A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 12, 2012
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will believe that it is stupid”

A popular quote, attributed to German-born physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), is:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

The quotation has been attributed to Einstein on several posters, but there’s no evidence that he ever said it. The quotation means that each one has a special quality or “genius” (a fish can swim, for example), but that one shouldn’t be asked to do what one cannot do (a fish can’t climb a tree). The quotation appears to have been first printed in 2004.

“The Animal School,” a 1940 fable by George Reavis (superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools), was reprinted in 1999 and possibly influenced the fake Einstein quote. In the fable, a fish goes to a school and is required to work on running and climbing. A duck also is told to improve its running. A rabbit is told to improve its swimming. The goal of the school is to achieve average competency results in all subjects, even though this is not physically possible for the various animals. Each animal’s unique ability is ignored.


Wikiquote: Talk:Albert Einstein
Unsourced and dubious/overly modern sources
(...)
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
. As quoted in The Rhythm of Life : Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose (2004) by Matthew Kelly, p. 80

[skeptics]
Did Einstein actually say the “if you judge a fish” quote that many are attributing to him?
(...)
1 Answer
This one is disputed, as wikiquote states.
Searching through books you will find only four instances and it sounds possible that these might have been triggered by the first one.
The search for the specific phrase “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree” did not found any suggestion of other sources in the whole corpus of google books.

OCLC WorldCat record
The animal school : the administration of the school curriculum with references to individual differences
Author: George H Reavis; Joyce Orchard Garamella
Publisher: Peterborough, N.H. : Crystal Springs Books, ©1999.
Edition/Format:  Book : English
Database: WorldCat.org
Summary: Presents a children’s story of animals who start a school because they wanted to help some of the world’s problems, but soon realized that not all the animals were successful in all of the required activities.

Google Books
The Rhythm of Life:
Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

By Matthew Kelly
New York, NY: Fireside
2004
Pg. 80:
Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this part of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”

PassionFord Forums
st3v3
22-01-2004, 09:34 PM
(...)
“Everyone is a Genius,But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree-It will live it’s whole life thinking it’s stupid"-A.Einstein

Leading With Grit & Grace
“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
Posted by: leslie.williams
Posted date:  May 11, 2011
(...)
As a leader, what can you do to help this person utilize his/her genius?  How can you more intelligently and respectfully leverage that genius to benefit the team or the organization?

And if there really is no place for this ‘fish’ in your team or organization, then how can you help them find the water where they can really swim?

Philosiblog
Posted on 12 July 2011
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. - Albert Einstein
What does that mean?
Einstein is stating here that he believes everyone has some genius in them. His genius was seeing the world of physics through new eyes. I don’t know if Albert knew how to climb a tree, but I think all of us can understand that tree climbing is not what fish are good at.

Forbes.com
12/07/2011 @ 7:12AM
Lessons from The Animal School Fable in Leveraging Strengths
By George Bradt
An adaptation of George Reavis’ fable, “The Animal School”, originally written in 1940, when he was superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools.

“The Animal School” Fable: An Adaptation
The animals organized a school to help their children deal with the problems of the new world. And to make it easier to administer the curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying, they decided that all their children would take all the subjects. This produced some interesting issues.
(...)
The fish was last seen heading for Canada to request political asylum. The moral of this story is:

Let the fish swim. Let the rabbits run. Let the eagles fly.
We don’t want a school of average ducks.
or, Play to people’s strengths.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • (0) Comments • Sunday, August 12, 2012 • Permalink