Sometimes you just have to write…
Is faith a way of knowing? Should “indigenous knowledge systems” be considered an area of knowledge, like the natural sciences or history? Is a “global impression” model of assessment an improvement on criterion-based assessment? I just got back from a workshop for Theory of Knowledge (TOK) teachers, and these are the sorts of questions that came up.
For two and a half straight days: questions, usually without answers, followed by lots of clarifications and explanations and evaluations and equivocations, followed in turn by more qualifications and arguments and objections and exceptions.
It’s in the nature of TOK, of course. The guiding question, if you will, of this course, which is required for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, is “How do we know what we know?”
And since we can always come up with some kind of doubt about pretty much everything we think we know, it’s easy to end up at “We can’t know anything for sure.”
Of course, in the real-life, everyday world, we do have knowledge. In the real-life, everyday world, I can know that a table is a solid thing, even when I simultaneously know that it’s made up of electrons with lots of empty space between them. Just for practical purposes we have to accept what our senses tell us is true, or we couldn’t function. I know, in the real world, that my husband loves me. I have no scientific proof of that, but my experience and emotions tell me it’s true (as does my husband).
But get a couple of hundred TOK teachers together in a room at the same time, and, boy, do the questions and arguments fly!
I tweeted after the first day that my brain hurt. I didn’t mean I had a headache. I meant that the effort to concentrate, to focus, on all of the ideas flying around made me feel like my head was somehow too full, like it might burst.
It also made me feel inadequate. These teachers are all so smart and articulate and well-read! People kept making comments like “Oh, yes, I read a book that is a really good resource for addressing that question…” and then they’d give title and author and a succinct overview of the author’s argument, and some large number of other people in the room would nod knowingly.
I haven’t read that book. I haven’t read any of the books that were mentioned. The truth is (assuming we can ever know the truth about anything, whispers my inner TOK teacher in my ear, and did you notice that the new TOK guide only mentions truth once?) I don’t read non-fiction books very often at all. Give me a Booker Prize-winning novel and I’m happy. I have a copy of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion in my to-be-read pile, but who knows when I’ll ever get around to reading it (“Who knows.” Inner TOK teacher elbows me in the ribs. Get it?).
So now I’m home, brimming with ideas, surely, but also trying to come to terms with the feeling that I can’t possibly live up to the task of being a Theory of Knowledge teacher. Yet I’ll certainly continue, because I love teaching it. When I hear a student say “My brain hurts” at the end of a Theory of Knowledge lesson, I know I’ve succeeded – and my inner TOK teacher can’t argue with that!