Who Wins the Chewing Gum Battle?


Every time I watch the movie “National Security”, Martin Lawrence makes me laugh when he says this line: “Darling…Can I interest you in a stick of gum?” This also made me curious to find out how chewing gum was viewed in different cultures.

The other day, I found an article in a Romanian online newspaper that said: “Teachers’ fight with the chewing gum is based on educational reasons and the concern about a school’s property. << I banned chewing gum in school because it affects negatively children’s education. It is about getting students used to applying the rules of civilized behavior. If they walk today through a school chewing gum without realizing that this is not a civilized gesture, in a few years, we will meet with them as adults, chewing gum in other institutions they will work for or in different situations>>. Original article: “Lupta profesorilor cu guma de mestecat are la bază atât raţiuni care ţin de educaţia copiilor, cât şi motive practice, care ţin de integritatea bazei materiale. <>. (“Guna de mestecat este prohibita in scoli” –  http://www.ziarulderoman.ro/).

I grew up in Romania and there was not one child during my school years that did not like to chew gum.

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Teachers hated seeing us moving our jaws in a chewing motion and always assumed that we were chewing gum. Anyway, teachers prohibited “chewing” in class altogether either because you were chewing gum or eating food. It was simply considered an “uncivilized habit”. Most of the times, children would swallow the gum instead of admitting publicly that they were chewing it.

There was a medical professor in college that would go crazy if he saw us chewing gum while he was lecturing. He told us that when someone chews gum he/she concentrates more on chewing than learning. Nevertheless, chewing gum was the only way that kept us awake during his lectures.

When I started teaching in the United States, I met teachers that would allow students to chew gum in their classes and teachers that would not allow it. I was one of the teachers that did not allow it because just as I learned when I grew up it was very uncivilized to chew gum in class. I was among those teachers that were trying very hard to eliminate the disgusting habit of sticking gum especially on the furniture. My unsuccessful battle against chewing gum lasted for about two years.  I would place a trash can besides my classroom door and “made” students throw their gum before entering my classroom. I thought that was a good way of getting rid of the gum situation until I walked in and saw almost every child chewing gum like nothing had happened. I would often interrupt my class to make students throw away their gum without realizing that it was exactly what they wanted. This would allow them to get out of their seats, walk up slowly towards the trash can and back, stop by their friends’ desk, engage in conversations, and if you were one of the teachers they didn’t quite like they would do it as many times as it took to get you upset.

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 After a while, I realized that when you work with children, sometimes you need to “pick your battles”. I was wasting too much class time and energy to fight against gum chewing in my class. I learned that the more I would tell a child to not do something the more he/she would become interested and do it.

So, since there were no set school rules against chewing gum in school, I stopped my fight against it. I allowed children to chew gum on two conditions: not to blow bubbles and discard it properly when it got used up. It was a better way to “educate” them to be respectful to the learning environment and the school’s property than prohibit them from chewing gum at all. I told them why it was a good idea to place the used gum in the wrapper when they decided to discard it and not swallow it. I haven’t had a problem with the gum ever since. As a matter of fact, sometimes, they would offer me a piece of gum. All of the sudden my relationships with my students started to improve.

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It was interesting to notice that the teachers from the “old school” would forbid the chewing gum when the younger ones would encourage it. I asked a younger teacher if this was a good idea. She told me that chewing gum would actually help children learn better. I was very surprised to hear this. She said that there has been research done and all the findings proved that chewing gum in school was good for kids. I started doing my own little research and it turned out she was right. She was also chewing gum during her teaching because it relaxed and helped to better gather her thoughts. Actually, her doctor suggested to chew gum to help her cope with ADHD.

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What she said made me curious to pay more attention to my students’ behavior when they chewed and did not chew gum. Without conducting any special experiments and just through daily observations,  I could easily notice a change in the dynamics of my classroom when students were chewing gum. I had less interruptions, students would stay focused for longer periods of time, and work more calm on their assignments.  I became more interested in finding out more about the benefits of chewing gum and how they would affect children’s learning. Research shows that chewing gum increases the glucose level that makes students more alert. Students that chew gum require fewer breaks, pay better attention, and stay quiet longer. Chewing gum increases blood flow to the brain, helps memory improve, and students’ focus while they are studying. It also helps relieve stress, muscular and nervous tension, and helps with relaxation. Surprisingly, chewing gum helps improve test scores.

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As a teacher, I would be more interested in finding out ways to better my students’ learning than being too much concerned with the mess under tables and chairs that could be easily cleaned up.

If chewing gum is what makes my students perform better in class and obtain a higher score on a test then I will consider its benefits instead of forbidding its use because it is not a “civilized” behavior. It is a teacher’s job, after all, to teach children how to become “civilized”. Not all children come with “good manners” from home. I am sure when they become adults they will have accumulated enough “common sense” that will tell them when and where they can chew gum. It is a much better idea to “educate” children how to dispose properly of the gum so that they won’t have to hide it.

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Chewing gum is the world’s most common habit. This habit dates back to ancient times so it has a really long story behind it. The oldest piece of chewing gum is 9,000 years old. The Greeks chewed some form of gum called mastiche. Mayans chewed on the sap of the sapodilla tree and called it chicle. Native Americans chewed sap of spruce tree. They all turned out all right. 

Photos and animation: http://www.pixabay.com, http://www.pexels.com, and http://www.giphy.com

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