(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
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Well, we’ve done it at last. We’ve hit the Big Time. Suddenly the topics that we chat about every day in class – such as concepts of truth and reliability, the nature of “facts”, methods of validating or rejecting knowledge claims, and the dynamic and formative role of perspectives – have come into the glaring public spotlight. Headlines blare out claims about “fake news” or “the war on truth” over British and American politics most specifically, but with fallout that rains down on us all. It’s time for us Theory of Knowledge teachers to take a bow – and then eagerly scoop up for future classes all the new and relevant resources that are being churned out so energetically in the media-sphere that surrounds us. Continue reading
(from OUP TOK blog) In just a minute and a half on a comedy show, Arthur McDonald explains the discovery in physics that made him a co-winner of a Nobel Prize for physics this month. Well, actually…..no, he doesn’t. But he does provoke a laugh, perhaps especially for Canadians who recognize the popular chocolate Timbits he resorts to using in a simplified explanation. I recommend this video clip for TOK class for two reasons: first, a class laugh opens discussion of scientific discovery without distancing those fearful of physics; and second, it raises some tasty knowledge questions about the nature of explanation and responsibility. Continue reading
Sharing – that’s what Theory of Knowledge teachers do. Long before the term “shared knowledge” took its central spot in our course, we teachers were passing around ideas and suggestions for lessons within our own IB community. Myself, I’ve been blogging on TOK for five years now, and you can see some of that history on Activating TOK. This month, though, I’m pleased to shift my primary blogging to the website of Oxford University Press. That is, I’ll post there first, though I will continue to echo each post on Activating TOK. Through the Oxford University Press website, I hope to reach more readers and be able to contribute more to TOK.
What’s the connection between the TOK Course Book and this TOK blog?
Books and blogs serve different purposes – books to integrate ideas into a large, coherent picture, and blogs to focus on specific points, often touching the passing events and thoughts of the day. You’ll find them useful in different ways in your own TOK course. Continue reading
Is it obvious that medical conclusions ought to be based on evidence and science? What are the alternatives? For a smile along with the serious point, I recommend this satirical list by two doctors: “Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine”. Vehemence-based medicine? Eminence-based medicine? The list predates the recent book on celebrity-based medicine with the splendid title Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? Looking at what people believe in medicine and why can be very funny — and very scary.
In his book debunking the specific health advice offered to her fans by influential actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Professor Timothy Caulfield is also dealing with a more general concern, and the implications of what people accept. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski) Who needs critical thinking when we have Google? A team of computer scientists working for Google has proposed an improvement on what comes up when we enter our terms in its search window. They suggest a method of calculating a “trustworthiness score” for webpages based on their factual content: “We call the trustworthiness score we computed Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT).” An avid Googler myself, I am awash with both admiration and amusement. What would our students, many of them also consummate Googlers in face of essay assignments, make of the knowledge questions that instantly arise about the nature of facts, truth, and reliable sources? Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski) “Today we have an earthquake after the earthquake,” declared a grieving relative of a victim of the 2009 earthquake in Aquila, Italy, as charges against six earthquake scientists for failing to warn people of the quake were dismissed by an Italian appeals courts this week. The case, distressing though it is, provides a gripping example for TOK knowledge questions that surround scientific prediction and its relative uncertainty in different sciences, and, more urgently, the relationship between expert knowledge and social responsibility.
“What do these statements about Africa have in common? A white farmer is killed every five days in South Africa. Earlier this year Nigerian Islamists Boko Haram burnt 375 Christians alive. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the rape capital of the world. Johannesburg is the world’s biggest man-made forest. Answer: despite being widely accepted, none of them are true.” (“Get your Africa facts right”)
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog October 2014) Have your students heard of Jack the Ripper? If not, you’ll probably want to skip this activity. Even though it would still be an exercise in evaluating sources and evidence, a lot of the shiver would be lost – and hence the fun in class. However, if they have heard of the brutal serial killer who stalked East London, England, in the 1880s, this could be an engaging activity for early in the TOK course — to launch critical approaches quite broadly and plant vocabulary ready for more subtle application later on. Continue reading