David Cook: Let them eat grades

David Cook: Let them eat grades

April 10th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Try starving them out.

Forget this meager bill that wants to cut welfare to parents whose kids do poorly in school. That's not tough enough.

Let's bag all assistance. A total withdrawal. Welcome to the Volunteer State, where no one gets any help whatsoever.

No more burdensome poor. No more welfare queens. No more laziness.

No more mess.

Advancing through the state Legislature is a bill (SB 0132 and HB 0261) that would cut one-third of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to families whose kids make poor grades or skip school too much.

It smacks of a crush-the-weak fascism, a spit-on-you disdain for the poor, and reveals an obliviousness to the complexities of 21st century poverty.

The bill -- sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah -- is an extension of a weary narrative, simple in its tune, easy to memorize: Poverty is their own fault.

Therefore, Nashville only has to push harder, grind its boots deeper into the necks of poor people, and then they'll cry uncle.

(The bill allows that parents can get their full payments back when they take parenting classes, attend school conferences or get their kids a tutor.)

Of course, welfare doesn't always work. Of course, poor communities contain some sorry parents. Of course, the system is gamed.

The same thing happens in wealthy neighborhoods. Just as many addictions. Just as many lame parents. Just as much manipulation of the system, except on a larger scale.

So expand the bill. Any family, regardless of income, whose kids don't earn good grades? You pay a fine. A tax. Required parenting classes.

(Don't let them take advantage of public education! Paid for by hard-earned tax dollars!)

Any corporation receiving a tax break must demonstrate it has contributed to the social and common good. Failure to prove such will result in financial penalties.

Any legislator failing to produce five intelligent and effective bills shall forfeit a portion of his or her income.

Otherwise, the bill is nothing more than merciless, discriminatory paternalism.

"Children were aware of insecurities and were taking on responsibilities such as skipping meals and raising money for food," stated a response from Bill Rush, interim director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Food Coalition.

So kids adapt to poverty by skipping meals? Good, right Campfield? It will teach them the value of a dollar. Teach them food doesn't grow on trees (whoops); got to earn every meal in this world.

"No child should have such burdens," Rush said.

The bill has no empathy. No ability to imagine poverty outside the often fictitious welfare-queen archetype.

Poor kids already carry obscene amounts of stress. Hyper-sensitive to the lives of adults around them, poor kids often are traumatized to the point that performing well in school is ridiculously unimportant.

Poor neighborhoods often suffer from high rates of environmental issues. Too many trucks. Garbage dumps. Factories. All these populate poor places, not rich ones.

Therefore, kids suffer. Asthma. Neurological problems. Obesity.

(How about a bill that seeks to reduce pollution in poor neighborhoods?)

All these things, they carry into the classroom with them.

Isn't poverty terrible? Don't you hate it?

Campfield and Dennis sure do.