Figure It Out

I want someone to explain to me what is wrong with the phrase, “Figure it out.”. It was said to me many times when I was in school as some kindly, yet no-nonsense, teacher stood over me refusing to give me the answer that seemed impossible for me to find. With arms crossed and an “I’m not kidding” expression, the teacher would look at the problem, look at me and say, “Figure it out”, and then she’d walk away. I’d look around the classroom to see if anyone else was struggling with solving the problem (usually math), and I was always glad to see they were. So once I’d assured myself that I wasn’t the only one having problems, I’d go back to my work and try again. We were taught to always go back to the beginning and do it over. There were many happy moments when it suddenly dawned on me what I had missed or overlooked and I figured it out for myself and was delighted to realize I could.

Now teachers have children work in groups. It’s ok to ask a neighbor. Seldom do you sit there struggling to figure out the right answer all by yourself. I don’t believe anyone uses that phrase, but me, and it’s gotten me into hot water with administrators more than once. I still don’t understand what is wrong with telling a child to use his brain and find out for himself how to solve a problem once you’ve given him all the components of the solution and shown him how to do it more than once.

There’s even a phrase in many classrooms, “Ask three, and then ask me”.

I’m called “old school”, but “old school” worked and we took much pride in individual achievement and left school with a feeling that we were capable, and while help was nice, we still could figure it out – whatever problem we encountered – if we just tried.  What was wrong with that?


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