Opinion: Show your work

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Every would-be sixth-grade math prodigy knows the pain. If the answer on our test is accurate, why does the teacher need to see the long form effort that got us there? Don’t they believe that we just “knew” it? Do they think we are cheating off a nearby student?Many of us have fought the battle. We stand peering over the teacher’s desk demanding credit for our genius. Calmly, they respond that sometimes it is not good enough to simply get the correct answer. We must get there the right way – at the right time – and follow the right steps. 

We are reminded of our nascent school days when we were expected to “show our work” on the way to our ultimate and definitive response. At the time, it seemed redundant, even silly. Recess was waiting and then lunch after that. Besides, we’d heard that it was tater tot day. If it took too long to finish our test, we’d be at the end of the line and might miss the potato-based delicacy. Besides, a tater tot war would invariably break out and we’d be unarmed. The grapes from the fruit cocktail make a poor strategic substitute. 

Happily, as we grow older, our lunchroom habits largely improve. And for most of us, we come to understand and accept as apparent that the goal of showing our work was to train a process of critical thinking. We had to fully understand the accepted process before we could innovate from it. Indeed, our accuracy increased as the steps individually considered, implemented and mastered. But as we review our grown-up selves, do our marriages, careers and other relationships demonstrate that we are showing our work? Do we make it evident that others are valued, considered and accommodated in our lives? 


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