on making mistakes

“Sometimes you don’t want to risk making mistakes; you actually want to make them — if only to give you something clear and detailed to fix. Making mistakes is the key to progress.”

-Daniel Dennet in Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking

Dennett dedicates the first chapter of his book to pysching his readers up to make big mistakes. He argues that making mistakes is fundamental to process, and the quicker we make the mistakes the more we will learn.

It’s interesting that an academic (Dennet is a philosopher) is encouraging mistakes.

The foundation of academia is grading students on their work. Grades, in effect, are a record of how many mistakes a student makes. Contrary to Dennett’s belief though students are not trying to rack up mistakes, they are instead trying to eliminate them. Eliminating mistakes in their work equates to better grades. Better grades mean potentially being on the honor roll, and/or acquiring scholarships.

Dennett makes no mention of the grading system in his work; but if making mistakes is so critical to progress, I wonder, what is lost when our entire educational system is built on the idea of teaching students to make less mistakes?