Tag Archives: language

Signed language, symbolism, and reflections on inclusion

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) I learned something important from my friend Lynx – something important for how I think about TOK and knowledge. It was almost seven years ago. I was interviewing her, as an experienced New Zealand Sign Language interpreter, on how signed languages worked and what they tell us about the nature of language. I was keenly interested in the ideas – and on using my laptop to make a video for the very first time. Then, when I had finally edited the interview, I passed it to Lynx for her response. It was immediate. “Can we add closed captions?” she asked. I was mystified. Why would we do that? “I wouldn’t like to talk about the Deaf community and their knowledge,” she explained, “without their having access to what I’m saying.” In an abrupt shift of perspective, I suddenly thought about the function of the closed captions I had always ignored – and realized that she was right. I had anchored my thinking entirely in my own TOK community and relationships of ideas. As an interpreter between hearing and Deaf groups, Lynx was much more fully attuned to the people. She was talking about inclusion and respect. Continue reading

Standing at the Centre of the World: TOK class discussion (with handout)

Daryl Duke 200 dpi

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

Controversy in the Canada Day Party: analyzing perspectives for understanding


(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

Is mathematics a gateway to empathy?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Is the study of mathematics really a gateway toward empathy? I’m not fully convinced by the argument presented by mathematician Roger Antonsen, but I like him for making it. We need all the empathy we can get in our world. Certainly, his mathematical visualizations  do demonstrate the importance of mental flexibility and imagination in mathematics, and do stand metaphorically for being able to see from different points of view. And his argument leads to some interesting knowledge questions about perspectives and empathy. Continue reading

Is Palestine on the map?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Is it surprising that in Theory of Knowledge we are drawn to an analogy between the MAPS different people have made of the world and the KNOWLEDGE they have constructed of it – with all the selection, interpretation, and representation both demand?  Is it surprising that critical reading of maps needs the same recognition of perspectives that we apply to language as a way of knowing? A recent article in the Science section of The Guardian gives us a striking contemporary example of maps being used to express and support a political perspective.  “The issue caught fire,” writes Petter Hellstrom, “after the Forum of Palestinian Journalists accused Google of removing Palestine from their maps.” Continue reading

“Genocide”: what we call things MATTERS

(by Eileen Dombrowski) May no student graduate from our course without a sensitive awareness that what we call things truly matters! This week’s illustration is a rather grim one, but one that resonates with TOK topics: language as a way that we gain knowledge, influenced by how we categorize; concepts and naming as important issues in every area of knowledge, to the extent that the topic is given special emphasis in the knowledge framework. This particular illustration also demonstrates that history as an area of knowledge is not entirely about the past: Continue reading

“Untranslatable”: some goodies for your collection

160509 bird_singing(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Words claimed to be “untranslatable” are often a tease. If they were truly untranslatable, we would have no access to them whatsoever. What makes many examples delightful is that, in fact, we can translate them. We won’t feel the resonance that the words possess for native speakers, of course, but we often have access to the core meaning in a way that provokes pleased surprise at unfamiliar packaging of ideas – and perhaps a smile of recognition.

We Theory of Knowledge teachers collect words like that to enliven discussions of languages mapping out the world in different ways, and to stimulate student curiosity about some of the more profound differences — in language, and in cultural conceptions of the world. Would you like a few appealing words to add to your collection? Continue reading

“Who’s an Indian now?”: concept, definition, and significant ruling

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada on April 14 gives us a dramatic example to take to a Theory of Knowledge class: Métis and non-status aboriginal people in Canada are now defined as “Indians” by the federal government. The people who now fit into this category are celebrating. The implications are significant for the rights they can now claim, the programs and services to which they now have access, and the increased clarity of their place in federal and provincial jurisdictions. Moreover, some consider it to be an acknowledgement of their history and a validation of their identity. But why do I suggest a judicial ruling with political ramifications as an example for a class on knowledge? What does it illustrate that is relevant to our course? Continue reading

“Natural selection” and the early career of a metaphor

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Metaphors, as we all by now know, aren’t just ornamental linguistic flourishes—they’re basic building blocks of everyday reasoning. And they’re at their most potent when they recast a difficult-to-understand phenomenon as something familiar.” So writes cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider. In giving the backstory of Darwin’s choice of “natural selection” for evolution, he provides a short article for any Theory of Knowledge teacher to note, relevant to language as a way of knowing and the natural sciences as an area of knowledge. Continue reading

Perspectives and manipulation: 6 photographers and a single subject

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) At first glance, this three-minute video (6 Photographers Capture Same Person But Results Vary Widely Because of a Twist) provides a visually engaging, if rather obvious, illustration of differing perspectives at work as 6 photographers take distinctly unlike pictures of the same subject. Taken at face value, it’s an appealing resource for a TOK class on the effect of what we think (perspectives, WOK intuition/reason) on what we see (WOK sense perception) and how we represent the world (WOK language). It’s when we question the methods of the film makers, though, and the reach of their conclusions, that the video becomes richer in questions that we want to raise in Theory of Knowledge.

Continue reading