How do we know what we know? - TOK's essential question
"To question means to lay open, to place in the open. Only a person who has questions can have [real understanding]."
-- Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1994, quoted in Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design, 2nd edition, 2005, p. 105.
It can be helpful to start with what TOK is not...
TOK can often seem messy, open-ended, a work in progress with insufficient closure. That's okay. Some might describe the pursuit of knowledge itself to be like that.
In part, this is because the more we know, the more we realize we don't know. Only the ignorant or arrogant think they have nothing left to learn. People since Socrates have asserted the paradox that the truly wise person is the one who realizes how little he or she actually knows. This doesn't mean that the goal of TOK is to persuade you that you don't know anything -- though it might feel that way, especially during the early stages of the class. By the end of the course, here are a few things I suspect you'll find yourself able to agree with:
Together, these statements (adapted from an official TOK training session I attended) form what we might call the stance of critical reflection.
This position contrasts with two other common stances. The first of these is that of certainty & prejudice, which embraces ideas such as "Things that are obvious must be true," "My own culture or tradition's way of seeing things is always better than any other," and "I know what I think is right and will pick-and-choose among evidence to fit my conclusion." The second stance is that of relativity & skepticism, which embraces ideas such as "Nothing is ever what it seems to be," "There is no such thing as truth, let alone absolute truth," and "Any and all points of view or opinions are equally valid (or invalid)."
Some students love TOK; others don't. Some students come to view it as their favorite class, as the one they've been waiting for. Finally, they say, a class that considers the really big questions. Other students, however, find it maddening, frustrating -- or sometimes even a little threatening. This class will ask you to look carefully at the assumptions behind what you know and believe. That can be liberating, but it can also be quite challenging.
On the last day of the class I ask students to complete course evaluations. One of the questions I ask them is to give some advice to incoming TOK students. Two of the most common responses:
Now for some nuts-and-bolts about curiculum & assessment...
There are three components to the TOK curriculum:
It's important to note that while the TOK Subject Guide lists four "official" ways of knowing and six "official" areas of knowledge, this shoudn't be understood as meaning there are no others. For instance, many people would list Intuition as a way of knowing, and some might argue that Spirituality and/or Religion should be included as areas of knowlegde.
The primary summative assessment for each unit is a formal Essay. These essay assignments, due at the end of each unit, will give you experience in the kind of writing required for TOK's IB External Assessment.
There are two major IB-required assessments:
These two assessments comprise your overall mark in TOK. Like the Extended Essay, TOK is graded A-E (not 1-7). In combination with your performance on the EE, TOK can yield up to three bonus points towards the total needed for the Diploma. The TOK Subject Guide contains a points matrix that will illustrate how the points are combined.
IB Theory of Knowledge
Colorado Springs School District 11
William J. Palmer High School
301 North Nevada Avenue
Colorado Springs CO 80903 USA