Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowledge

The International Baccalaureate diploma program requires its students to take an epistemology class called Theory of Knowledge. TOK asks students “to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and how we know what we claim to know.”

How it works: There is no fixed curriculum. Instead, instructors address three themes in the course: Ways of Knowing (including sense perception, language, faith, and memory), Areas of Knowledge (including mathematics, human sciences, ethics and indigenous knowledge systems), and Knowledge Questions (“Is Internet censorship ethically beneficial to society?” and “Who should decide how freely people are allowed to express themselves?”). Students examine the ways that knowledge is built, reflect on how we learn, evaluate the extent to which personal assumptions affect world view, and consider the responsibility that comes with knowledge.

Assessment: Students are evaluated by a 1600-word essay on one of six prompts (for example: “There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.” – May 2015) and an in-class presentation on a “real-life” situation (“Arabic to be made mandatory in all Israeli schools”) and a knowledge question: “To what extent does language shape thought and behavior?”

Why we love it: TOK invites students to think about thinking. It acknowledges that there are “areas of knowledge” but it is not bound by them, as many traditional courses are (eg, 10th grade History). This type of thinking is related to metacognition, which has become super popular in educational research. In a class like TOK, the question “why do we have to know this?” is worthy of study itself.