State senator Stacey Campfield is on to something with his recent proposal to cut Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits to Tennesseeans whose children receive low grades, but I don’t think his solution really goes far enough. We all know kids are impractical and tend to be focused on luxury and entertainment items, so is taking away short-term funding for items like food, utilities, and shoes going to provide enough incentive to get that GPA up? I mean, do kids really care if their homes are heated? If we truly want young, poor Tennesseans to succeed, we need to cut access to the material items they value. I propose, therefore, that all students who fail to maintain a minimum GPA, as defined by such educational experts as Senator Campfield, be denied access to publicly funded desks. And chairs. Also, pencils and paper.
Sitting on their classroom floors, committing all instruction to memory because they’re unable to write anything down, will force these underperforming students to really focus on their lessons. The physical discomfort and mental strain will surely crystallize their powers of concentration. The cognitive impairment, inability to focus, lack of energy, and increased illness rate sometimes found with children receiving TANF (and, for some reason, those experiencing even minor malnutrition) can be overcome by this productive denial of services.
If students cannot improve their performance under these beneficial circumstances, their families should of course continue to be denied full TANF assistance. Nothing sharpens the mind and academic prowess like the weight of your family’s well-being on your underage shoulders. Emotional distress really gets the I.Q. peaking. Science says. (By which I mean Kirk Science of Moscow, Tennessee).
Critics may suggest that such suffering will lead these students to leave school and pursue some form of employment, perhaps in an effort to pay for their own frivolous furniture and writing utensils. If such is the case, then we have only gained as a community from the addition of motivated employees to the workplace. TANF is, after all, a welfare-to-work program, so what better way to get its youngest beneficiaries to work? Surely beginning their careers at such an early stage will lead to a lifetime of advancement and success.
This program should be especially effective in Memphis, where all public school attendees can receive free breakfast at school and more than 90 percent of those children are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch based on household income. We’re clearly dealing with an epidemic of overly comfortable students here. The 1,200 calories a day (hmm, I seem to recognize that as the same amount recommended for inactive adults attempting to lose a pound a week) required by the federal school meal guidelines is creating a population of complacent youth, likely unable to see their textbooks beyond their overstuffed bellies. That time they spend in food-insecure homes during the evenings, weekends, and school breaks can hardly counteract this in-school excess.
It makes sense that Campfield, the genius political mind behind the proposed “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would expand on the idea that taking away what children need most is a direct path to health, happiness, and lifelong achievement. It’s a logical step between denying reality and denying the basic tools for survival. I only regret that he didn’t go far enough with this plan. His proposal leaves the possibility that children with severe learning challenges or unstable housing or any other outside factor that could contribute to poor academic performance are only punished for it at home. If we really want our children to excel in school — indeed, in life — we need to keep the empowering force of deprivation on them 24 hours a day.