Tag Archives: perspectives

AGAINST empathy? Really?

170213-hands(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “In the moral domain…empathy leads us astray,” argues Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale University. “We are much better off if we give up on empathy and become rational deliberators motivated by compassion and care for others.”  Bloom adopts a provocative stance to focus attention on what we in IB Theory of Knowledge would call “ways of knowing”, and ties emotion, imagination, and reason to ethics as an area of knowledge. Continue reading

“Therapy wars” and the human sciences

170130-psychology(by Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) Thanks largely to the cognitive sciences, we’ve learned much in recent decades about how our own minds work. As knowledge flows from research journals to the popular media, recent findings in psychology have stimulated considerable commentary and advice on dealing with the problems that trouble our minds. Psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioural therapy, complex topics within a complex area of knowledge, have drawn lay readers and listeners not just out of interest in knowing how their minds or brains work but also out of hopes to relieve problems and improve their own health.

No doubt at least some of your students will have had exposure to psychoanalysis, even if only through sensationalistic movies. No doubt, too, they will have encountered the currently much promoted cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and its applications to everyday practices – there are even “apps” available for meditation and stress relief, for example. “Mindfulness”, a close adjunct to CBT, is, your students may observe, very much in the air. But how seriously should we take the different approaches of psychoanalysis and CBT as ways of achieving better mental and emotional health? Continue reading

“Comfort” and discomfort: history and the shadows of the past

comfort-woman(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

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

Thinking beyond the knowledge bubbles

soap-bubbles-01(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) I’m taking a little holiday from watching the news. I do this sometimes. I turn off the volume to watch all those mouths move, then let all of the frustrated and angry people float away, sealed in their lovely bubbles. Escapism? Yes – and no. Sometimes it’s the only way to imagine myself outside my own bubble of news and views, to try to see how people get sealed off from each other in their internally coherent mini-worlds. If I quiet my own rage at the world and stop myself from yelling about “truth”, I think I can see that the people inside all the bubbles are a lot alike, and are using similar ways to create their different versions of the world. It’s those ways that grab my attention for Theory of Knowledge. The following story is likely to grab your attention as well. 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

Burkini controversy: TOK activity in analyzing perspectives


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A storm of controversy over a swimming suit? Astonishingly, it’s not even a risqué one! Women have recently been fined in France for keeping too much of their bodies covered on the beach – and towns have passed regional laws to ban the “burkini”.  The ban on this bathing costume, however, has met extensive protest. The top French administrative court has now overturned it. A cultural flashpoint hotly contested, the burkini offers an ideal class activity – not because the TOK course cares about beachwear but because the controversy provides material for students to consider the nature of symbolism and to practise their skills of analyzing perspectives in application to issues very alive in the world. 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

Clever cons and TOK 1: Does it matter to tell the truth?

160208 illusionist(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Claiming he was a surgeon, Ferdinand Waldo Demara tricked the Canadian navy into giving him a ship full of people as his patients. With no qualifications whatsoever – without so much as high school graduation – he even performed operations on his trusting patients. How could anyone be so dishonest and callous as to deceive others so flagrantly? And why would so many people fall for his impersonation? The “con artist” – the swindler who plays a “confidence game” or gains the confidence of others for his own ends – seems to awaken our emotional outrage, but also our fascination. Such reactions make stories of large scale deception enormously attractive for stimulating and focusing discussion in a Theory of Knowledge classroom. Continue reading

Orange cone dress protests pollution: art engages with the world

(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog The image is striking.  A woman walks through the streets of Beijing dressed in a strange gown with a long–orange–cape trailing along the ground. But wait. What is the gown made from? Well, strange to say, what at first glance might seem like ruffles, are actually plastic cones or horns.

The woman is called Kong Ning and her creation of this orange dress provides TOK teachers with a striking current story to challenge and provoke students into considering complex–and vital–ways in which the Arts function as an area of knowledge. Continue reading