Debate Magazine

What to Do When You Don’t Know How to Solve a Problem (from the Archives)

Posted on the 01 June 2011 by Stevemiranda

I taught a video production class once, and was confounded when students kept approaching me saying, “Mr. Miranda, the computer is saying the video camera isn’t connected, but it is. Here, come look.”

It was true. The students had correctly connected the video camera to the computer and were trying to transfer the video files so they could begin editing. But the computer kept giving them—all of them—the same error message.

I loaded all four computers into my little Honda Civic and drove to a local repair shop. When I explained the problem to the computer geek behind the counter, she looked rattled. Clearly, this was not a problem she’d encountered before either. “Let’s look inside and see what we can find,” she suggested.

What she found was piles and piles of dust. These computers hadn’t been cleaned in forever. Her first task, she said, was to take the computers outside and blow all the dust out of them. “This may take a while,” she said. “You might want to go across the street to the sports bar and watch the game, and I’ll call you when your computers are ready.”

I left. I came back an hour later, and she was using a can of compressed air to blow dust off the motherboard. “Still working on it,” she said. “I’ll call you when it’s ready.” Something about her intonation and body language did not inspire confidence.

I went back to the sports bar and waited another hour. When I returned again she said, “OK, all your computers are cleaned. My shift is over, so I’m handing the problem over to a colleague. Good luck!”

I was furious. She clearly didn’t know how to solve the problem and, instead of being honest about it, stalled for two hours until her shift ended. I then spoke with her colleague, who solved the problem in 15 minutes. The thing that was so aggravating was not the two hours I lost, but her lack of honesty and transparency. If you don’t know how to solve a problem, admit it and then enlist the help of people who do.

* * *

In related news, Washington State is the leader of a group of states called The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The group, according to the state superintendent’s website, is working to develop a new standardized test tied to a “common core of academic content standards.”

This comes after a more than a decade of funding the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), which was recently replaced by the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) and the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE).

* * *

The biggest difference between these two stories is that the state legislature’s shift is never over. And there are still enough unused acronyms to keep them stalling for a long time.

(Join the discussion at Get updates at

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