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 July 17, 2012
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” is a popular saying that has been printed on many gift items, such as T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers. The exact wording of this saying has been cited in print since at least June 1974. In July 1974, the saying was credited to comedy writer and speechwriter Robert Orben.

The saying was called “Bok’s Law” in 1978 and has been frequently credited to Derek Bok, the president of Harvard University from 1971-1991. However, the lack of earlier printed citations (and a direct denial made by Bok to the columnist Ann Landers in 1998) make it unlikely that Bok had anything to do with the saying. Andy McIntyre has been credited for the saying since at least 1997, but it’s also unlikely that this person (several people go by that name) coined the saying in 1974.

The aphorism is older than the 1970s’ phrasing. “If education is expensive, ignorance is still more costly” was cited in 1903. 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.” The 1923 newspaper feature “Tom Sims Says” included “Education is expensive, but it isn’t as expensive as ignorance.”

[This entry was prepared with the assistance of the Quote Investigator.]


Wikipedia: Robert Orben
Robert Orben (born March 4, 1927) is best known as an American professional comedy writer, though he also worked as a speechwriter for Gerald R. Ford and as a magician. He has written multiple books on comedy, mostly collections of gags and “one-liners” originally written for his newsletter, Orben’s Current Comedy, and he has also written books for magicians.

Google Books
Twenty-First Report of the Dairymen’s Association of the Province of Quebec
Quebec: Printed by Charles Pageau
1903
Pg. 127:
If education is expensive, ignorance is still more costly.
(Address of Hon. P. B. de La Bruère—ed.)

15 April 1909, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, “Work of Conference Reviewed by Mr. Ogden,” pg. 4, col. 6:
Education is expensive, but there is nothing more wasteful than cheap education, cheaply supervised and administered by ignorance in partnership with neglect.

3 August 1913, Galveston (TX) Daily News, “The Cost of Education and the Cost of Ignorance,” pg. 18, col. 3:
Education is “expensive”? In a sense, yes. But ignorance is infinitely more expensive.

1 May 1923, The Star-Journal (Sandusky, OH), “Tom Sims Says,” pg. 12, col. 4:
Education is expensive, but it isn’t as expensive as ignorance.

Google News Archive
27 August 1957, Cape Girardeau (MO) Southeast Missourian, “Barbs,” pg. 6, col. 7:
Real education is expensive, says a college professor. But not as costly, sometimes, as ignorance.

18 June 1974, Capital Times (Madison, WI), Classified Advertising Section, pg. 1, col. 5: 
ON THE HOUSE
BY CHAR MEYERS
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
(Parkwood Realty—ed.)

Google News Archive
28 July 1974, Rome News-Tribune, “Quips & Quotes,” Family Weekly, pg. 19, col. 2:
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.—Robert Orben

Google News Archive
6 October 1975, The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA), Ann Landers advice column, pg. 17, col. 1:
Dear Mr. and Mrs.: I do indeed believe college tuition should be tax deductible and I have no hesitation about saying so. But if you think education is expensive—try ignorance.

7 December 1975, Seattle (WA) Times, “Up your intellect in a paper bag?” by John Hinterberger, Magazine, pg. 5, col. 1:
The Dippy Duck, north of town near an unfusion of asphalt and rough-cut cedar known as Lake Forest Park, ran up on its readerboard some weeks ago this proclamation:

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

11 March 1976, Seattle (WA) Times, Letters, pg. 12, col. 5:
As someone has said, “If you think education is expensive, consider the coast of ignorance.”
-- MRS. R. B. ANDERSON,
Edmonds

Google Books
Investment in Learning:
The Individual and Social Value of American Higher Education

By Howard Rothmann Bowen
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers
1977
Pg. 3:
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
Ann Landers

26 March 1978, Sunday Chronicle-Herald (Augusta, GA), “Life’s humor exposed in laws” by Ann Landers, pg. 4D, col. 3:
Bok’s Law: If you think education is expensive—try ignorance.—Derek Bok (Pres., Harvard University).

Google News Archive
8 December 1983, Tri-City Herald (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland, WA), Dear Abby advice column, pg. A14, col. 3:
AL TO MULLING IT OVER IN MANKATO: I agree with your bumper sticker. If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Education without common sense is a load on the back of an ass.

Aphorisms Galore!
Andy McIntyre
Aphorisms Attributed to This Aphorist
submitted 1997
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

25 June 1998, The Daily Globe (Ironwood, MI), “Trophy wives are too expensive” by Ann Landers, pg. 14, col. 3:
Dear Readers: I wish to set the record straight. Several years ago, I attributed to Derek Bok (who was then president of Harvard University) the following gem: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Bok let me know that the quote was not his. I failed to acknowledge my error at the time and wish to do so now I dug around and discovered that a similar quote. “Education costs nothing. But then, so does ignorance,” was attributed to Sir Claus Moser. Mea culpa, Derek.

Google Books
Your First Year As an Elementary School Teacher:
Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional

By Karen Heisinger, Natalie Elkin and Lynne Marie Rominger
Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing
2001
Pg. ?: 
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”
ANDY McINTYRE

The Quote Garden
Quotations about Education
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.  ~Attributed to both Andy McIntyre and Derek Bok

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityEducation/Schools • Tuesday, July 17, 2012 • Permalink