What is Theory of Knowledge ?
There’s really nothing complicated, nor mysterious, about Theory of Knowledge (ToK). It is a very straightforward part of all Diploma Programme learning. ToK is about how we make knowledge, it underpins all other subjects in the DP, and there’s ToK everywhere we look:
A painting by Rothko sells for US$40m at Christie’s in New York, whilst a student in a KIS art class produces a very similar piece.
A DP student chooses a particular university in preference to another because it ‘feels right’ to them.
KIS students translating between Thai and English try to find the nearest possible meaning of a word in each language. (Does English really have an equivalent word for sanuk or sabai ?).
KIS Basketball team huddle for team spirit before playing.
This list could go on indefinitely, in each case a way of knowing about the world is being used to produce specific knowledge. In most DP subjects students learn knowledge that has already been produced, in ToK students learn how that knowledge is produced. A few examples:
In Biology students will learn theories of evolution, in ToK they will learn why and how theories of evolution were developed.
In Maths students will learn methods for calculating statistics and probability, In ToK they will learn why we often misinterpret probability.
In Environmental Systems and Societies students will learn the advantages and disadvantages of mitigating climate change. In ToK they will learn why climate change scientists may disagree on those advantages and disadvantages.
So, why is ToK important ?
There are a number of reasons why ToK is a compulsory core of the IB Diploma, I will summarise just a few of those reasons here:
If we understand how knowledge is constructed then we have a better understanding of how and why knowledge changes. This understanding is essential for development and positive progress in personal, social and academic spheres.
ToK helps us to better identify, and understand, personal and social biases. This understanding can help us to resolve personal and social conflicts.
By critically analysing the construction of knowledge we develop better critical thinking skills. It’s these critical thinking skills which will help us to develop solutions to many of the personal and global problems that we face.
You may have noticed that there have been some rather heated debates occurring around the world recently, we can include in that list the recent Presidential Elections in the USA, and the UK’s vote to leave The European Union. These debates, and the multitude of others that we could list, represent differences in belief, values and aspiration. As such they represent differences in knowledge, they illustrate the differences in what we all (think that we) know about our world. ToK is the study of how knowledge is constructed, as such it is the study of why differences in knowledge exist. ToK can help us to understand how people decide which way to vote, or how to raise their children, whether to care for those in need, and whether to look out for their neighbour.
Therefore, I strongly believe that ToK is not just “bonus points”, it’s not merely an ‘add on’ to the IB Diploma. ToK is the place where DP students connect learned content with the ability to produce a better and more peaceful world. As such, I believe that ToK is absolutely fundamental to not only an IB DP education at an International School in Bangkok, but to an IB DP education worldwide.
Obviously students don’t “do ToK” when they come to the ToK class, we’re all doing ToK every moment of the day, we do ToK merely by being conscious.