Academic TOK Uncategorized

The Essence of TOK

Have you ever sat in your TOK class wondering, “Why do I have to do this?” Whether we admit it or not, we have all wondered this at some point in our DP journey. However, we only ask ourselves this question because we do not know the kind of impact the subject has in our life. Hence, through this article, I hope to show you the essence of what TOK actually is exclusively through an interview with my TOK Advisor who is also an IB Examiner for TOK.

Question: “What is TOK?”

Answer: “TOK is a “way of living” and something that is present in everything we do. But especially for an IB learner, TOK is a glue that adds a layer of meaning to the academics you learn in the DP Programme. There are certain concepts in our subjects that may feel so remote and purposeless, maybe a mathematical construct or a scientific principle, but TOK bridges that gap. It enables you to personally interact with it, beyond its logistics and rules, and question it itself. We see how it weaves its way through the world we live in and builds a connection with it, and essentially humanises the production of knowledge of which we become a part of.”

Question: “How does one find the essence of TOK?”

Answer: “It is a very individual journey which the facilitator helps you to see how TOK manifests in the world. TOK makes us more mindful of our existence, and a mindful individual in general. Now, the general opinion is that it encourages us to think critically. But, critical thinking is something we do in every subject, it is the pivot of the IB curriculum. However, TOK takes us one step beyond critical thinking as it teaches us how to look at knowledge and how it changes the discipline it belongs to. Does this knowledge/introduction of a new concept create a paradigm shift from the way we previously thought? Whether this change was accepted easily or whether it caused conflict within the discipline? These are some of the advanced questions TOK guides a learner through. It also encourages us to think about the gaps in knowledge. An academic discipline is dynamic and experiences constant shifts. Hence, TOK removes barriers that compartmentalise subjects. For example, psychology is limited to psychology, math is limited to math, arts is its own discipline that has nothing to do with psychology and maths and so on. However, TOK makes us realise the spillovers from other disciplines, and that essentially there are no such barriers between subjects which builds interconnectedness, just like a glue. This building of interconnectedness within subjects enables a learner to understand and question the world and the knowledge they consume further, broadening their outlook.”

Question: “So, how does TOK transform you as a person?”

Answer: “A student who has actually benefited from TOK will observe many changes within themselves. One will actively engage and will shift the way they engage with learning, be it academic or learning as a lifelong learner. More so, it will give one a “tremendous amount of humility”. TOK and its guiding questions force us to think not only about our stance about a particular topic, but also about the merits of all stances. Additionally, TOK teaches us that there isn’t one truth; there are a multitude. When a person really has a reason to believe what they believe and are able to substantiate it with their experiences and what they accept as knowledge, we are able to sense the truth in their stance as well. In today’s world, someone who’s firm about their beliefs and fights for it is seen as a ‘winner’, and shunning other ideas believing solely in one’s own progressiveness is seen as ‘cool’; but the dangers of it are often ignored. It stops access to different perspectives that others might have to offer and lead to a dangerous, polar world. TOK shapes us in a way that makes us understand that not every view is pointless, there are factions of truth in each, which, if collated, could lead to a truth that may work out for everybody.”

In conclusion, this interview with my advisor has revealed to me as well, the basic essence of TOK and its purpose and effect in our lives which is often ignored. 1.5 points may be essential for our DP programme, but TOK has a far greater weight in our lives. Hopefully the next time you ask “Why are we doing this?”, this article will help you find the answer. 

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