published Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

David Cook: Let them eat grades

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.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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LaughingBoy said...

Minimum effort by parents and students will result in passing grades and adequate attendance. Stop making excuses for those too lazy to do the minimum.

April 10, 2013 at 12:44 a.m.
acerigger said...

"(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.)"

SMALL GOVERNMENT right?

April 10, 2013 at 12:57 a.m.
jesse said...

I may be reading this all wrong BUT it seems to me the bill is geard toward getting the parents involved in their kids performance in school!If they want the $$$ to keep rollin in then get proactive in your kids lives and take charge!

It's caller a MOTIVATOR!

April 10, 2013 at 6:52 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

It only works if the poor are all like the stereotype that is being put forth.

Being poor is not a crime. The welfare queen is a stereotype; yes there are some, but this punishes all poor as if they were deliberately poor. Worst of all, it is punishing children for the (perceived) sins of the parents. Deal with welfare abuse by going after the abusers.

When we lump all poor together under a convenient stereotype, we delude ourselves into thinking that causes (and solutions) to poverty are simple. They are not. Kids growing up in poverty have a long list of problems and strikes against them. To punish them for school performance is the very definition of cruelty.

And it is a cop-out.

April 10, 2013 at 8:26 a.m.
shen said...

There can be many reasons why a child is failing in school or skipping school that has nothingf to do with being poor or the parent not being engaged in the students' learning process. If a child is failing in school or is skipping a class or school altogether, these are usually indicators of a hostile atmosphere either in the classroom or being bullied at school. This Bill does nothing to address incompetent teaching or a child being harassed or bullied at school. This Bill only adds stress to a likely already overly stressed family, which will likely lead to physical abuse of the already troubled child in the home atmosphere, or the parent(s) finding other means to make ends meet. Even if those means turn out to be illegal ones.

April 10, 2013 at 9:51 a.m.
kitnazor said...

This is absolutely ridiculous and proves beyond a fraction of a doubt that Campfield and Dennis are clueless about the undeniable relationship between poverty, family structure, early childhood education, mental health and probability of success as an adult. I am beyond embarrassed by those that "represent" us and those that make such foolish and bigotry-rooted comments such as "Laughing Boy". I’ve had it.

Let us consider autism. The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders jumped nearly 80% from 2000 to 2010. With a conservative estimate of 1 out of 88 children in the U.S. affected, the care and education of autistic children is challenging the infrastructure of our schools and governmental social service programs, at an estimated annual cost of 126 billion U.S. dollars. As the incidence of ASDs rises, so does the emotional cost to affected families, the strain imposed on our schools and governmental social service programs, as well as the monetary cost of caring for these individuals. It is critical to remember that Autism manifests as a spectrum, meaning not every child will be rocking in the corner and staring off into the distance. In fact, many kids will be much less severe and most go undiagnosed through the first few years of school. I can promise you that these kids will not make the grade, not because they are lazy, Laughing Boy, but because they can’t. So we should just let them go hungry too, I guess. By the way, I am an autism scientist and research fellow of Autism Speaks, my wife works with autistic and intellectually challenged children in underserved populations and we have (and are responsible for) affected individuals in our immediate family.

While my example of autism is factual, this would only effect between 1-2% of children in these underserved communities by the time such a bill would be passed. But don’t be fooled, there is so much more stacked against these kids. You know what else effects a child’s ability to perform in school? I do- unstable households, stress, violence, alcoholic or drug addicted family members, and ironically- HUNGER. Unfortunately, all of these things disproportionately affect the very children being targeted by this proposed legislation. When is the last time you heard of a shooting or murder on Lookout or Signal Mountain? How about Eastlake or Alton Park? Don’t worry about the gunshots kids, go do your algebra so we can eat tomorrow.

This would be as absurd as a penalizing the mentally ill (for being mentally ill) by throwing them on the streets to their own devices, where the severity of their condition will increase alongside their cost to society. Oh wait, we do that too…

At best, Campfield and Dennis are just not very intelligent people. At worst, they are unintelligent, bigoted and oppressive governmental dilettantes trying to red line opportunity in a country that is, apparently, defined by an opportunity for all to succeed.

We don't have to take this.

April 10, 2013 at 11:24 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Expecting responsible behavior isn't racist.

April 10, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Thankfully the faith community is speaking out against the unfeeling policies of our lawmakers:

http://www.thechristianleftblog.org/1/post/2013/04/christianity-done-right.html

April 10, 2013 at 4:26 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

lkeithlu what would be your solution, or at least an attempt at a solution, for parents who are clearly not trying hard enough to bring up their kids properly? Starting with school but in other aspects, too.

April 10, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

LaughingBoy, the solutions to children doing poorly in school are as numerous and complicated as the reasons why they fail to thrive. As a school teacher for 30 years, I have seen so many kids; a good number of them struggle during part of their childhood and adolescence, and it isn't always because of parenting issues. This proposal is a simplistic solution to a complex problem, and it is penalizing families for a symptom, not looking for a cause. It is based on the assumption that being poor is a failure of character, rather than a complex outcome of education, circumstances, economy, health, family dynamics, and community.

If I had one suggestion, it would be to address the problem of welfare abuse. Adopt policies that identify and penalize abusers of welfare, not the poor in general. Do I have a specific idea for this? No. It is not my area of expertise.

April 10, 2013 at 4:36 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Being poor usually is a failure of character by the time someone gets to adulthood. There are exceptions including health reasons. I said this in another piece, but there's no law someone from a poor family has to drop out of high school. It goes downhill from there for most doing so.

April 10, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Being poor usually is a failure of character by the time someone gets to adulthood

Support this claim please.

April 10, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

The usual poor behavior and choices-dropping out of high school, dropping out or flunking out of college unless finances or other circumstances are a main cause, excessive drinking, drug use and abuse, multiple children by multiple partners, felonies, you name it. Poor that rise up and become successes generally avoid those factors. Poor that blame others for their predicament generally stay poor.

April 10, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

When you are born into a poor environment, chances are you will not rise above it. An occasional one does, but the vast majority does not. This is not a character flaw. Drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, sexual abuse, neglect, poor nutrition, a parent that is incarcerated: these can all interfere with a child's normal development and hence their performance in schoon. This bill does NOTHING to address the needs of children growing up in poverty. In an attempt to punish poor people for being poor in the guise of reducing welfare abuse they target the most vulnerable who are already victims.

Unless you have been poor yourself or have known personally those that are poor, you can only simplify and stereotype them.

April 10, 2013 at 5:09 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

I'm not talking about the bill particularly, I'm talking about the bad behavior and choices that result in a person continuing to stay at the bottom of the socio-econonic barrel.

Regardless of circumstances at home, a child can still perform well enough to pass and meet minimum attendance requirements. By the time the student is in high school, he or should have had it inside to either get it done, or give up.

April 10, 2013 at 5:15 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Regardless of circumstances at home, a child can still perform well enough to pass and meet minimum attendance requirements. By the time the student is in high school, he or should have had it inside to either get it done, or give up.

And you know this how?

I'm not talking about the bill particularly, I'm talking about the bad behavior and choices that result in a person continuing to stay at the bottom of the socio-econonic barrel.

This article is about the bill, and my discussion is centered on that.

April 10, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

A bit more, quickly, your attitude is exactly the problem in the country today, expecting nothing extraordinary from those at the lowest level. It's someone else's fault, they're can't get it done, etc. I would have expectations for everyone, to a point, and until I was proven wrong.

April 10, 2013 at 5:17 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Laughing Boy, I never said that people should be excused from doing all they can to succeed and thrive. But to pass judgment on people's character based solely on whether they are poor is wrong, and I think you know it.

April 10, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Great commentary, David Cook. Children are easy targets for lazy adult legislators.

April 10, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

I didn't say solely, those with mental or physical difficulties may be unable to function well enough to achieve success. For others, bad decisions continue to to plague them throughout life.

Is it a law a poor teen has to drop out of high school?

April 11, 2013 at 10:17 a.m.
kitnazor said...

Laughing Boy, My name is Kit Nazor and I confidently stand behind my comments. Your bark is loud, yet you hide behind a screen name (that seems to reflect your level of maturity). Be a man and put your real name on your words. Maybe tell us a bit about your upbringing that qualifies you to make such judgements.

You said this to lkeithlu: "your attitude is exactly the problem in the country today, expecting nothing extraordinary from those at the lowest level."

I think that lkeithlu's problem (and mine) is that we foolishly expect what should be a basal level of human decency, intellect and rationality from people like you. Fortunately, you fall behind the bell curve not only in your community, city and state, but in your country and in the modern world.

Again, LaughingBoy, David Cook stands behind his words. I stand behind mine. If you want to have a debate, stand behind yours.

April 11, 2013 at 11:16 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Nazor, is it wrong to expect the best out of people, instead of thinking a large portion of them just can't achieve success?

April 11, 2013 at 11:50 a.m.
Easy123 said...

LaughingBoy,

Everyone expects "the best" out of people. But, sometimes, "the best" isn't good enough to meet the grade. Everyone thinks, learns, functions differently in a school setting. Some people do not have the capacity to learn as others do. Dyslexia makes it nearly impossible to learn or, for that matter, do anything the "conventional" way. Throw in any number of social, family, emotional, mental or physical problems and the ceiling for learning and excelling just dropped.

Success is relative. Your definition of success is not the same as others. Everyone doesn't want to be a scientist, an actor, or a professional athlete. Some of these kids worry about just getting home or what they are going to eat when they get there. It's a daily struggle for a lot of these kids. Their definition of success is making it to 18. Many of these kids do experience the societal definition of success: money, fame, etc., but a lot more don't and it usually isn't entirely their fault.

Imagine if you were born into extreme poverty in this country. Imagine the violence you'd see. Imagine being marginalized and looked down upon. Imagine people labeling you a "thug" for no other reason than the color of your skin, where you happen to grow up, or the way you talk. Imagine how different your life would be. Imagine how different your definition of "success" would be.

April 11, 2013 at 1:41 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

I'm not talking becoming a Bill Gates, at the very least I'm talking holding a steady job, avoiding jail time, eventually owning or starting on the road to owning a home. Or renting an apartment where there isn't nightly gunfire. Confirmed mental and physical disabilities are roadblocks that can't be overcome for some. Quitting high school because you don't want to get out of bed in the morning, that's an excuse. There are millions who start out poor and make it out of their situation, and there are millions more legal immigrants who have situations worse than nearly any Americans have. Yet they do it too.

April 11, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
Easy123 said...

LaughingBoy,

"Quitting high school because you don't want to get out of bed in the morning, that's an excuse."

That's not a typical excuse of most inner city kids. Some kids join gangs as early as middle school. Others don't have a ride to school. Many work to support their family. Some get into trouble very young. I know of at least three kids (17-20) right now that are the breadwinners of their family. Parents are on drugs or in jail or, in one case, dead. It's hard to imagine the kid of stresses that are put on a 17 year old kid that has to take care of his little sister, go to school, and try to work to put food on the table.

"at the very least I'm talking holding a steady job, avoiding jail time, eventually owning or starting on the road to owning a home."

These are all great goals to have and are realistic goals for most people. But, for others, that would be the ceiling of their success. They would need to work very hard and catch a lot of breaks just to get to what would be considered the "minimum" for most middle class families.

"There are millions who start out poor and make it out of their situation, and there are millions more legal immigrants who have situations worse than nearly any Americans have. Yet they do it too."

And there are billions that didn't. It's unfair for you to act like every impoverished person can meet your definition of success. It would be nice if that were a realistic scenario in the United States of America, but for every "success" story, there are thousands of people that worked just as hard, but didn't make it.

April 11, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.
shen said...

If a child is failing, uninterested in learning, skipping class or school altogether, the situation should first be investigated from all angles to determine a possible reason, rather than punish the student and entire families by depriving them of perhaps life sustaining resources.

Children don't normally fail without some underlying reason. Even children from seemingly disinterested and uninvolved parents have the potential to succeed if the learning environment is a positive one.

I was once good friends with a teacher whose son attended another school other than the one she taught. For whatever reason, she said, one of the teachers at that school took a dislike to her son. No matter what he did to please the teacher always found fault with him. His mother, my friend and also a teacher, did everything she could, even meeting with the teacher to discuss any problems she felt could help improve the teacher/student relationship. She even invited the teacher to her house for dinner. Nothing seemed to work. The son got to a point where he avoided the teachers' class and eventually avoided school atogether. I'm not sure if he ever graduated. Over the years, I've lost contact with the teacher/mom. However the point is sometimes, and more often than we willingly admit, the problem can be coming from a negative teaching/learning environment and not necessarily within the home.

There are so many variables here that one idea, a terribly misguided one at that, doesn't address or fix the problem. In fact, it can lead to adding fuel to an already sensitive and volatile situation. One that will only harm the child in so many ways.

April 11, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Your lessened expectations of millions of Americans is a big part of their problem. I won't apologize for expecting such individuals to have it in themselves to be more than what liberals think of them.

April 12, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
Easy123 said...

LaughingBoy,

Your unrealistic expectations of people that are lesser off than you is unfair, misguided and ignorant. My realistic observation of what is actually going on in the world, our country is of no consequence to those that are under such pressure and hardship.

You shouldn't apologize. You should wake up. Conservatives want to send these people further into poverty by cutting and even eliminating programs like Food Stamps, Welfare, Medicaid, etc. "Liberals" think of these people realistically. "Liberals" realize that these people don't live in your WingNut dream world where everyone has the opportunity to "succeed".

Your misguided rantings remind me of one of my favorite quotes:

"Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?" -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Keep your lofty expectations. They serve to help no one but your own ego. Stop acting like you care for these people. Your "expectations" are just a facade for attacking the character of the impoverished and blaming them for their situation. It's a lot easier to look down on people when you've never been the one being looked down upon.

You simply do not get it. Until you've been around these folks, walked a mile or 5 in their shoes, talked to them, you will never even come close to understanding their situation.

It is truly a shame that there are so many sanctimonious, ignorant people like you that act like your "expectations" are helping poor people when your party does everything in its power to disenfranchise and perpetuate poverty, in general, by debasing programs that help those same poor people.

April 12, 2013 at 12:40 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

The Democratic party and its policies keep people like that "in their place." I think you get it, and just don't want to admit it.

Is it a law the poor have to quit school, drink to excess, use drugs, have multiple children out of wedlock and often with different partners?

April 12, 2013 at 9:22 a.m.
Easy123 said...

LaughingBoy,

"The Democratic party and its policies keep people like that "in their place.""

You cannot logically come to that conclusion given the current state of affairs in this country. Liberal policies keep people like that out of poverty. Those policies help those people by affording them the opportunity to obtain food, shelter, and healthcare. The Republican party and its policies have done nothing for poor people ever. "Expectations" are meaningless and help no one.

"I think you get it, and just don't want to admit it."

I think you're ignorant and everything you say is demonstrably false, but you just don't want to admit it. You really don't get it. You're oblivious to reality. You're a WingNut.

"Is it a law the poor have to quit school, drink to excess, use drugs, have multiple children out of wedlock and often with different partners?"

Are you just riffing now or do you have a point? Drinking and drugs are commonly used as a way to "escape" for people of all economic backgrounds. Sex is natural. Your Biblical beliefs about premarital sex and monogamy among single people is simply your opinion. However, sex/pregnancy does tend to be a problem in poorer, less educated areas where kids and adults are not taught about sex education, protection, etc. properly. Come to think of it, isn't the Republican party trying to eliminate sex education in schools?

Just another shining example of the Stupid Party (a.k.a. GOP) failing.

You just don't get it and neither does your party.

April 12, 2013 at 9:59 a.m.
ChakraDancer said...

So, Campfield represents Knoxville which ranks #1 Bible-minded city in the US??? What a joke. I think Jesus was pretty clear in his direction to his followers on taking care of the poor... so this direction must be coming straight from Satan?

April 15, 2013 at 8:54 a.m.
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