unfair to say of Rowan Williams that he knows better than the line of cynical pabulum that he purveys these days.

My guess is that William’s reiteration of his earlier statement will make little difference in Uganda. That decision will likely be driven by the homage paid to a very different kind of god, the god of American evangelical money funneled through the Family at C Street. There is a reason “In God We Trust” appears on American currency. In a global corporate world whose true religion is free market fundamentalism, money is, in fact, the god we actually trust.

But evangelical money comes with strings attached. In this case, those strings are a committment to a well-oiled and well-funded anti-homosexual agenda being pursued around the world. And that is why before the night is over, Uganda will probably sell its soul and descend into the depravity of the middle ages.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++