Don't judge a fish on it's ability to climb a tree
First of all, Mr. Einstein never uttered or wrote this statement because there is no real evidence of that. Neither record of his spoken bon mots shows nor print literature saying such a thing by the renowned physicist. So why he has been given credit for it? The popular legend under debate knew that Einstein struggled mightily as a child and had a learning disability in a traditional Catholic school where the expectations were that he (and his classmates) would be expected to follow the prescribed academic routine of the school.
The idea that someone who initially had scholastic difficulties would eventually grow up to be such an intellectual icon is inspiring enough to ignore perhaps the evidence to the contrary of suffering from some other learning disability or his being dyslexic. Clearly, Einstein had something with which many of our students here at Engaging Minds are very familiar, had some difficulties in school.
Thankfully, and regardless of Einstein’s childhood circumstances, education has come a long way and an individualized approach to education in comparison to the past several decades and offering students the specialized help not as the exception but their need is now the norm.
Back to the quote, supposedly originated back in 1940 at the pen of George Reavis, then Superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools and in 1999 a fable that is thought to have inspired the quote was actually got widely circulated. The fable consisted of the story of the “Animal School” in which one of the stories was about a duck is instructed and advised to improve its skill in running, a fish is encouraged to better its climbing skills, and a rabbit is admonished to work on its swimming.
The moral of the story is that the natural talents and strengths of the individual animals are ignored in favour of trying to get them to do better in the particular skills or areas not only in which the animals are deficient but in which they have little chance of improvement or success.
The lesson behind both the fable as well as the quote, regardless of their place or person of origins, is surely an important one. If a student is seldom praised and is unappreciated for the areas in which he/she is good and excels, and has always been constantly reminded of all of the things, that the person unable doing then no matter how good he/she is at the latter the person won't help but start to doubt her/his own abilities.
So, a child who isn't lauded for her creative and accurate problem-solving and is called to task for forgetting to complete or maintain all of the steps in a math problem and may eventually decide that he/she "just isn't good at math." That is not to say that he/she shouldn't be following directions (after all, that is part of why Engaging Minds exists!) and working on improving her reading. Still, praise for the things a student does well and balancing acknowledging areas that need work is one way to encourage the enthusiasm for the learning process or for ongoing investment.
Also, recognizing the areas may require some more effort and work in order to see improvement, which is crucial in helping students who are committed to their own academic progress. Remind your child that just because he/she may struggle with writing a book report at present does not mean that he will always or throughout his/her life will have this much difficulty. The more he is involved in this process of learning and works on the skills, the easier the process will become and the improvement he is likely to see. And while, yes, some of the other "fish" in the school (haha) may have an easier time with writing, that does not mean that he can't improve from where he is now nor that they don't feel the same way about the amount of effort they have to apply to other areas of schooling.
The oft-overlooked part of the faux Einstein quote is the beginning – "Everyone is a genius." All students, at the end of the day, have areas in which they excel and in which they can take great pride. It is important to remember for all students that, when faced with having to work harder in some areas for which they don't have a natural affinity, the applied effort can lead to improvement and not excelling in one area doesn't diminish their overall worth or ability.
Seeing the genius in the people around is the greatest difficulty faced by many of the 'smartest' executives I know. I see this, especially who often suffer from what I call "smart people's disease" or with grit-based leaders. People who feel they are surrounded by people who just don't measure up to their standards are an affliction of the very intelligent. They have succeeded by acting and thinking and knowing what they know, doing what they do in the way they do it, and as quickly as they act or think. And they assume that everyone around them should and could do the exact same. In other words, they are actually expecting fish to climb trees.
As long as these leaders or executives expect others to be exact carbon copies of themselves, they will actually be endlessly disappointed. They will also be unable to leverage, recognize, and cultivate the sheer mastery all around the world and themselves. As the great physicist, Einstein says, they will also make a lot of geniuses feel stupid. This benefits absolutely no one.
In conclusion, this quotation's construction almost certainly influenced by the long history of fables about animals in schools. The central point of the fables a weakness in some area in addition to which each individual should be allowed to pursue her or his strengths and should not induce any debilitating feelings of inferiority. These points overlap with the actual intent of the saying. There is no substantive evidence connecting Einstein to the quotation.