“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” is a popular saying that has been seen on items such as T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers. This saying has been quoted by various writers since around June 1974. Then, in July 1974, someone credited this saying to comedy writer and speechwriter Robert Orben.
Then in 1978, Derek Bok, the president of Harvard University received credit for coining this phrase. After that, it became known as “Bok’s Law.” However, the lack of earlier evidence to this claim and the lack of a direct denial made by Bok makes it unlikely that Bok had anything to do with originating this saying. Then in 1997, Andy McIntyre was credited for this saying, but that is also unlikely since several people go by that name.
In fact, this aphorism was first cited in 1903 as: “If education is expensive, ignorance is still more costly.” Then, a 1913 newspaper published an editorial titled “The Cost of Education and the Cost of Ignorance,” stating, “Education is ‘expensive’? In a sense, yes. But ignorance is infinitely more expensive.” Furthermore, a 1923 newspaper feature called, “Tom Sims Says” included “Education is expensive, but it isn’t as expensive as ignorance.”1
There is reason to believe that all of this was taken from an ancient document that had this maxim: “From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own.”2 But the real factor here is that it is a truism whether it is 100 years old or 1,000 years old. One of my great mentors, Dr. J. Herbert Walker, often said, “Ignorance is expensive,” when he saw a mishap caused by inattention or laziness. One saying that has been very effective in my own life comes from John Maxwell who said: “It’s said that a wise person learns from his mistakes. A wiser one learns from others’ mistakes. But the wisest person of all learns from others’ successes.”3 – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Taken from an article posted by Barry Popik, New York City, Education/Schools, July 17, 2012
2 Publilius Syrus (fl. 85–43 BC), Latin writer, Senteniae. He was a Syrian who was brought as a slave to Italy, but by his wit and talent, he won the favor of his master, who freed and educated him.
3 John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading, p. viii