TOK IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD

Portrait of Socrates,   cast from a 4th Century B.C. bronze by Lysippos. Louvre, Paris.

Portrait of Socrates, cast from a 4th Century B.C. bronze by Lysippos. Louvre, Paris.

...and so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practicing philosophy and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet...
— Socrates. 399 B.C. moments before being condemned to death for "corrupting the minds of the young, and believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognized by the State." In Plato's Apology; translation Hugh Tredennick

How can we recognize multiple perspectives without descending into “anything goes” relativism?

Recently, the sheer volume of online digital dross, and obfuscations like “alternative facts” and “fake news,” have made it more difficult for TOK students to discern what might be true, and to avoid the pitfalls of outright relativism. Furthermore, all IB students are encouraged, albeit selectively and where appropriate, to recognize the value of multiple perspectives. This too is eroded by noisy distractions and the banality of, so called, “post-truth.”

These most prescient challenges have informed the latest TOK reforms.


THE NEW TOK CURRICULUM MODEL:
SOME ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND READING

The TOK Subject Guide for first teaching in 2020, and first assessment in 2022, will appear in the IBO Program Resource Center in February 2020. The following short reads are essential for TOK teachers who would like an early look at the next TOK iteration. This a bold shift. With an emphasis on exploring rather than formulating Knowledge Questions, the new program will be more accessible and will certainly make formal assessment less contentious.

Gillett, J. (2018) Ambiguity, uncertainty and the ‘post-truth’ world: Implications for the IB Diploma Programme Theory of Knowledge Course. International Schools Journal Vol. XXXVIII. (45-51) November 2018.

Theory of Knowledge Curriculum Review: Update Report for Teachers 2019. Available at IBO Resource Center after login.

SUMMER READS FOR STUDENTS

Here are three pocket-sized books that are tried and trusted summer reads for TOK students at the French American International School in San Francisco.

Frankel, V. E. (1959) Man’s Search for Meaning. 2006 paperback, Beacon Press Boston, MA.

Rovelli, C. (2015) Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Penguin Random House UK

Camus, A. (1982) The Myth of Sisyphus. Translation 1955 by Justin O’Brien. Originally published as Le Mythe de Sisyphe, 1942. Vintage International Paperback. Knopf, NY.

Here are two more that we have in mind currently to ready student thinking for the New TOK Curriculum Model. They will help provide a critical edge for transcending post-truth banality.

Snyder, T. (2017) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Tim Duggan Books of Penguin Random House, NY.

Macintyre, J. (2018) Post Truth. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA.

Hypothymis azurea , black-naped blue monarch fly-catcher  from Sri Lanka (evidently the species that inspired the Twitter logo) feeding its young.  Photo: Carly Brooke’s    Featured Creature    animal meme website that showcases the “weirdest, coolest, and craziest animals out there.”

Hypothymis azurea, black-naped blue monarch fly-catcher from Sri Lanka (evidently the species that inspired the Twitter logo) feeding its young. Photo: Carly Brooke’s Featured Creature animal meme website that showcases the “weirdest, coolest, and craziest animals out there.”


A nightmare world where everyTHING is possible and nothing is true!

In some ways this presents an interesting echo of the unsettling discussion of gullibility in Hannah Arendt’s classic The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt highlights that faced with extreme and incomprehensible instability, people “reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true”... It is about being more cognisant of when we are being manipulated and deceived, without falling into this state of cynicism where we do not really care if we are being deceived because everything is a lie anyway.
— Gillett, Jenny (2018) Ambiguity, uncertainty and the ‘post-truth’ world: Implications for the IB Diploma Programme Theory of Knowledge Course. International Schools Journal Vol. XXXVIII. (45-51) November 2018.
Nina Vatolina (1941)   “Don't Chatter! Be alert. In days like these, the walls have ears. It's a small step from gossip to treason.”  David King Collection. Tate Gallery, London.

Nina Vatolina (1941) “Don't Chatter! Be alert. In days like these, the walls have ears. It's a small step from gossip to treason.” David King Collection. Tate Gallery, London.

Truth, however slippery and difficult to pursue, really matters.

We can recognize that we now live in a so called “post-truth” world without accepting it. It is worth the fight! TOK may have severe time constraints, and other inherent limitations, but it remains a great vehicle for introducing high school students to habits of discernment and critical thought for college and beyond.

On its very best days, TOK cultivates a nuanced and very particular mindset that is, at once, subversive, curious and pluralistic. We are only human. Embracing our inherent fallibility and the frontiers of our ignorance are essential to our quest for knowledge and understanding. At times we must live with ambiguity, incommensurability and paradox. If we keep our wits honed. we can navigate a post-truth world.

Why do you think Lee Macintyre approved this particular image for the front cover of his book? What are the implications? What is at stake?

Why do you think Lee Macintyre approved this particular image for the front cover of his book? What are the implications? What is at stake?