In his latest riposte, Liam argues that I've ignored the ethical dimension of the student-pay debate. When one considers the difficult moral questions that paying students for performance invariably poses, he says, it becomes clear that principals should not be given free reign to try it out in their schools.

He goes on:

Parents have a right to a public-school education for their children that is unencumbered by controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning.... They can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of cash payment for achievement... which is not indubitably part of learning and completely restructures the culture of achievement to which we so desperately cling as the hope for inner-city schools.

A potential flaw in Liam's reasoning, as I see it, is that the education that today's public school pupils receive is necessarily encumbered by "controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning." In today's politically-correct public sphere, nearly everything that goes on in the classroom can be and is made into a controversy.

Let's take Liam's claim but leave it open-ended: "[Parents] can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of X." Now think of all the things we could plug in for X and ask yourself what we'd have left over if we simply banished them all from the classroom, as Liam would like.

Liam might respond that the term "reasonably" precludes a whole host of possible values for X, but "reasonableness" is a highly ambiguous concept, as any constitutional lawyer will tell you, and I'm not sure Liam's argument can stand on that alone.

The best course is not to give parents or policymakers the power to strip schools of anything they deem controversial, but to allow individual schools to experiment with what's controversial and let parents choose whether or not to send their children there.

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