What an enviable set of initials!  Can’t you imagine all the monograms possible in fancy fonts?  At the centre of the TOK course, those KQ stamp on it quite the designer label!  And what does the label represent?  Knowledge Questions, of course!

TOK is an exploration, after all, into what knowing is all about.  We deploy the powerful interrogative form, the question, to open up possible answers everywhere within knowledge. The biggest question of all is, “How do we know?”  Stencil that one across your teeshirt and stitch on the hot KQ designer label!  (Or maybe just stencil the KQ, and provoke some curious conversations.)

This mega-question stirs up any area of study and any subject matter.  Take history, for instance.  How do we know in history?  In TOK we can respond with a critical, analytical examination of its methodology, with a sense of hands-off, distant, overview survey.  But this is just one option — one entry point, the more abstract one. We can also use that question to get right into the world — and maybe even jolt to life some slumbering points of view.

Try rephrasing it.  How do we know, in the present, whether our accounts of the past are true?  This knowledge question – this KQ — asks exactly the same thing as the first one, but, personally, I find it more inviting and alive.  It still points the direction to the methodology in general, but refers to “accounts of the past” and begs to get engaged in the world.

Example: taking a fresh look at the ancient world

greekstatueIt’s easy to find examples in the world to help us anchor and think about abstract and generalized Knowledge Questions.  One of my favourites for historical accounts in the last couple of weeks has been an article entitled “Taking a fresh look at the ancient world.  It talks about re-interpretation of the Greek classical past, and the possible impact on how we think about our own cultural identities of the present.

Author Charlotte Higgins quotes Tim Whitmarsh of Oxford University:  “What if what we think of as the classical world has been falsely invented as European, for reasons serving the cause of 19th-century imperialism?  Should the Greek and Roman worlds, albeit in different ways, be seen rather as part of the Iraqi-Syrian-Palestinian-Egyptian complex?  If so, what would that mean for ideas about European identity today?”

The article touches the controversial nature of such re-interpretation of a standard European account, and considers the political implications of thinking differently about the cultural development of what we might now call the European and Muslim worlds.  The article takes a whole range of interconnected KQ and develops them with engagement in the world.

But in TOK, we don’t only start with KQ and then develop them through the real life cases to which the particular knowledge questions apply.  We also work the other way around.  We often start with particular cases, and then, as we read and reflect, we capture the KQ that animate them. We might start with things we read about in the media, hear about in public debates, or think about ourselves…we might wonder why someone else believes something we don’t believe ourselves (or doesn’t believe something we do), or we might notice differences in the way literature teachers and mathematics teachers talk about knowing things for the exam.

But…I’ve written enough.

It’s your turn.  Renaming in Namibia.

namibiaIf you want to try this out — if you want to start in the world and then spot the hottest KQ — I’ll ask you to read one short article from last week’s international news:  “Namibia wipes colonial era off the map”.   What does renaming of places in Namibia have to do with knowing?  What does it have to do with versions of the past, with implications for the present?  What TOK topics float behind this article? You might be tempted to read further than just the one article as you realize that a simple renaming of places can generate a lot of controversy.

You probably recognize that what I’m suggesting that you do:  to read with critical engagement. I’m suggesting that you think about what assertions we make in the world, how we know them, how we present them from different perspectives, and whether they (or the differences between them) actually matter.

Is my other motive equally obvious?  I’m also suggesting that you practise the first step toward doing a TOK class presentation.  I’m not asking you to formulate perfectly worded KQ — snazzy ones that merit the designer label – but just to think about how this real life situation has something to do with knowing and to put ideas into words.

You can contribute ideas by using the “reply” to this post if you feel like it…but that’s up to you.  I’ll be back to nudge you the next step in a couple of weeks.



Charlotte Higgins, “Taking a fresh look at the ancient world”, Guardian Weekly, 02/08/13.  http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/jul/11/ancient-greece-cultural-hybridisation-theory

David Smith, “Namibia wipes colonial era off the map”, The Guardian Weekly, 16/08/13. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/09/namibia-colonialism-renames-caprivi-strip

Photo Credit Greek statue: mharrsch via Compfight cc

Photo Credit photo of Namibia: aftab. via Compfight cc