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In the Crossfire

Single-sex education plan in the spotlight

(CNN) -- The Bush administration is pushing rule changes to encourage more single-sex classes and schools, marking a significant change in the U.S. government's 30-year policy prohibiting gender discrimination in public schools.

Do girls and boys learn better in single-sex classrooms?

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who is proposing federal funds for teaching boys and girls separately, and National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy, a vocal opponent, step into the "Crossfire" with hosts Tucker Carlson and James Carville over the issue.

CARVILLE: I went to a single-sex school from the eighth to the 12th grade, and I didn't like it very much. I wanted to go to school with girls. Why should a kid in the eighth grade today, a young boy, want to go to school with just boys when you can go to school with girls, too?

HUTCHISON: Well, I would never advocate that public education go all one way. But, James, what we're trying to do is make sure that all the options are open to public school students that would give them the chance to fulfill their full potential. And in some cases, parents would like to send their young boys to an all-boy school or girls to an all-girl school.

CARVILLE: Yes, if you go to a private school you can have all Baptists that go there, you can have all Jews that go there. Why don't you have all Baptist and all Jewish public schools if you want to give them the same opportunity they get in a private school?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think that people who decide to send their children to parochial schools, certainly, I think it's wonderful that they can. But in public schools I do think we have a responsibility to try to give every option to parents to carve their education in a way that will bring out the best in their children.

CARVILLE: So you would favor all Jewish public schools?

HUTCHISON: Particularly, I think, adolescents and people who are in that sort of awkward stage can benefit, and some parents would like for their children to go to the same-sex schools. Or maybe just same-sex classes.

CARVILLE: Senator, but what I'm saying is you have the option of going to an all-Jewish private school, so you would be in favor of testing maybe all Jewish public schools, too?

HUTCHISON: Oh, no, not at all. We have a bar between religion and public education in our country, and it's not the same. It's apples and oranges. We're talking about public schools that would give every option to children to reach their full potential.

Parochial schools should be private, and I encourage, of course, any kinds of private institutions. But for public schools, we have a particular responsibility to give the options to parents if they want a public school setting, to try to tailor the education, particularly in middle school, maybe elementary school.

For instance, in Seattle, a school that, a coed school, the principal decided in the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School to go into single-sex classes because the fourth-graders were just too rowdy. And they have found phenomenal results in that school just in one year.

CARLSON: I bet they have, senator. Let me ask you -- let me take your argument to Kim Gandy here from NOW. Now, if you have children, and I don't know if you do, but if you did, you could choose any school you wanted. You can afford it as a NOW executive, relatively affluent, relative, anyway, to people who live in public housing. They don't have a choice. They have to send their kids to the public schools. Why shouldn't they have a choice to send their children to single-sex schools if they want to?

GANDY: I do have children. I have two daughters, first grade and third grade, and they're in the D.C. public schools, and I'm a very involved parent.

CARLSON: But that's your choice to send them there. Presumably you could send them to private or parochial school?

GANDY: I could absolutely choose that. The reason that we don't have segregation in the public schools is for many of the same reasons that James alluded to.

CARLSON: But that was a ludicrous argument.

GANDY: Oh, no. We had all-white private schools and still do have some all-white private schools. Segregation is not a solution to the problems that we have in the educational system, and segregating girls from boys doesn't solve the problem.

For instance, Sen. Hutchison just referred to a school where the fourth-grade boys were rowdy. So the solution to rowdy fourth-grade boys is to take all the girls ...

CARVILLE: You are telling me there were rowdy fourth-grade boys, I can't -- oh!

GANDY: I am shocked and appalled.

CARLSON: Let me just point out the fundamental flaw in your argument, and in James' ...

GANDY: Let me make a parallel ...

CARLSON: Hold on. You just equated single-sex schools with racist, segregated schools. Let me suggest the difference is we don't recognize innate differences between the races, we do between the genders. We know for a fact and I think even now admit that boys and girls are different. They learn differently, and therefore perhaps having separate schools is appropriate.




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