(by Eileen Dombrowski) I ended my last post with questions about Rachel Dolezal’s claims to be black: “Are her personal knowledge claims the deciding factor, in your mind, for determining her racial identity? Why or why not?” What has captured media attention, it seems, is the way in which her story pits her own personal knowledge claims about her own racial identity against social knowledge claims of racial classification – and this in a society where racial categorization is charged with assumptions, associations from history and politics, values, and implications for treatment.
What captures my own TOK attention, however, is more generalized. It’s the differing bases and justifications for general classifications, of course. But even more intriguing is the way particular examples fit – or, being human, sometimes dramatically refuse to fit – into the categories assigned to them. As soon as we take two steps back from Rachel Dolezal’s story, others flood into the space. Who is black? Who’s an Indian? Who’s Jewish? Continue reading
A story currently running in the media jolts me out of summertime diversions, straight back to TOK. I find knowledge questions about classification magnetic, especially when the categories constructed have social and emotional resonance as they are applied to human beings – as has the categorization of “race”.
This week’s incident gives an interesting twist to American stories of people of one race “passing” as another. Rachel Dolezal, president of a Washington state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has been exposed by her birth parents as lying about being black. She is white – and they have the birth certificate to prove it. Many people have condemned her deception, including her black adopted brother who describes her “blackface” as “a slap in the face to African-Americans”.
Yet she is clearly a leader in Washington state’s black community, an expert on Black American culture, and an advocate for the community on issues of civil rights. Asked by a reporter whether she was black or white, Dolezal responded only, “That question is not as easy as it seems. There’s a lot of complexities … and I don’t know that everyone would understand that.” Continue reading
Newton, here it comes!
“The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.” So writes Leonard Mlodinowmay in an article in the New York Times forwarded to me by my co-author and friend Lena Rotenberg. It’s a good article for any TOK reading list, taking aim at myths of scientific discovery and their implications for understanding any complex field: Continue reading
Salvation Army uses “black and blue” in campaign against violence against women.
(by Eileen Dombrowski) A week now since I posted “What colour is that dress? Millions disagree”, the story of the dress (black and blue, or white and gold?) continues to echo in the media. As different groups frame the story of the optical illusion with their own interests and ask their own questions, they create different stories of their own attached to what is currently a common reference point. Does placing the dress in different contexts affect, do you think, how you “see” it? I’ll pick out just two striking uses of the dress, both of them seizing on it to make points irrelevant to its optical qualities – but in the process moving into extended TOK territory!
(by Eileen Dombrowski) Why do I have such ambivalent reactions to this video “Enoughness”, when it is so obviously a splendid film to take to a TOK class? Not only does it give a short, pithy summary of perspectives on the natural world and their implications for how we treat it, with graphic illustration, but it also supports a new area of knowledge in the TOK course, indigenous knowledge. Moreover, the value it places on sustainability puts it utterly in harmony with IB education. But….but…but for me, perhaps it’s my objections to it rather than my general endorsement that make me consider it particularly valuable for TOK.
(by Theo Dombrowski) “As a default, we humans are notoriously irrational,” writes Adam Fletcher. “Many of us suffer from something called dysrationalia which is being unable to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence. Dysrationalia explains why otherwise smart people might believe in horoscopes, Yeti, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Xenu, the ruler of the Galactic Confederacy.”
The failure to separate genuine knowledge from spurious claims can, of course, be dangerous. The contemporary world, in spite of increased education and awareness, is bristling with politically painful examples of widespread social problems arising from “dysrationalia”. In fact, the opening quotation is from a satiric article focusing on the particular issue of knowledge-claims-gone-horribly-wrong — yet flourishing — in a protest group in Germany called Pegida.
Classification carries implications.
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) Who’s indigenous? And does it matter? These are significant questions, with significant answers. They are relevant to TOK both through the new area of knowledge, indigenous knowledge, and an old area of knowledge, ethics – as well as to all the ways of knowing involved in classifying our concepts, and, in the knowledge framework, to the topic of concepts/language. Two stories in this past month’s news bring these questions to life: a court contest in Canada about who is classified as “aboriginal” and a conflict in Tanzania over whether indigenous people have any claim to their traditional land. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC blog Sept 13, 2014) About all areas of knowledge, we ask questions that take us straight to methodology and social context. Who owns knowledge? How is it passed on as shared knowledge, and within what controls of methodology or power? We may think instantly of the sciences, and even controversies over current scientific conclusions and scientific products (e.g. medicines and technologies). Yet some of the oldest knowledge in the world is equally ignited by these knowledge questions, Continue reading
(by Theo Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog August 13, 2014) Interviewed in the TOK Course Companion, economist Susan McDade (working with the United Nations) comments that “most economic theories” used in the West are based on “assumptions [that] can be pointed out to be weak or not always true” and argues for a complex series of values that are typically ignored by economists.Economics, as we recognize in TOK, is very much a human science – inescapably human in its study and interpretation of aspects of human behaviour. In this regard, a useful further resource for our TOK treatment of the human sciences is a new book by Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide. Continue reading