Other ways of saying it:
The Three Tradesmen
A great city was under attack, and its inhabitants were called together to consider the best way to protect it from the enemy.
A Bricklayer earnestly recommended bricks as the best material for an effective resistance. A Carpenter, with equal enthusiasm, proposed timber as a preferable method of defense. Then the Leathermaker stood up and said, “I disagree with you both: the best material for resistance is a covering made of hides - that is, leather.”
The Three Tradesmen summary: While Aesop usually used animals to convey human nature in his fables, in this one he uses actual humans.
Aesop's moral reminds us of an unpleasant truth: people serve themselves. For parents, I think the fable is better used as admonition than instruction. Distrust those whose recommendations might be colored by self interest.
In a world where we're more likely to find ourselves pressured by an aggressive salesman than an advancing army, the warning still holds true!
However, it should be noted that modern usage of the phrase has come to differ from Aesop's. We tend to say, "Every man for himself," when catastrophe is at hand and the need for self-preservation becomes foremost. I doubt The Three Tradesmen will actually convey that particular message to children.
And frankly, it's a rather incomplete story. We don't find out which material would have been best! (As in The Three Little Pigs.) Or how each of them failed, and the best solution would have been a combination.
There are probably more lessons here for the Federal employees who work with defense contractors than there are for children!
How to use Aesop's Fables.
More stories with morals.
Storytelling to improve behavior.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.