In March of 2003 Ricardo
Navia wrote this letter to the curriculum review committee, responding
to the Curriculum Review Report published in February 2003 [reporting
on the meeting held between 21 and 23 October, 2002]. [The report
is available at the OCC.]
What do you think of his proposals?
Although it's been less than two years since I started teaching TOK,
for many years I have been employing pedagogical criteria similar to
those of the IB. Thus, I feel compelled to send you further comments
about the TOK curriculum.
I think that the themes, the teaching styles, and the assessment criteria
of TOK have successfully harmonized important pedagogical aims that
are usually difficult to combine. For instance, critical thought and
creativity on one hand, and the demand for a certain level of conceptual
and expressive rigour on the other; or between considering personal
experience and the need to universalize; or between recognizing cultural
differences and attempting a cosmopolitan view. Reconciling so many
opposing polarities is a major achievement, and I think that this is
the first thing a new teacher realizes. The comments that follow belong
within the framework of this primary appreciation. I will focus on some
of the bulleted items listed in section 4 of the Report, "Perceptions
of the current TOK course," which portray the initial perceptions
of those who attended the Curriculum Review meeting.
observations of the participants on the TOK course were as follows:
The fact that TOK
does not require an examination at the end of the course is positive
because it allows the teacher more time to teach."
Yes, it does. Even more importantly, the absence of a final exam promotes
a much more creative, analytical, argumentative, and expressive activity
through the development of the Essay. Moreover, the fact that teachers
help students to improve on their essays--without, of course, doing
the work for them--weakens the traditional scheme of the teacher-examiner
in contraposition to the student-examinee. This places teachers and
students in a joint process of construction, which is quite impressive.
The Essay is also more similar to what students will encounter at
"The TOK assessment
criteria are not clear and coherent, and therefore equity across the
IB Diploma Programme world is difficult to achieve."
In my opinion this is not completely true. To the contrary, I think
TOK's assessment criteria are one of its most successful elements,
for they contribute to the attainment of the difficult harmonization
of pedagogical aims that I mentioned. I generally agree with the requirements
addressed by the different criteria, as well as with the levels of
accomplishment set in each. Maybe I'm not experienced enough to form
a judgment, but it seems to me that, if there is indeed a problem
of inequity, it may be due to other difficulties that I will discuss
later: the lack of a common core content (essential topics to be taught),
bibliography, and vocabulary.
"Some ways of
knowing and areas of knowledge may be missing from the Guide."
I believe that there are no important absences, but I have two suggestions.
First, that we use the term "Rationality" instead of "Reason":
it fits better with the concept of knowledge as a construction, allows
for extra-theoretical factors to affect knowledge, and is compatible
with the notion of a historic construction of areas of knowledge.
Second, the expression "Ways of Knowing" is confusing in
Spanish ("formas del conocimiento"): it is too easily associated
with what the TOK diagram considers to be "Areas of Knowledge."
Perhaps we could use "vías del conocimiento" or the
classic "sources of knowledge" (though the latter has inconvenient
connotations that I shall not analyze here).
are not being excited by the course. They are producing dull essays
and are working in a mechanical mode."
I dare not analyze student excitement; research should be conducted.
As for dull essays written in a mechanical fashion, I believe that
this can be countered. Without wishing to limit teachers' freedom
of expression and creativity, teachers and their students would benefit
by being offered relevant, updated, and high-quality teaching resources,
covering all parts of the TOK curriculum.
of the Guide
places great responsibility on the teacher."
I agree. I think that this is connected with the discussion described
in Section 6 of the Report: "It could be argued that there is
a particular need for clarity in what is required in the course, especially
for teachers new to the subject." According to the Report the
committee then wondered if there might be essential topics that could
comprise a "core curriculum" for TOK, and then counter-argued
that maybe "the strength of the course lay precisely in its flexibility."
Four main needs for TOK
I agree with the need to define a core curriculum, based on four main
needs: (1) to identify basic TOK content, (2) to compile a collection
of high quality, relevant, and updated texts, (3) to have a minimum
set of agreements about concepts and terminology, and (4) to reconsider
the time necessary to complete the course. I will develop each of these
1. The need to identify basic
I think that there are a number of circumstances that underline the
need to identify "basic TOK content". First, when assessment
is external (with prescribed titles, assessment criteria and standards
for their application) some explicit basic agreements are necessary
in order to attain equity. Otherwise, those teachers and students who
feel more "empathetic"--either with the imagination of those
who write the prescribed titles, or with the expectations of those who
correct the essays--would be favored.
Identifying basic content would be a mere clarification of agreements
which, it can be argued, already exist. Such agreements are implicit
in the questions included in the Subject Guide, as well
as in the assessment criteria. (This implicit agreement is what makes
the prescribed titles mostly understandable, instead of inscrutable
to the TOK community worldwide.)
It is not so hard to demonstrate that the questions included in the
Guide rely on certain unavoidable themes: for example, that knowledge
is neither a copy nor a reflection but a construction; that the knower
(or knowers) is not passive but active; that knowledge is not necessarily
an individual process but involves a social matrix; that language has
very important cognitive functions; etc. We could make a long--but not
infinite--list of items on which consensus is not impossible.
2. The need to compile a collection
of high quality, relevant and updated texts
I share the IBO's idea not to favour the use of manuals or set texts.
This does not mean, however, that the IBO should not provide an ever-increasing
number of TOK teachers with pertinent and high quality materials. The
way to combat the danger of an impoverishing orthodoxy (everyone using
the same book) is to offer plentiful, diverse and alternative choices,
not to deny that the problem exists.
For example, the Guide correctly maintains that there is a
connection between language, society, and knowledge. Wouldn't it be
great if teachers could have easy access to anthologies containing not
only texts by Herder and Humboldt, but also by Wittgenstein and Searle?
Another example: the Guide emphasizes the relationship between
truth and rationality, and links it to certain non-cognitive values.
Selected passages from Putnam, Habermas, or from the correspondence
between Russell and Einstein would be useful to explore these issues.
I am using sophisticated examples to show how equity could be attained;
however, materials such as newspaper or magazine articles should also
An obvious problem is that such texts are difficult for teachers to
access, unless the IBO makes it available to teachers. This does not
mean that the use of this material would be prescribed.
I believe that the availability of such materials, combined with the
identification of basic TOK content, would contribute to the balance
between schools, students, and teachers, and thus to equitable assessment.
Perhaps access to these texts would even help improve the quality of
essays, which sometimes tend to be insubstantial.
need to have a minimal set of agreements about concepts and terminology
In the Guide as well as in some of the prescribed titles I notice some
terminological and conceptual ambiguity, or alternatively the assumption
of certain terminological or conceptual agreements that are not so obvious.
For example, when we consider the triad knowledge, the arts, and truth,
we can talk about at least three relationships: (a) knowledge that can
be conveyed through the works of art; (b) knowledge involved in the
judgment of aesthetic appreciation; and (c) knowledge involved in the
creation, execution or identification of a piece of art. These approaches
are closely linked together, but it may be convenient to come to certain
agreements about what we're talking about, or at least to acknowledge
the possibility of multiple interpretations and thus student responses.
The Guide has made some progress in this regard, but it seems that
this should be a permanent effort. On the one hand it is desirable to
prevent confusion among new teachers and students, but on the other
we should aim to avoid authoritarian or impoverishing unification. This
is not an easy task because TOK is a new discipline arising from the
combination of many traditions including philosophy, anthropology, art
criticism, and others. The IBO, however, has a good track record in
bringing opposites together, and perhaps could pursue these clarifications
need to reconsider the time needed to complete this course
I think that there is a disproportion between what we want to accomplish
in TOK regarding teaching content, skills, and conducting assessment,
and the hundred hours' duration of the course. Teachers often face an
unsolvable dilemma: either they take the necessary time to conduct class
discussions and to train analytical skills, or they focus on content,
which students also need as a basis for their analysis. There is often
no time to do both.
If we really want a course that deals with at least some of the important
issues included in the Guide and we desire to do it using a constructivist--and
not an expository--methodology (which means using a critical, participatory,
and interdisciplinary approach), then the hours allotted to TOK must
Regarding time constraints, there's something else I would like to
mention. We talk about introducing contemporary or global issues in
TOK. Obviously, we are interested in these matters and realize it is
important that young people be concerned with them. Nevertheless, given
the time deficits already mentioned, we cannot include these without
extending the time allocation for the course. A compromise solution
could be not to incorporate them as a prescribed part of the syllabus,
but to include them as a required part of the Presentation.
The author thanks the Uruguayan college student Micaela da Silveira
for the first English version of this article.