Education Opinion

Gum: It’s a Sticky Policy Issue

By Susan Graham — January 17, 2011 2 min read
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We don’t chew gum in my room.

Some students would say that’s narrow minded.
Some parents probably think that’s arbitrary.
Some administrators might suggest I choose my fights more carefully.
Some colleagues are likely to believe I need to catch up with current research.
Some stakeholders could argue that I’m not following best practices and therefore not a highly effective teacher.

I know what research says:

Studies have suggested that something about chewing gum reduces stress, improves alertness and relieves anxiety.... Now, the first study in people also supports the idea that chewing gum boosts academic performance.... The study included 108 students, ages 13 to 16, who were assigned either to chew sugar-free gum during math class, while doing math homework and during math tests, or to refrain from gum-chewing. After 14 weeks, the students took a math test and their grades were assessed....Those who chewed gum had a 3% increase in standardized math test scores and had final math grades that were significantly better than the other students. Teachers observed that those who chewed gum seemed to require fewer breaks, sustain attention longer and remain quieter.

The study was conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and was sponsored by the Wrigley Science Institute. That would be The Wrigley Science Institute (WSI) that claims the honor of being

....the first organization of its kind committed to advancing and sharing scientific research that explores the benefits of chewing gum.

And there you have it; the evidence is in. Standardized test scores are the measure of effective teaching. Research proves that gum chewers are 3% more proficient at coloring in circles on standardized math tests than non-gum chewers. Therefore gum chewing is a best practice strategy that all highly effective educators should be implementing.

And yet, I don’t allow gum chewing. Am I rigid and inflexible? Am I closed to new ideas and data driven instructional practices? Am I one of those old school bad teachers who needs to be fired?

Not if you read some more current research. In response to a Harris Interactive poll, done on behalf a giant job search website, CareerBuilders, human resource directors were asked to identify the most unusual mistakes made by job candidates during interviews.

In addition to the most unusual gaffes, employers shared the most common mistakes candidates made during an interview: • Answering a cell phone or texting during the interview - 71 percent • Dressing inappropriately - 69 percent • Appearing disinterested - 69 percent • Appearing arrogant - 66 percent • Speaking negatively about a current or previous employer - 63 percent • Chewing gum - 59 percent • Not providing specific answers - 35 percent • Not asking good questions - 32 percent

And there you have it. The evidence is in. Research proves that chewing gum could keep you from being hired. It might count against you in a college recruitment interview. A gum habit could possibly have a negative impact on your upward mobility and career. It might even limit your effectiveness in education policy discussions. Imagine the press heyday if the National Teacher of the Year showed up at The White House, chomping away, only to explain that she thought the gum would help her think better and be more relaxed when meeting with the President of the United States!

I teach Family and Consumer Science, a Career and Technical Education course, and at the middle school level, one of the most important strands of my curriculum is general employee workplace skills rather than specific job skill performance. This includes helping students understand that innocuous personal behaviors might not be appropriate workplace behaviors. I would be remiss if my classroom did not model some of these basic workplace concepts.

So, we don’t chew gum in my room. That rule isn’t about me and my preferences. It’s about my students and career readiness. I want them to perform well on more than their end-of-course test; I want help them prepare for life. And in the real world, knowing when not to chew gum just might matter more than 3% more correct answers on a standardized middle school math test.

To chew or not to chew? Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the outrageous chomping, Or to take arms against a sea of smacking. And, by opposing, end them.

It might be a sticker question that it appears because it could be linked to what we see as the mission of education and the role of the teacher. Is it test performance or life preparation? So chew on that thought for a while.

And in the meantime....
Please spit out your gum!

Image: Courtesy of stainexpert.com

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.