Standing at the centre of the world: it’s a compelling image. But just who or what is at the “centre”, and what does planting that centre do to our knowledge? Clearly, this question of “centrism” threads through the Theory of Knowledge course, and there are plenty of good entry points to take students into discussion of its complexities. For one such entry point, I’d like to suggest using the image above, with its claim, “Whoever holds a camera stands at the centre of the world.” Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Yes, I too found the solar eclipse thrilling, and a little spooky. The summer sunshine grew dim and a chill settled over the garden. Curved bites appeared in the dappled shadows of leaves. Like many others, we peered at light falling through the pinholes of a homemade cardboard box to see the image of the bright circle of the sun largely blotted out by the dark shadow of the moon. Yes, it was thrilling – even though we were not ourselves placed along the swath named so resonantly “The Path of Totality”. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Today I offer you morsels from a book I’m reading as a delectable snack for your mind. Beautifully written, it reminds me that, in our course, we look at areas of knowledge not just for their description and analysis but also for their wonder. In many ways, I feel TOK to be a celebration of what we can know, and what we do know — almost, at times, in spite of ourselves. Let this reflection on science by Carlo Rovelli give you a bit of refreshment as you guide your students to the kind of vast overview that we aspire to take in IB Theory of Knowledge! Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) It’s easy to miss the point entirely when treating Indigenous Knowledge in TOK. It’s not a special “category” of knowledge, even though it is listed in our syllabus in parallel with other areas of knowledge. Clustering up indigenous groups across the world to look at their knowledge does not enable us to treat that knowledge as separate or separable from other areas of knowledge. I’m a big fan of treating Indigenous Knowledge — but specifically as a particular cultural synthesis of other areas of knowledge and as a cultural perspective within and upon the other areas. Today I’d like to bring attention to three current topics that clearly deal with Indigenous Knowledge but, on consideration, deal equally with history, anthropology, and archeology. I’ve included links to supporting resources. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Differing perspectives are easiest to see when they come into conflict. As a result, it’s tempting for Theory of Knowledge students to seize on conflicts as topics for presentations — and for us as teachers to use them as class examples to illustrate differences in perspectives. As I’m about to do here! I worry a bit, though, that, unless we treat perspectives with nuance and some empathy for the people involved, we could end up entrenching a binary vision of the world, and possibly a static one where we don’t reach beyond the conflicts into hope for the future.
A conflict in my own country this month over the meaning of Canada Day is a case in point: a specific event gave the media a story and focused attention on conflicting views. It’s a good example in various ways to take to a TOK class, but done well only if we place the skill of identifying perspectives within the larger TOK and IB goals of curiosity, openness and desire to understand. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) It’s not true to say that all teaching’s better with stories – but there’s enough truth in this exaggeration that I feel like saying it anyhow, and I hope that even TOK teachers will forgive me my hyperbole. Stories can catch student interest, illustrate points, and open up lots of questions. I’ve just read one I like for TOK and wanted to pass it on to you. Read it, enjoy it – and bookmark it for future use!
Before you get your hopes up for a crime drama or a racy romance, I must concede that stories useful for Theory of Knowledge rarely contain these elements – though they often do contain mesmerizing mysteries. The title of the one I suggest today invites curiosity about love and betrayal: “Why I left physics for economics”. Its subtitle piques interest in human motivation and the flight from excessive order: “I recently decided to abandon the rules that govern nature for the rules that govern people and markets: economics. Why would I do such a thing?” Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Oh no! More suggestion, in an article I’m reading, that gaining reliable knowledge from the media might be even harder than sticking to a diet! Just as we’re assaulted with tempting displays of candy and chocolate as we head for the supermarket check-out, we’re faced with screaming headlines, awful photos, and our own fear and excitement as we open the news. Alas! I’ve never been a fan of that smug term “delayed gratification”, and I’ve long felt morose about advice – getting it or giving it – to pause, and think… to counter first intuitions and impulses with the slower responses of reason. Nevertheless, a current analysis of “the terror news cycle” confronts me, yet again, with the importance of not grabbing on impulse but paying attention to what I take in. Resolution for the week: not to go instantly for the tasty or flashy. TOK teachers, beware: this is a spoiler alert! Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Which of her eager suitors will make the right guess in the gamble – and win the beautiful Portia and her fortune? Mathematician Alex Bellos gives us a new twist to a story familiar from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: a lovely and virtuous heiress is compelled by her late father’s will to marry the man who chooses, out of three caskets, the one which contains her portrait. In a Theory of Knowledge class, love, luck, literature, and logic combine in a quick class activity solving a problem – and thereby clarifying for students the process of deduction and justification through reason and language as ways of knowing. And it’s fun. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) In ethics, it’s the dilemmas that grab the headlines. They crash into the news for reasons similar to almost all news: they stand out from a norm of people muddling along in broad accord as they judge right from wrong; they sometimes pit groups of people against each other in noisy conflict; and they often have significant implications for people’s lives. Really, wouldn’t it be so much better if all dilemmas could be resolved without the conflict? Couldn’t we eliminate the messy human factor in ethics by using computer processing to help in our judgments – and wouldn’t that improve ethics as an area of knowledge? Wouldn’t we be so much better off under the guidance of MORAL ROBOTS? Well….maybe. But…no. Well, no, maybe not! Continue reading
(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Civilians Attacked by Chemical Weapons!” Few headlines spark as much outrage. If a TOK class engages students in the questions of knowledge connected with this kind of horrendous event, it can help them feel the importance of the intellectual tools that the course provides for probing into – and reacting to – such events.
A reflective piece in the current edition of Dispatches, a journal of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, provides an articulate, subtle, and thoughtful focus for many such questions. (Stephen Cornish, “Red Lines”) Easily viewed online, the article is short enough to be used as the basis of a rich and far-reaching discussion. What makes the article particularly effective, too, is that it appeared shortly before the most recent use of chemical weapons in Syria, and thus concerns a whole array of questions perhaps not fully apparent in the most recent news flashes. Continue reading