Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is an important part of the International Baccalaureate® (IB) Diploma Programme, providing an opportunity for students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know. Here are tips 6-10 in Ric Sim’s top ten tips for teaching TOK in your classroom. Missed tips 1-5? Find them here.
Tip 6: Knowledge and language
- Don’t forget that language has the ability not only of allowing us to communicate knowledge that we have already, but also formulating that knowledge in the first place.
- Think about language and power. The colonisation of cultural knowledge through the imposition of a colonial official language. The resistance of that power by the use of local languages.
- Think about the nature of official languages and its empowering disenfranchising effect. Countries with more than one official language are interesting to study in this connection.
- Think also about the power of language in shaping our worlds through the system of concepts it gives us.
- Language is interesting in a TOK context because it can be used performatively to create social facts – think about money, the legal system, marriage, contracts, promises, agreements, the everyday language we use to establish social relations and social knowledge. Try to develop a class activity that explores how social facts are made.
Tip 7: Knowledge and politics
- Don’t just interpret this theme as the knowledge of politics – it can also mean the power of knowledge. This theme can be used to examine the relation between knowledge and power. Are there groups whose knowledge is taken more seriously than others because of their political position?
- Think about how knowledge empowers and marginalises.
- Because much of the systematic knowledge that exists in the world is come by through the action of groups of people, there is an interesting connection between the politics of human interaction and the knowledge that results.
Tip 8: Knowledge and religion
- Religious knowledge systems are established through social practices, the buildings and spaces in which they occur, through art and music, and through the use of symbolism. Paradoxically here too, knowledge might be less about belief and more about practice and action.
- Religion is useful for examining how communities of knowledge work. What disciplinary procedures polices their knowledge and how do they deal with ‘the other’ – people who do not belong to the community?
- Think about whether religious knowledge systems offer frameworks for living in the world that are different in a fundamental way to those provided by the sciences and the arts.
- What responsibilities do religious knowers have to themselves, their communities and others? Are these different in kind to those of other types of knowledge community?
Tip 9: Knowledge and indigenous societies
- The map metaphor is useful here – since different communities construct different kinds of knowledge (different maps) for different purposes.
- It might be worth discussing the features of global and local knowledge systems in this theme. It may well turn out that these contrasting systems of knowledge possess quite different features because of their different purposes.
- Avoid the temptation to turn this into a social anthropology course although some of the same examples might be useful.
- Turn worries about authenticity – ‘can I teach this option about a society to which I do not belong?’ – into questions: ‘To what extent can we know about a different culture to which we do not belong?’. This could be turned into interesting questions about the ethics of making aesthetic or ethical judgements about events in these cultures. Charles Taylor once pointed out that failing to make negative aesthetic judgements about the cultural products of other cultures was a type of colonialism.
Tip 10: TOK Concepts
- Make sure that you do not teach TOK concepts in isolation. To prevent this, it might be a good idea for students to keep a list of concepts that they add to when a concept arises in class in an example rather than thinking about prior definitions.
- Don’t forget that there are many more concepts in TOK than the 12. Don’t neglect concepts like theory, model, understanding and concept itself – these are crucial ideas, but they are not in the 12. Notice that the specimen titles for the essay draw upon concepts not in the list of 12.
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About the author
Ric Sims has taught ToK for nearly 25 years in a number of European schools in combination with Maths, Music, Philosophy, and Economics. He has extensive experience of curriculum development and he is a leading teacher trainer in ToK. He teaches at Katedralskolan in Uppsala, Sweden.