If You’ve Told a Child a Thousand Times, and the Child Still Has Not Learned, Then It Is Not the Child Who Is the Slow Learner

Walter Barbee? Walter Barbie? Walter Barbe? Robert Alcorn? Nancy Reese?

learn09Dear Quote Investigator: A cogent adage aimed at teachers begins with the following phrase:

If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand…

The full expression concludes with a reversal of the traditional supposition and indicates that the teacher is the slow learner instead of the student. Do you know who should be credited with this saying?

Quote Investigator: The 1978 book “Inviting School Success: A Self-Concept Approach to Teaching and Learning” by William Watson Purkey contained the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As Walter Barbe commented in an in-service workshop address (Marshall University, 1977): “If you’ve told a child a thousand times, and the child still has not learned, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.” The role of the teacher is to extend consistently the invitations most likely to result in students feeling better about themselves and working to learn more in school.

In 1986 “The Orlando Sentinel” newspaper of Orlando, Florida stated that Walter Barbe was the editor-in-chief of “Highlights for Children” magazine, and the paper recounted some of his comments made before a group of teachers in Seminole County, Florida: 2

“If a child does not grasp a lesson when it is first presented, do not just repeat the lesson and increase the volume,” he said. “Try another way, another modality.”

“After all,” Barbe said, “if you have to tell a child something a thousand times, perhaps it is not the child who is the slow learner.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1995 the “North Hills News Record” of Pennsylvania printed an article titled “Repairing Bad Connections” about the difficulty of communicating with children especially teens. An instance of the saying was attributed to a counselor: 3

“If you’ve told a child (something) a thousand times, who’s the slow learner?” asks Robert Alcorn, Fox Chapel Area High School guidance counselor.
But there are ways to soften the process and encourage communication.

In 1999 an instance was spoken by a professor at Elizabeth City State University named Nancy Reese as reported in “The Virginian-Pilot” newspaper: 4

“If a teacher says, ‘I’ve told you a thousand times,’ then who is the slow learner?” Reese said from her ECSU office at McLendon Hall, where scholars mix with preschoolers in a laboratory for education students. “It’s not the student.”

An entry dated 2014 displaying a picture and a quotation on a website called “QuotesYou” credited an instance to “Barbie” instead of “Barbe”: 5

If you have told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.
Walter Barbie

In June 2016 a tweet credited a version of the saying to “Barbee” instead of “Barbe”: 6

“If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.” Walter Barbee

In conclusion, this expression should be credited to Walter Barbe who was an editor at “Highlights for Children” magazine. Other educators have employed instances of the saying.

Image Notes: Picture of a child and teacher pointing to a globe from Mojpe at Pixabay. Picture of two students at a blackboard from janeb13 at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Adnan Iftekhar and Simon Lancaster whose tweets led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1978, Inviting School Success: A Self-Concept Approach to Teaching and Learning by William Watson Purkey (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Chapter 4: Skills of the Invitational Teacher, Quote Page 48, Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1986 February 9, The Orlando Sentinel, Section: Seminole Sentinel, Article: Expert on Learning: Kids Absorb Knowledge in Many Ways, Byline: Elaine Bennett (The Sentinel Staff), Quote Page 1, Orlando, Florida. (NewsBank Access World News)
  3. 1995 June 13, North Hills News Record, Quote Page A8, Column 2, Repairing Bad Connections: Listening, openness keys to communication by Sharon Drake (Contributing writer), North Hills, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1999 November 30, The Virginian-Pilot, Edition: North Carolina, Section: Local Article: Professor’s Experience to Anchor ECSU’s First Master’s Program, Byline: Jeffrey S. Hampton (Staff Writer), Quote Page B1, Norfolk, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)
  5. Website: QuotesYou, Article title: If you have told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, Poster: Bradley Judd Date on website: September 25, 2014, Website description: Collection of quotations. (Accessed quotesyou.com on June 13, 2016)
  6. Tweet, From: alan mills @alanmills405, Time: 8:37 AM, Date: May 11, 2016, Text: “If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.” Walter Barbee. (Accessed on twitter.com on June 12, 2016)