I’ve always loved Ghent University for lots of reasons, but after the last social experiment conducted by their staff, I believe I’ll respect them even more. Durf Denken or, in English, Dare to think – is the University’s official motto. But it’s one thing to choose a beautiful motto, and quite another to live up to it. UGent decided to challenge their students and see if they are able to think on their own and if necessary, go against the current, defending their point of view.
As part of the experiment, three professors (anthropology, entrepreneurship, and media technologies & innovations) made false statements during their lectures, provoking students to disagree. Check yourself how it went on:
Rik Van de Walle, UGent Rector: ‘It was not easy for the students to speak up. In one group we totally failed: everyone looked at the teacher with doubt, but no one dared to speak. /…/ For us, student’s ability to think autonomously and to defend their opinions is a matter of pride. It’s part of our DNA. At UGent we consider it our mission to help young people develop critical and independent thinking. /…/ We urge everyone to have the courage to think, to question the common opinion and to develop a nuanced position. Thanks to those who have the courage to think and sometimes challenge well-established beliefs, the world is moving forward.’
Why am I so fascinated by this experiment? Because I consider the ability to think independently to be the most powerful antidote to all the poisonous processes that can hurt a person or a society. Indeed, the encouragement of autonomous thinking is a good development indicator of any state or organization. And it gives me great pleasure to see how a public educational institution promotes the ability to think autonomously and critically and shows young girls and boys that the one who dares to cross all conceivable psychological barriers alone in a crowded audience and can openly disagree with a respected professor is a real hero. And the situation where everybody is silent and nobody dares to contradict while a professor is talking nonsense in front of them is a fiasco.
And, of course, I wish courage and audacity to think independently to all the boys and girls in the video: to those who kept silence, as well as to those who, thanks to their critical attitude, earned a handshake from the teacher, and in general to all of us.