The Mystery of TOK

Article by: Ayla Ahmed

We all hear about ToK… but what exactly is it? To freshmen, sophomores and even juniors, the concept of the class seems to be quite foggy. Basically, Theory of Knowledge (ToK) is a mandatory introductory philosophical class required for juniors and seniors to take when enrolled in the full IB diploma, in which students are challenged about what we know and how we know it.

Within the course, students embark on various presentations and class discussions, all of which may explore topics that are not necessarily listed on the syllabi of other classes. This fact is noted by senior Adelle Dimitui who says, “We talk about topics [that] can change in an instant! One minute, you’re debating about whether math is a construct created by humans or a natural construct discovered by humans… then the next, you’re exploring how languages affect the way you perceive the world.”

However, juniors starting the course oftentimes wonder what the point of taking the class is. In fact, Adelle tells Bamboo Telegraph, “At first, I didn’t really understanding the purpose behind it being a mandatory class until I started noticing how it has helped me develop into a more mature thinker.” Ms. Wendy Gifford, head of ToK, adds, “Students often don’t appreciate this when they are actually studying ToK but on many occasions I have had students contact me during their university courses and say, ‘Hey, Ms Gifford, we did this today and it made me think of ToK.’” This shows that as time passes, students build a better understanding of the importance of the course and its “[centrality] to the IB curriculum.” Ms. Gifford adds, “It makes links between the different IB subjects and it helps students understand the ways in which knowledge is gained and evaluated in different subjects,” indicating how ToK focuses on building not one but a foundation of skills allowing the student to grow as a part of the community.

So how does it help you in life after high school? Ms. Gifford shares, “I think ToK is all about questioning authority and not taking what they are told for granted.” In other words, the course builds on critical thinking skills and teaches students to question authority. Students are taught to challenge authority, not to mindlessly depend upon it. ToK teacher Mr. Neil Woods reiterates, “[ToK] is the skill to understand real-life situations and events with an in-depth and balanced approach.”

The uniqueness of the course shines through in the sense that it is so different to the other classes. Adelle adds, “By examining a topic from different angles, considering the knowledge we garner from different subject areas and the ways we ascertain information, we are able to identify our biases and mental patterns.” By identifying these preconceived mindsets, students learn to control them to get as close as possible to “an objective understanding of the world around us.”