I leave for a couple days and I miss a real debate. Skip and John's discussion over the rights of atheist students in public schools reads to me like a classic case of finding the right in a mixed economy. The schools ought to be private. Teachers, to be effective, must be free to control the focus of their students and to serve as what Leonard Peikoff once called "total cognitive authorities" in the classroom.
Yet most elementary schools in America are not private, and being government-run, are bound by the First Amendment, which protects religious freedoms. Do I think public school teachers ought to genuflect before the irrationality of their religious students, such as, for example, exempting students from requirements to understand the theory of evolution or allowing them to don religious dress if they so wish? No. No one has a right to the irrational. Yet people do have a right to their freedom of choosing and exercising their own philosophy, which, in its 18th century language, is what I believe the First Amendment serves to protect. Again, we have the inevitable conflict between freedom and controls that the mixed economy begets.
And this conflict yet again underscores the pressing need to privatize public education. Public school teachers are given an impossible task: instruct, but be neutral, teach, but without authority. However public teachers attempt to accommodate the different philosophic and religious beliefs of their charges will always be inadequate. We see this. We need to ask ourselves why our opponents don’t.