(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) 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
(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.
(first published in my Oxford University Press blog) Images and stories – singular tales have power to grip our imaginations and, in vividly capturing individual moments, to evoke a far more general experience. We’ve certainly witnessed the impact on political discussion of the single photo of a drowned child that I blogged on – and so did everyone else! – just recently. (“How does a single photo of a single drowned child affect our shared knowledge?”, Sept 9) Yet what is the role of images in the knowledge we share?
This question is huge: it takes us into photos and films, maps and models, all of them compared with language for symbolic representation of the world; it takes us into forms of evidence and issues of reliability; it takes us into the particularizing methods of photography and literature compared with the generalizing methods of the sciences. For today, though, I’d like to narrow down to the relationship between images, representation, and knowledge claims — and share with you an exciting resource. 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 Theo Dombrowski) When we hear the much quoted claim, “There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics,” many of us smile ruefully, suspecting that we have been duped by statistics at some points in our lives. How should we react, therefore, when we read a detailed report, accompanied by graphs and numbers, that, in the U.S., non-whites are more concerned about global warming than whites? After all, though we’ve known for a long time that statistics can be manipulated, we also know that statistics are much more effective and precise than words for communicating relationships such as proportions or correlations. Can we trust this report correlating race and attitudes to global warming? With the increase in “data journalism” the need for critical thinking is probably more acute now than ever before. Continue reading
(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’”)
The image of the shroud pictured above is a poster from 1898. By then the images on the shroud were faint.
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) This topic of the Shroud of Turin just keeps getting better and better for TOK. In my last post, I outlined TOK lessons based on it. But now – even better materials for launching a class! A podcast interview with historian Charles Freeman (25 minutes), linked from the website of History Today, readily sets up a leaner lesson on the methods of research of an historian. The interviewer applauds Freeman’s research as “historical detective work” on an “unsolved mystery” and invites him to explain his methods of investigation. Continue reading
Posted in IB Theory of Knowledge
Tagged analysis, cause, critical thinking, evidence, history, knowledge questions, literature, methodology, reason, shared knowledge, symbolic representation
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) Mathematician Alex Bellos was intensely irritated by the question. Was that person in the audience mocking him, or possibly ridiculing what he’d been saying about mathematics, to ask such a bizarre and irrelevant question at the end of his lecture? The audience member had asked him, as others had done before, “What’s your favourite number?” In this podcast conversation from Radiolab, Bellos describes his abrupt shift of perspective as he realizes that the questioner is asking in sincerity. Quickly, he discovers that half the members of his audience have “favourite numbers”. And so begins his own investigation into emotional and imaginative associations with numbers, and the non-rational characteristics that many people attribute to a numbering system he had previously seen exclusively in terms of reason.
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC blog Sept 25, 2014) Can we write more directly and more effectively to each other by chucking out all those words and using emoticons or emoji instead? Three social networks are currently offering images to bypass text altogether. Could this be, at last, a universal language? Continue reading