Many students ask me what the point of ToK is. This week some research has come out which has prompted me to really think about the answer to that question. This Australian led research, (funded by the IB) has found that “International Baccalaureate students think more critically than their [high school] peers and are better prepared for university“ (Sydney Morning Herald). In fact, the study also found that IB students were more confident in their academic abilities and thought more positively about their academic futures. But why would this be the case. Antony Mayrhofer is the IB diploma co-ordinator at St Paul’s Grammar near Penrith attributes this to the compulsory subject Theory of Knowledge.
But can that be true? Could ToK be better preparing you for the real world – or is it a waste of time? As many students ask ‘what’s the point of ToK’. Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul provide an answer in their excellent discussion on the topic of Critical Thinking. They claim ‘No matter what your circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled.’ This analysis is supported by even the most fleeting glance at people in positions of social or personal responsibility. Managers of huge companies, political leaders, scientists, doctors, lawyers and countless others all have to process a huge amount of information and produce the best result. In ToK your job is to think ciritcally. You have to take information and ask how reliable it is, what kind of evidence it provides, who is behind the information and so on. In other words, ToK prepares you for a life of dealing with information and coming out on top.
ToK can seem very abstract at times, but it starts us on the path to understanding what’s going on behind the scenes. It starts us thinking about the people in any situation, what they want and what they might be doing to try and get it. A lawyer in court is only going to be able to ask the right questions by getting an idea of what is going on behid the scenes. – what might really have happened? Who was involved? What is the other side trying to hide or to suggest and where are the weaknesses? These are all ToK questions.
So next time you are headed to ToK classes and really can’t figure out the point, remember this: biology is training you to become a scientist, maths might be preparing you to be an engineer and maybe economics is preparing you for a career in business but ToK is preparing you for the rest of your life – whatever you decide to do!