I stumbled across an interesting thought recently while browsing Quora. Apologies for the morbid nature of this post.
A member of the Quora community asked about what happens to cadavers after medical students are finished with them, to which user Daniel Lim offer this answer regarding medical schools in Taiwan. You can read his full answer linked here.
“The students spend a year dissecting the body, and at the end replace the organs and sew back the skin. They then conduct a mass remembrance ceremony and funeral for the Silent Mentors.”
The concept of the silent mentor is bound up in the following quote from Li He-zhen:
“I will give you my body to experiment; you can make as many mistakes on me, but never make a mistake on the patient.”
I found this to be a power quote that exemplifies an element of education that is sometimes overlooked in the modern economy. From my experiences, higher education is often seen as training first, before considerations of growth and development. When you complete your program, you will have been signed-off as competent in a field. This competence is granted after a series of lectures and tests; tests that you must not fail.
But failure is almost always viewed negatively. Bad grades are seen as a sign of deficiency – you are not smart if you are getting bad grades. Failure is costly to students as it sets them back, which costs time, money, reputation, etc. Education is cut-throat in the modern economy and everyone is in competition for a scarcity of jobs. If you fail, you are moved backwards relative to the pack.
Yet, failure can be an opportunity. It’s a chance to see where you have avenues of growth and development. Rather than seeing failure as an end-point, failure should be viewed constructively as the points that we need to focus on. Teachers shouldn’t be seen as punishing students for failing, nor should students be seen as inadequate for failing. Students should have permission to fail. School is the best time to fail, because the stakes (tuition notwithstanding) are so low. It’s a chance to test ideas, try things out and learn from the outcomes. Making mistakes should be instructive. Expertise is not just knowing the right answers, but also about having a powerful command of all the mistakes that are possible, too. Teacher have an obligation to instruct pupils properly, not to attempt to download the contents of their brains into the minds of the students. Education does not work that way.
If we approach failure this way, and encourage making mistakes in safe environments like school, then students will be better prepared to succeed when something as precious as life is on the line.