Post-Traumatic Catholic School Syndrome: Chewing Gum Edition

Alert the nuns! Research proves that popping in a wad of Bazooka before a test can help students focus.

Take that, nuns! This triumphant reaction, complete with fist pump and success grunt, came the other day when I learned the big news from St. Lawrence University. According to researchers, chewing gum might help students perform better on exams. The “mastication-induced arousal” basically wakes up the brain and can help students think better for as long as 20 minutes. (Uh, hey, Philadelphia School District, think you could buy Bazooka in bulk before the next round of PSAs?)

I feel personally vindicated by this discovery. After 13 straight years of Catholic education in Philadelphia—St. William School in the Northeast for kindergarten through eighth grade and the now-defunct Cardinal Dougherty in Olney for high school—I was under the impression that chewing gum during school hours was akin to shooting up heroin or, perhaps, even worse, wearing dangling earrings bigger than a dime. A super nerd and a strict rule follower, I received exactly one demerit in my entire academic career: for sneakily chewing gum in geometry class sophomore year. To discover that it not only could have helped me (20 minutes is equal to what? 300 SAT math points, right?) but it definitely would not have harmed me is sort of like discovering that chocolate ice cream makes you skinny. In my Catholic school brain, it is unfathomable.

This got me wondering: What if other inane school rules had health benefits? Perhaps wearing those scandalous quarter-sized earrings would help strengthen my earlobe muscles. (Those exist, right?) Or maybe wearing a skirt higher than two inches above my knee and socks that don’t rest just below my kneecaps would encourage cold-weather tolerance on my legs. Could a sassy, neon hair clip or bright red lipstick stimulate brain activity? Could a beard help a male student athlete perform better on the field?

I understand that these rules mostly exist for legitimate reasons. The gum thing probably remains in every handbook because teenagers can be real assholes about school property. A few wads of Juicy Fruit under every desk in a school and I’m guessing you have one angry janitorial staff.

But as schools become more and more focused on test scores, maybe this is one rule that nuns start to bend—or even openly break—for the sake of statistics. The sassy hair clips, though? I’m betting that’s a lost cause.