Generation Glue Stick

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Title: Generation Glue Stick

Main Idea: How the invention of the glue stick has changed an entire generation of young people.

Introduction: If Laura wasn’t so adorable, she might be mistaken for a brat. It would be an understandable mistake. Laura is nine years old, wears nice little dresses and bursts into laughter a lot. She could be the poster child for cute children. She could also be the poster child for COCD – Childhood Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Give Laura the colored pencils to color with and she will have a fit (she prefers the markers). Hand Laura the scissors with the red handle and she will refuse to use them (she will only use the scissors with the blue handle). Grade her paper by putting a smile face next to the right answers, and she will remove them with White Out (correct answers, obviously, are scored with hearts). The thing is, Laura isn’t the only one with COCD. Most of the kids I work with have it to some degree. It’s not a new phenomenon – kids have always been stubborn – but it’s getting worse. Why, you ask? Perhaps it began with but one small invention, the glue stick.

Body Paragraph #1: Way back in 1969, a German company named Henkel had a bright idea. They studied lipstick and noted how remarkably easy the ‘twist-up’ applicator was to use. What if, they asked themselves, other items could be created in lipstick’s image? Henkel decided that glue would be an ideal candidate and soon after introduced “The Pritt Stick,” the first incarnation of the modern glue stick. Only three years later, Pritt Sticks were being sold in 38 countries. By 2001, that number climbed to 121. But while the bright idea of creating a glue applicator modeled after lipstick came originally from Henkel, another company piggy-backed it with a bright idea of its own. The Elmer’s Company, who used a cartoon figure named Elmer the Bull as their mascot, had the brilliant notion of sticking the word ‘school’ in the name of their products. This worked wonders. Schools always needed cheap crafting products, and Elmer’s jumped all over that. Elmer’s products such ‘School Glue,’ ‘Krazy Glue,’ and the ‘X-Acto Knife’ became ubiquitous in schools all over America. The focus of Elmer’s advertising is still squarely placed on educators and students; go to their website today, and you will find a feature entitled ‘The 1st Day of School’ filling their homepage, with side links for parents and teachers.

Body Paragraph #2: So what does any of this mean? I argue that through the advancement in the quality of products (The Pritt Stick, for instance) and their widespread usage in schools (thanks to companies like Elmer’s), we have spawned Generation Glue Stick, a explosion of young people who have grown to understand the world through a prism of order, convenience, and tidiness. Let me explain. For a long time, students in younger grades had to make do with what they had. Want to glue two papers together for an art project? A student used a bottle of glue for that. This was, by its nature, an imperfect device. One had to be rather careful when using the glue bottle, making sure not to overdo it. Personally, I liked to employ the ‘glue dotting technique,’ where a person places a small dot of glue on each corner of the paper and sticks it to something that way. It required patience. The glue took awhile to dry. Also, classrooms weren’t always that well stocked with glue bottles. Sometimes there was only one big bottle and you waited your turn to use it. That said, I never considered a bottle of glue to be particularly hard to use until recently. My kids, it seems, are very glue stick reliant. Give them a bottle of glue, and it’s a disaster. There’s glue everywhere and lots of children crying. While convenience is the major draw of the glue stick, independence is a benefit as well. Schools have tons of little glue sticks so that each student can glue his or her own stuff in solitude. There is very little waiting or sharing. It’s a fact that having only four glue sticks will turn an otherwise normal class of ten kids into Lord of the Flies.

This is an awarding winning piece of art created by an elementary school student. I didn’t have much time for abstract art in elementary school, as I was too busy drawing dragons.

Body Paragraph #3: The glue stick isn’t the only culprit. Everything, for today’s young student, is constructed on a platform of order and visual aesthetic. At the risk of sounding really old, when I was a kid, White Out was a delicacy, something used only in special cases where the scribble out technique just wasn’t acceptable. Today, all my kids carry around white out tape. Before, kids wrote with little nub pencils that had shrunk down to a half an inch from lots of usage. Today’s kids have immortal mechanical pencils that they fill with pristinely thin pieces of lead in a delicate procedure, done with the care of a surgeon making an incision. Very little is handwritten today. Final drafts are almost always typed. Crayons are Stone Age-level old fashioned. With copy machines in all schools, kids can always screw up their worksheet and ask the teacher for a clean new one. Class speeches have a PowerPoint presentation to back them. Instruction has become more visual and structured as well. Take a writing assignment, for instance. I can remember jotting down a crappy outline on a sheet of loose leaf paper. Now, reading and writing assignments involve a giant variety of mental maps, graphic organizers, brain storming diagrams, and the like. There is a real sense of perfection in the work of today’s students. It’s no wonder that Laura will only use the blue scissors or accept hearts for her correct answers. For her, everything in education has been done by design, been crafted and molded to fit. It’s not a negative thing. Call it a new outlook. With the glue stick and its cohorts, our children today are being encouraged not only to be creative, but to be professional about it.

Conclusion: Generation Glue Stick, in many ways, is more advanced than previous generations were. They will grow to become people who file things well, who document, who know how to plate food in a visually pleasing way, and who will hand in reports that are spaced properly and don’t have mustard spilled on them. True, they can’t use a glue bottle, they don’t work particularly well with others, and they have difficulty dealing with mistakes and adversity. It doesn’t matter. They know how to fix things. Whatever mistakes they’ve made will safely be confined to the outline, and, I’m pretty sure, no parents hang outlines up on the refrigerator door.

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20 thoughts on “Generation Glue Stick

  1. Interesting piece here – you’re right about the state of orderliness kids these days enjoy (and still make a mess of). Gone are the days where you use glue and I think I even had times using some starchy glue-like substance to stick items together. Kinda fun now that you think about it.

    • Hey Rustic – Yeah, come to think of it, we probably really made an enormous mess. I’m not trying to complain about things, and really I shouldn’t. As a teacher, guess who would be cleaning that giant mess up. And that would not be much fun.

    • Glue sticks do abound. Yeah, I didn’t mean to lament these kids…I guess it’s hard not to romanticize your own past. It does sadden me that it seems like with a lot of adults, everything HAS to be done one certain way, and I see that exact thought process forming in the kids I teach. It’s such a breath of fresh air when I get a kid who doesn’t give a crap what scissors he gets or, got older kids, actually has the interest and puts forth the effort to write something expressing something he/she thought and doesn’t need the teacher to basically spell everything out in a graphic organizer the class does together. Well…maybe that does make it sound like I’m lamenting something. I’ll stop rambling now. Haha. Peace Waiting!

    • Yeah, they’re lucky. Spoiled rotten might be another way to put it. I’ve noticed that I am incapable of writing with a mechanical pencil. I ALWAYS cause the lead to break off. It’s ridiculous. For me I guess it’s number 2 or nothing.

  2. Kids today, huh?! They play sports – just one, all year round, so they can be burned out at the thought of it by the time they’re 12. They play it on artificial turf, so they don’t even get dirty. Between glue sticks, and using the cut and paste feature on their computers, they never have to get messy or deal with mistakes.

    Rather than hanging their work on the fridge, which is brushed stainless by the way, parents in-the-know will take pictures of the finished work with their iPhones and post them on Facebook or in a digital picture frame with vacation shots from Epcot. Epcot is preferable to going to Europe because it’s cleaner and everyone speaks English. Besides, with the money they save, they can afford to send little Brittany to yet another soccer/gymnastics/fast-pitch softball camp.

    Is it obvious that I’ve neglected to take my medications in a timely fashion?

    • Love it. Especially the part about taking the picture of the work. And the cut and paste on the computer. Brilliant.

      You have kids. Through them in some mud from time to time. It’ll be good for them.

  3. I miss the days when I used Elmer’s glue, water colors, egg shells and melting crayons. It’s a lot of mess but I would have to say that getting messy in school activities makes learning more adventurous and more enjoyable. Just like in real life. We take risks. We make decisions and make a mess of our lives, especially if we made the wrong desicions. But see, we learn. Using a glue stick is like playing safe. Always being on the safe side, scared to discover and explore the world. I don’t think I am making sense at all anymore. Hehe…. Anyway, I thought at first you were talking about the glue stick with the glue gun. Great post as always topicless! :)

  4. So, just how much research did you put into this post? That’s a lot of glue stick background! School was fun when I was a kid. My grade 3 teacher always had 2 bottles of glue. She would pour a little bit of glue into a container, and put it in the middle of our 4-desk islands, with 4 popsicle sticks. We managed just fine.

    And those glue stick kids, sadly, they will never get to make a white glue hand mask. Coat your hand, blow to dry for 2 minutes, and peel carefully. Voila! A favourite part of my childhood.

    • Haha – Yeah, I like to throw in a little research into posts every now and then. I was really trying to find data on how much money Elmer’s Glue makes from sales directly to schools, but apparently nobody has been interested enough to compile that. What a bummer!

      Holy cow, how did I forget about peeling dry glue off the hand? That was THE BOMB! Having glue hand was a total joy and filled many a 2nd grader’s heart with happiness. Excellent call, Karin!

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