One of the things that confused me when I was in school was the lesson of sharing. Now, I am all for two or more people sharing resources. Sometimes it is splitting a sandwich with a buddy, or lending my baseball glove to a guy on the other team. I believe that the action of sharing resources is an intrinsic part of society. There isn’t a more comforting thought than knowing your friend or neighbor will come to your aid during your hour of need. Also, the act of helping someone else is the absolute ultimate for feeling the warm fuzzies. So, sharing is a very important lesson to learn in your life.
Now, about this gum business in the classroom …
You’ve either heard of this or experienced it yourself. It happened to me. There I was just minding my own business in the classroom. My mouth developed that weird acidic dryness like I’ve been chewing on old nails, so I took out a piece of chewing gum and made like a beaver on a tree branch. Suddenly, my math teacher stepped into my field of vision. He was standing there with his arms crossed. He did not say a word. This particular teacher resembled Bela Lugosi (the actor who played Count Dracula from the 1930’s onward), and he used that similarity to stare students down with intimidation. He had an expression on his face that said “You are doing something wrong, so stop it.” Not believing I was doing anything wrong, I returned with a look of my own that said “I am not doing anything wrong, so go away.” (I was more cocky and bold towards my teachers when I did not actually say anything.) We stared at each other for another moment. Finally, I said “What?” The ensuing dialog went something like this:
TEACHER: What are you doing?
ME: Um, nothing?
TEACHER: What are you doing with your mouth?
ME: Ah! I’m … chewing gum?
ME: So, what about it?
TEACHER: You don’t see what’s wrong with that?
ME: No. Is there a string of gum hanging from my face?
TEACHER: No …
ME: Am I making too much noise chewing gum?
TEACHER: No …
ME: Okay, I give up. What’s wrong?
TEACHER: Did you bring enough for everyone?
ME: Enough what?
TEACHER: Enough gum!
ME: No. Why would I want to bring so much gum to class?
TEACHER: Well, if you are going to bring any gum at all, you should bring enough for everyone!
TEACHER: Because when you bring something to class, you should bring enough for everyone. It’s about sharing!
ME: How does their lack of planning and foresight teach me anything about sharing?
ME: It seems to me that I am being punished for having foresight. I thought I might need some gum today, and it came true. Therefore, I came to school prepared. That’s foresight.
TEACHER: Umm …
ME: So, are you telling me that you are rewarding the other students for not having enough foresight to bring their own gum to class?
TEACHER: No, I …
ME: Do the other students, in fact, really need to have a piece of gum right now? Or, do they want the gum now that they know they will get a piece for free?
TEACHER: That’s not the point. The point is that if you are going to bring a food or snacks into the class, you should bring enough for everyone. That way, no one will feel left out. By only bringing enough for yourself means that you are selfish.
ME: Selfish? Okay. Which is more selfish: that I did not bring enough gum for everyone today, or that since no one else brought gum, that I am not allowed to chew the gum that I bought with my own money?
TEACHER (Shakes his head): Look, I am trying to teach you something here …
ME (Under my breath): For once in your career …
At this point, he gave me another silent stare down. Not one to be easily intimidated, I returned his scowl with one of my own. We were like two poker players trying to psych the other into folding his hand. Not this time, Mister. I checked. So did the Teach. We continued on.
TEACHER: Don’t be a wise guy. Look, if I was a student, and I saw another student with gum, I would be saying, “Hey! How come I don’t have any gum? I want some gum!” Now do you see how that could be a problem?
ME: Sure, if they do not have the money to buy their own gum. At that point, they need to ask themselves “Now, what would I need to do so I can buy my own pack of gum? Wash cars? Paper route? A job after school?”
TEACHER: A job? Just to buy a pack of gum?
ME: Sure. If their parents or family or friends aren’t giving them money to buy gum, then they will either need to make money to buy it or just flat out steal it. You’re not advocating theft, are you?
TEACHER: Of course not!
ME: Good. So, if they want to buy their own pack of gum, they will have to work for it.
TEACHER: What if they don’t want to work? What if they can’t get the money to pay for it? What then?
ME: Well, then they better get used to the idea of doing without.
TEACHER: How about you are the one who has to do without?
ME: Nope. I’ve got a job. I’ve got money. I can afford my own gum.
He shoots me another scowl. I return the volley. Check, check. The dance continues on.
ME: Here is a question: if I had waited until after class to chew gum, would that have been okay?
TEACHER: What you do outside of my class is your business. When you are in my class, then that’s a different story.
ME: If I stepped outside of the classroom, would I be allowed to chew this gum?
I got up from my seat and made my way to the door.
TEACHER: Hey, where are you going?
ME: Outside. You just said I could chew my gum if I was outside of the classroom.
TEACHER: I didn’t mean for you to leave the classroom right away!
I sat back down.
ME: Why is all this a big deal to you? If you had not caught me chewing gum, everything would be cool, and no one else would be the wiser.
TEACHER: Didn’t your parents teach you any manners?
ME: No, they just put me to work, which is why I have money to buy my own gum.
Scowl exchange number four. Check, check. And, we’re back!
TEACHER: Okay, one last time, wise guy. If a student brings a snack to class, they better bring enough for everyone. That is called sharing. If that student only brings that snack for himself, he better wait until class is over to have it. Otherwise, some of the students in the class will feel like they are missing out, which will cause a disruption in class. So, if anyone wants to bring a snack, they can do so, but they will have to bring enough for everyone. Or, just do without the snack during class. Does that make sense?
ME: It makes perfect sense to me. However, I also think it is total nonsense.
TEACHER: You say that it’s total nonsense? How can you say that?
ME: Here is my perspective on this. If I am the guy with the gum, I am being pressured to spend more money and will be getting a lower return for my purchase because if I am expected to buy enough gum for the class, everyone, including myself, will only be getting one piece of gum. That’s ridiculous. I am also being forced to only have the gum outside of class, which doesn’t seem fair, especially if I have funky breath and need that piece of gum immediately. So, my only solution is not to bring gum to class. From the other students’ point of view, I doubt if they even care that I was chewing gum. I think they are happy to be getting free piece just sitting there and not even asking for it. All they’ve learned from this situation is to just wait and they will eventually get free snacks when someone gets busted. Does that make sense?
TEACHER: Well, I am with you, even if I don’t agree with everything you say.
ME: To summarize, the lesson I learned is to not bring any food to class, and the lesson the other students learned is to wait until someone else gets busted to get free snacks.
TEACHER: OK, I see your argument.
ME: Good. Now, here’s a question for you: from everything we’ve just discussed, what does any of that have anything to do with learning to share?
For the first time that school year, I actually saw the TEACHER blink. His eyes stared at me for a bit, like a vampire sizing up my carotid artery, and then his gaze fell on the floor. I could tell he was carefully contemplating what I just said. Finally, he looked up and shook his head.
TEACHER: You’re impossible! I give up!
ME (Arms raised in victory): Yes! One for the students!
TEACHER: I wouldn’t act so victorious! I still think you are wrong!
ME: Aw, bite me!
TEACHER: What did you just say?
ME: Bite me! Bite me!
TEACHER: That’s what I thought you said. That’s insubordination, young man! You are going to the dean’s office!
I thought he was kidding. He was not. And, that is why you should not say those types of things out loud. Apparently, he was a sore loser. That particular teacher continued to give me a hard time that year. One memory I have is the time he jumped on my desk. I was suffering from apnea at that point in my life, which meant that I was not really sleeping very well during the evening, so I was sleeping a lot in class. During one of my bouts of passing out (you literally go out like a light from physical exhaustion), I heard a loud THUD like something had landed on my desk. I opened my eyes, and it was my math teacher standing on my desk, both arms crossed, looking down at me.
He just smiled and said, “I bet you never had a teacher like me before.”
I never told him that I was very tempted to take him out with a sweeping arm bar behind both knees. I ultimately decided to pass the seventh grade, so I let it go.
Thirty years later, I am totally convinced I was right. Those other students never learned about sharing in that situation. They learned to be opportunistic vultures. The student who just sat there waiting for free snacks is the guy or gal that grew up to raid the conference room luncheon after the meeting is over. Or, they are probably the same people who’ve stolen your food from the fridge even though you clearly labeled it with your name. They are probably the same people who’ve helped themselves to your jar of candy when you are not looking. Those opportunistic bastards. I am totally glad that I did not give them any gum.