TOK changes: not just “optional extras”

imagine

How does imagination interact with sense perception and memory? The new WOK change the way we deal with the old.

A revised version of a course presents no particular problems for teachers new to the course in any case. They enter the new version as if the course has always been that way, and can quickly become bored listening to experienced teachers make comparisons – irrelevant comparisons — between the old and the new.   If you are new to TOK, please accept my apologies in advance for some boring comments coming up.  (Maybe you’d like to leave and return later?)  If you are experienced in TOK, though, you may find the changes to the course as engrossing and significant as I do.

At a glance, you could easily make the mistake of thinking that the TOK course just starting hasn’t changed all that much:  a couple of central definitions have been clarified, a few new sections have been added to the course as options you are not required to teach in any case (at least not in depth), and a structure has been provided for ideas you probably always did explore.  The marking bands have become holistic, but the criteria of evaluation are familiar.  As a result, you may feel no urge to change your teaching.  If you don’t engage with the changes, however, you and your students could really be missing out.

For one thing, as a teacher you would miss the professional development that comes with refreshing the whole sense of where you are going with your teaching, and why. In this year’s TOK curriculum change, two significant changes in vocabulary focus attention on key concepts.

  • Although I thought the term “knowledge issues” was already good (as long as we came to grips with what it meant), “knowledge questions” does strike me as better: it emphasizes the exploration of the TOK course, and the different ways of posing questions and responding to them.  It also accords well with pedagogy of inquiry and discussion.
  • The distinction between “personal knowledge” and “shared knowledge” is also immensely useful, not because it tidies knowledge into two clear categories (It doesn’t!) but because it provides central vocabulary and an impetus for considering the relationship between the two.  It’s a relationship that varies depending on the area of knowledge.  While writing the new TOK course companion, I found it useful to look closely at what I called the “zone of exchange” – the communication between the personal and the shared essential to building communal knowledge and in areas of knowledge largely dependent on the methodology.

For another thing, you would miss the significance of the new parts added to the course if you thought of them simply as optional extra topics.  They have a much bigger impact: they also change the familiar topics already there because they re-shape the context within which the established ones are to be investigated and discussed. In my opinion, they also implicitly suggest a new way of thinking of “ways of knowing” and “areas of knowledge”.

  • When imagination and intuition are placed within the category of “ways of knowing”, side by side with reason and sense perception, for instance, then are we still talking about “knowing” as we did before?  It seems to me that the four new WOK (memory, imagination, intuition, faith) change how we approach the established ones (reason, sense perception, language, emotion).  The TOK course already considered how WOK interact with each other and how they contribute differently to constructing knowledge, but now we are pushed to consider even more fully how they work together.  Imagination, for example, has in some contexts been argued to be a route to knowledge all by itself.  Yet a TOK treatment of imagination would surely emphasize its interplay with sense perception, memory, emotion, and language – just for instance.
  • When indigenous knowledge and religious knowledge are placed within the category of areas of knowledge, clearly we are not talking about knowledge as restricted to subjects studied in academic context.  The TOK course is demonstrably adopting a concept of “knowledge” that embraces both academic knowledge and cultural knowledge, and claims to knowledge that are established using the full range of human justifications (that is, reasons offered for accepting claims).

These changes I’ve mentioned so far – vocabulary for key concepts and additional topics added to the syllabus content – do seem to me to make TOK more responsive to the different contexts in which it’s taught.  They work together, in my opinion, to reinforce a version of the course that questions and opens topics.

As for one more change to the TOK course, the structure imposed by the knowledge framework….I’ll come back to it later. Here on the west coast of Canada it’s a sunny summer afternoon.  Two bright-eyed children are bouncing around me.  It’s time for us all to get to the beach, with a promise later of a jaunt on our bicycles.  Emotion and imagination have taken over, interacting in anticipation!

image credit: painting by Theo Dombrowski, used with permission

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