Public-school advocates in some parts of the country need to decide which they want more: a captive audience of children to saturate in liberal dogma, or a broader base of support for public education. As long as there are good parents out there with a worldview different than that of state officials, education bureaucrats won’t have it both ways.

The ongoing debacle of the application of the “California Healthy Youth Act” in Orange County is a classic example of a public school system doing its best to alienate good parents. The Orange County Board of Education’s general counsel, Ronald Wenkart, recently advised the Board that while this state law specifically allows a parent or guardian to excuse a child from all or part of the school’s “comprehensive sexual health education and HIV education” program, parents may not opt their children out of instruction about gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation if that instruction does not include discussion of reproductive organs.

If you find this bizarre and confusing, you’re not alone. While Wenkart’s advice seems to square with the language of the statute, the scheme just doesn’t make any sense.

If anything, surely the school has a more legitimate interest in teaching students about the facts of reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases than it does in instructing them on value-laden topics like “gender identity,” “gender expression” and “sexual orientation.” So why should the schools allow parents to opt their kids out of the former, but not the latter?

For many years, America’s parents have had the attitude described by Dr. Gregg Strawbridge in “Classical and Christian Education.” We carry on “as though schools can teach a kind of vanilla education and then parents can pour on values and even sprinkle on God as a topping if they so choose.” But what is now becoming increasingly apparent in many localities is that public schools don’t even aspire to teach a “vanilla” education. They not only choose the flavor of the curriculum; they have the audacity to refuse parents the right to opt their children out of “toppings” like value-based instruction on sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

And yet, public-school advocates seem resentful about parents opting out of government-run schools. They vigorously resist proposals that would allow more parents to do so by letting public funding follow the student to the school of his parents’ own choosing. All the while, at least in states like California, these same advocates are doing everything they can to pit the school against the family.

By shoving a liberal worldview down students’ throats on sensitive subjects like “gender identity” and sexual orientation, public schools are dividing parents into three groups: those who care about their kids’ worldview but share the liberal ideology, those who care and disagree, and those who simply don’t care much at all.

At some point, public schools will push those in the second group to the breaking point. If these involved parents aren’t allowed to opt their children out of instruction that is radically at odds with the family’s values, these families will leave the public school in search of alternatives that not only respect the parents’ role in shaping their children’s worldview, but encourage it.

In recognition of this, self-interest alone should cause public-school advocates to abandon their more extreme attempts at indoctrination. Public-school quality will decline dramatically as more and more concerned, involved parents make their exodus from the system, leaving behind a higher percentage of students with disinterested parents. After all, a parent who doesn’t care how his child thinks about human sexuality, her place in the world, or how she distinguishes right from wrong, is probably not a parent who helps with science fair projects, shows up for parent-teacher conferences and insists that homework be completed on time.

In states like California, where liberals and progressives hold political power, the allure of a captive audience of impressionable schoolchildren must be virtually irresistible to them. If they were wise, however, they would resist the temptation to use public schools for proselytizing and focus more on improving students’ literacy, math and science skills and writing abilities. These are goals we can all agree on, and they are more than enough to keep teachers busy.

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