Controversy again over poppies and remembrance – or in TOK terms, over symbolism and shared knowledge! In Britain, a headscarf with a poppy pattern has been sold to Muslim women to “raise awareness about the 400,000 Muslims, most of them Indian, who fought alongside British troops in the First World War.” Condemning this poppy scarf, one Muslim woman calls it one of “the most ill-conceived of the recent spate of ‘we are not extremists’ initiatives. I also take issue with the fact that a symbol of my religion is being appropriated as a marketing tool for empire. (“Brits divided over ‘poppy hijab’” )

If poppies on Remembrance Day carry symbolic force in your own part of the world, you might find this controversy engages your class in discussion on topics linking sense perception, language, intuition, memory, and emotion as ways of knowing: the nature of symbolism, the intersection of personal knowledge and shared knowledge, the effect of ambiguity on socially shared knowledge, and the role of perspectives in interpretation and exchange of knowledge claims.  A broader discussion on the meaning of Remembrance Day symbols and ceremonies is also likely to raise ideas considered within history as an area of knowledge.

For those from countries without this tradition, let me explain. Today, in many countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth), we paused at 11:00am, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, to remember soldiers who died for our countries. On the day that marked the end of the hostilities of World War I in 1918, we wear red poppies representing the flowers in Flanders Fields where many soldiers from that war lie buried. Over nearly a century since that time, the Remembrance Day poppy has become charged with additional meanings and intense emotional associations.

To consider some of the TOK ideas that emerge from the small red poppy lapel pin, I refer you to a blog post from two years ago by my husband and blog partner Theo Dombrowski: “My poppy means…”

In my country, Canada, an analytical discussion of the poppy demands some sensitivity: the symbol carries intense personal associations for many individuals, and carries patriotic associations for the larger public. Yet, in my own mind, it’s the emotional intensity that makes it particular valuable to discuss in a safe TOK context, where we understand that considering meaning is not a disrespectful activity, and where we recognize that considering a range of perspectives can enlarge our own grasp of what is going on as “shared knowledge” is created within a social and political community.

If you have any further thoughts on how the Remembrance Day poppy stirs ideas or questions relevant to Theory of Knowledge, I welcome your comments!