Gum is evil.
It’s something I didn’t understand in my younger days. Now I do. I used to think gum was good. When kids’ mouths are closed, I teach, kids listen. I used to use Jolly Ranchers for this. I’d give loud kids two Jolly Ranchers each. I wasn’t rewarding students for misbehavior. I was punishing them.
It’s science. When a person chews a Jolly Rancher, the mouth fuses shut. There are two choices–fight it and lose teeth, or go with it, enjoy. Then wait twenty minutes or so until it releases its death hold. It’s almost like meditation training. Forced quiet. I was a new teacher. When you’re new, you use what you got. It was a good strategy–using the principles of adhesion to get kids to listen. Does that count as integrating curricula?
Fast forward to present time.
One student offered me gum. I politely refused, telling her I don’t chew gum.
“I don’t see the point in it,” I said. She looked mystified.
“Candy, yes. Good chocolate, absolutely. But gum gets chewed twice and tastes like an eraser. Why do all that work for nothing?” I recently saw an article correlating teen gum chewing with migraines, too.
In principle, gum’s cool. In reality, it’s nefarious. Why do kids put it under desks? They’re only going to stick to it later. They can’t remember to pull up their pants or bring their homework–how will they remember where they stuck their gum? Maybe there’s someone from Wrigley’s out there who can invent gum that doesn’t stick? A gum version of a Post-It note.
Once I had a vandal scrape gum. She flicked dirt near her eye. Then everyone was scared about kids poking eyes out cleaning messes they made on purpose, so now we have to make them say sorry instead. The gum remains.
It’s the middle of class. I’m explaining something. A kid stands up.
“May I help you? I’m about to impart the meaning of life here.” I’ve lost my thoughts.
“Just throwing out gum.” He saunters in front of me to the can farthest away. This gum, which has been flavorless for two class periods, cannot wait another moment.
It’s a teachable moment.
“Picture a business meeting.” I say, waving my hand across the imaginary board room. “My boss is giving a presentation. I stand up. I walk in front of him, sagging my pants. I nod. The Board of Directors look on…”
“You sagging, Miss?” someone says. It’s an image that once imagined cannot be unseen.
I explain etiquette. Walk on the outside, don’t disturb, when eating or gum chewing at a meeting, be polite. Don’t crunch, munch and chew. If you have trash to toss, do it at a break in the activity, not while The Boss is speaking. Etiquette’s important. Conference etiquette. Meeting etiquette. Arriving late etiquette–there’s a finesse. We don’t teach it enough in schools. Maybe I should be grateful to gum for the opportunity to teach higher-level skills.
Classes ban food, drinks, and gum rather than teaching what to do with them in high society. I want my students to behave properly at fancy functions. “Gum” and “food” aren’t in the curriculum but food is a central focus of business. Employees are hired over lunch, companies built over coffee, investments solidified over cocktails or tapas. No one sticks gum under the table while talking with an investor.
But that’s not really why I hate gum. I hate gum is because Declan discovered it.
“Mommy, can I have gum?” At first, it was cute. A six-year old walking around chomping like a cow. Every once in a while, he’d spit a piece across the room like he was shooting a cannon. “I’m blowing bubbles.”
Next, he’d play with the gum, taking it out of his mouth, looking at it, wrapping it around his finger. What followed, naturally, was gum on things. Gum on shirts, furniture, toys. Gum strings, gum residue. Gum slime trails that looked like little slugs walked across my counter. Gum sculptures. “I made a dinosaur.” The germy “I’m saving this gum for tomorrow. I’m going to chew a world record of gum.” He chewed that piece for days, placing sticking it on stuff while he ate, drank, and slept.
The last straw was gum on my computer. Understandable. With iPads, phones, and tablets around, who’d know the iMac wasn’t touch screen? It’s the digital generation. I explained.
“Oh, I know that, Mommy.” What six-year old can’t program a computer these days? I was talking down to him. “I wasn’t touching it. I put gum on it. I made a picture. It’s nice.”
There will be no more gum. I’ll ban it like Singapore.
I banished him from my computer for willful destruction of parental property.
“No more computer? Don’t you want me to learn?”
“Yes. I want you to learn. That’s why I’m giving you this paper. It’s what Mommy had when she was little.” Meanwhile, I used the computer to learn “How to remove gum from computers.”
Gum–a tool for learning. An instrument of utter destruction. It’s here to stay. The best I can do today is hope not to step in it.
The gum, I mean.