Photographer:Fotograaf: Anna Heckhausen
To prepare students to be good citizens in a democratic society is the central concern of education for Teun Dekker, recently made first professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Europe. Dekker intended his inaugural lecture on Thursday, the 31st of January, to be a “celebration of Liberal Arts education” and hence introduced his idea of the seven democratic virtues fostered by a Liberal Arts and Sciences education.
With standing ovations, the audience in the university aula welcomes the university’s Rector Magnificus Professor Rianne Letschert, professors and – accompanied by seven of his students and dressed up in flannel robes – the man of the hour, Teun Dekker. Ovations which are continued by Letschert. She introduces Dekker as an inspiration his family, friends and students are rightfully proud of. Teaching political philosophy at University College Maastricht since 2007 “he strives to be the teacher he had liked to have himself.”
As such a teacher, Dekker has no lesser aim than to facilitate the persistence of democracy. “We should never take democracy for granted.” This is why students need to learn how to engage in democratic conversations. Conversations in which people compromise to find the best solutions for society and to see these solutions as a self-interest, rather than solely fighting for one’s own advantage. “It is difficult to have this kind of conversations. You easily end up yelling at each other. These conversations do not come natural, but they require a full range of skills that need to be taught.”
These skills are Dekker’s seven democratic virtues of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS), which stand in the tradition of the ancient septim artis liberalis. Dekker presents each skill in a dialogue with a different student in his company to show student’s real-life experiences of the virtues.
The first virtue is the humility “not to think one knows the answers. To realise, that we are not the centre of the universe. At first it makes you feel lost – but following the process of developing a balanced opinion will give you a valuable solution in the end.”
Humility is followed by critical thinking, personality development, perspective-taking and compromising as “live is a group project in itself. LAS has taught [students] to not leave the room in conflict. To merge opinions for an outcome, that no one intended, but everyone regards as their own. That’s a skill that you can’t learn in a one semester course.”
The last two virtues are the awareness of common societal problems and “the inclination to participate in a true democratic process. One must have a sense of democracy. One must have honest desire to discover and do what serves society best.”
Dekker concludes his lecture with a vow: “No matter what happens, I will keep doing whatever I can to help young people understand and be understood. Liberal education matters. It is a wonderful gift for society. For future generations. For democracy.”