A good grabber for a TOK lesson
is about as hard to come by as a good friend. Even though we teachers
feel that we have a good message when we begin a lesson, the relevancy
of TOK occasionally eludes our students. Perhaps that, in itself, is a
good lesson to use.
As someone who attempts to model what I teach, I have reflected on
how to best grab my students' attention. As a firm believer in the Socratic
method, I have tried to answer many questions on this issue: "How
can I make this lesson relevant? What are the students interested in
hearing? What can I do to better illustrate the significance of TOK?"
and more bluntly, "Why would anyone want to learn this stuff?"
Since "man is indeed the measure," perhaps the best way to
approach a discussion with students about the relevancy of TOK would
be to begin by stating that it is invented. Someone sat down and wrote
it. And, at various times throughout history, other individuals have
sat down and written their answers to tough questions, too. For example,
any decent library will contain stacks of books on religion, relativism,
and skepticism--to name just a few. These were all attempts by people
to make sense of the world.
TOK often begins with the premise that knowledge is defined as a claim
that is justified, true, and believed; hence the
well-known maxim, Knowledge = JTB. [Ed.: This is one definition
of knowledge; there are others.] As with other systems that try to make
sense of the world, JTB is put forth as a given. Descartes put forth
a similar given with his famous declaration "I think, therefore
I am." Einstein postulated, "Nothing can travel faster than
the speed of light." Euclid put forth his well-known axioms defining
a point, a plane, and a line. As well, stoicism and reductionism have
their central tenets and principal assumptions. All systems do. And
of course there are the religious principles of Christianity, Buddhism,
Islam, Hinduism, etc., each containing its own set of "givens."
These declarations, postulates, principles, precepts, and axioms are
presented as self-evident absolutes in each respective system. However,
fascinating results are obtained when the fundamental premise is not
accepted as "a given." For example, non-Euclidian geometry
is based on the counter-axiom to Euclid's fifth postulate; namely, that
parallel lines do intersect. (Every time you fly on an airplane,
you should silently thank the person who sat down and wrote this system
of making sense of flying in a straight line on a curved surface!) An
interesting tangent is to point out that students too can develop "a
system." Why, someday, we may be teaching Ben-ism, or Angela-ism,
or Mary-ism in schools around the world! (To have fun with this tangent,
simply substitute the name of any student in your class and add "-ism.")
A good grabber would let students know that TOK, in its own way, is
just another attempt to answer questions. Obviously, it is not the only
way, and it is debatable whether it is the best way. However, TOK does
offer interesting and useful answers to difficult issues. For example,
the relevancy of TOK becomes apparent when students are presented with
questions such as: "What are you going to say when your boyfriend
(or girlfriend) asks you to prove your love for him (or her) by going
to bed?" or "What will be your response at a party when your
best friend asks you to try some little white pills?" Students
may be surprised to realize that answers can be found using JTB.
In the first case, for the sake of simplicity we'll assume that the
boyfriend is the pursuer and the girlfriend the pursued. To convince
the girlfriend to have sex, the boyfriend would make the assertion that
love equates with a physical response. His hypothetical syllogism might
If you love me, then you will go to bed with me.
You say you love me.
Therefore, you will go to bed with me.
In this example, the girl being asked to "prove" her love
could use JTB to arrive at her answer. The justification would
involve proof, evidence, facts, corroboration, testimony, data, authority,
verification, etc. The truth could involve either the Coherence
Test--the girl would analyze all she has learned about Platonic love;
or the Correspondence Test--the girl would examine if she indeed said
"I love you" to the boy; or perhaps the Pragmatic Test--the
girl would evaluate what she has seen happen to other girls who agreed
with boys like this. In fact, the girl could use all three Truth tests.
The belief would involve her feelings, emotions, and personal
After applying JTB to the question, the girl would arrive at a knowledge
claim with a high degree of certainty, and would feel confident in giving
her answer. Perhaps she would say something like this to the boy: "I
am sorry, but your syllogism is based on at least one false premise."
Or more plausibly in today's world, she would shout, "Go suck a
Arriving at a knowledge claim and subsequent judgment using JTB involves
a considerable amount of time, effort, and research, and obviously isn't
always possible. When your school principal comes to your classroom
door and tells you that the building must be evacuated immediately,
you are not going to use JTB. In an emergency what is needed is quick
action, not long, involved reflection and introspection. Likewise, when
you buy a burger you do not begin to question the salesperson, "Have
you washed your hands? Do you have a cold? What kind of soap did you
use to wash the cooking pans?" In fact, these types of questions
would be regarded with suspicion, and you might be regarded as neurotic
or obsessive about details. In this type of situation, the majority
of people would simply accept the product and believe (or hope!) that
it will be okay. In other words, there is a time and a place to use
This is an important point to make with the students. Once they understand
that TOK contains useful tools, its relevancy to their daily lives becomes
clear. Once they understand that there is a time and a place to use
JTB, then different scenarios can be examined. Using a variety of real
situations in the classroom allows the teacher to point out the applicability
of any part of the TOK course. As a result, you will have definitely
grabbed your students' attention!