(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) At first glance, it’s a most unlikely statue to ignite a diplomatic row: a barefoot girl sits on a chair, her hands passively in her lap. Nevertheless, the placement of this gentle statue by South Korean activists in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan has set off a storm of controversy and provoked Japan to withdraw its ambassador from South Korea. But why? In Theory of Knowledge, clashing perspectives on this statue take us straight through concepts of symbolic representation and smack into history as an area of knowledge with ethical resonance.
It seems to me that this incident could be immensely useful for a TOK class. There are plenty of images online of the controversial statue, so there’s something visual to anchor abstract discussion. Moreover, students are likely to have their interest (and probably compassion) caught by the story of women forced into sexual servitude – and to grasp quickly both the desire to remember historically, and the desire to forget! The current strong feelings about the issue and how its story is told also help to raise a potent TOK question: Is history really only about the past? Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Where do new ideas come from? Is it inevitable, I wonder, that in trying to talk with students about using ways of knowing creatively I’m inclined to turn to individual stories of “getting ideas”? Today I’d simply like to share two or three resources for raising discussion of creativity in class. Continue reading
(originally published on my Oxford University Press education blog) In my part of the world, there’s an entire public holiday built around a particular emotion: gratitude. In 2015, Thanksgiving Day falls on October 12 for us Canadians and November 26 for our American neighbours. Although this year I’m not home cooking a traditional turkey (I’m off travelling in Romania!), I wanted to wish all of you the best for this day, and to send you my hopes that you have plenty in your lives to feel happy about. And (no surprise here!) I can’t resist linking the emotion of gratitude to TOK class discussions. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski) “Knowledge”. “Understanding”. “Truth”. Your students might want to argue with the way Destin Sandlin uses the terms — and so will you — as he struggles to learn how to ride what he calls the Backwards Brain Bicycle. This video is likely to provoke ripples of laughter and to animate discussion on “knowing how” and memory as a way of knowing. Not a bad lead-up to knowledge questions! Continue reading
(by Theo Dombrowski) If there’s one quality we all want in news announcers it is their truthfulness. A liar is not what we want. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the most widely covered news stories of recent weeks is the one directed at exposing famous NBC News “anchorman” Brian Williams–as a liar. So high profile is this story that if you take it to a TOK class you can expect most students to have heard it (at least in North America.)
As for the lie itself, well, according to Williams he was traveling in a helicopter in Iraq in 2003, when it was hit by enemy fire. The truth? It wasn’t. (In fact, another helicopter traveling ahead of him by more than half an hour was hit—though Williams’ helicopter did land to avoid a dangerous situation.)
Ask the same TOK class what knowledge questions related to shared knowledge emerge from this story and, no doubt, many will point out those associated with trusting news media. The fact that Williams did not present his story as a news story will hardly take away from the point. This emphasis, however, obscures an even more interesting question for TOK, one raised by psychologists commenting on the story. Is it possible that it illustrates not a failure of honesty but the normal workings of fallible memory? Continue reading
(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.
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from TOK OSC blog) Controversy again over poppies and remembrance – or in TOK terms, over symbolism and shared knowledge! In Britain, a headscarf with a poppy pattern has been marketed to Muslim women to “raise awareness about the 400,000 Muslims, most of them Indian, who fought alongside British troops in the First World War.” Condemning this poppy scarf, one Muslim woman calls it one of “the most ill-conceived of the recent spate of ‘we are not extremists’ initiatives.” She adds, “I also take issue with the fact that a symbol of my religion is being appropriated as a marketing tool for empire.” (“Brits divided over ‘poppy hijab’”)
(by Eileen Dombrowski, OSC TOK blog June 27) A symphony concert. A statue. These artworks of sculpture and music are charged with meaning in the context of war commemorations in Sarajevo today. The music is Haydn’s “God save the Emperor” and the statue is a monument to the assassin who killed the emperor’s heir. If you know anything about the outbreak of the First World War, you might feel a chilly shiver. Continue reading