Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles Nov 2020

Saturday, July 25, 2009

TOK Websites

Steedman's TOK Site: Hyannis, MA, U.S.A.

This is really two-websites-in-one and is a blog-based TOK site created by the IB Co-ordinator of a school in the U.S.A.

Site 1:

The focus is on the Ways of Knowing and some information on the TOK presentation (also has some CAS/Extended Essay material). The site is full of useful questions and related articles on the individual WOKs to help you further your research and understanding of these concepts.

Site 2:

The focus here is on the Areas of Knowledge and the TOK Assessments and again presents links to many articles on individual AOKs.

Use both sites when researching and planning your essays and presentations as well as simply to bolster your understanding of what TOK is all about - thinking for yourself!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The Arts

Here's a response (albeit unwittingly) to the previous entry about Stephen Law's question: 'So What have you learned from literature?'

Remember, we adapted the question to cover all forms of fiction: T.V. drama, film, theatre, dance, music and so on.

While preparing for his formal GCSE assessment, one of our students gave the following speech which is unrelated to the discussion about The Arts. The stimulus for the presentation was simply the title, 'My Inspiration'. This is the transcript of his speech as kindly forwarded by the student.

Click onto the picture to view the scene he showed before you read his speech.
"The Pursuit of Happyness"

"For some of you who haven't watched that film, it's called the Pursuit of Happyness and that was the ending scene. It's a true story that follows a man called Chris Gardner, who is not doing so well for himself. His wife leaves him and he is left looking after his 5 year old son and trying to make a living off a failing business. He is invited into an internship at a stockbroker, but it has no salary so he is left doing that, his normal job and taking care of his son. he becomes the lowest of the low and has to sleep in a subway tunnel one night, but as you saw he is offered the job and his situation turns around.

I came across this film when I was reading through the sun on holiday. I read the description and thought to myself, 'I'll have to go and watch that.' I didn't. It was only when I went to spend all my Christmas money with my dad that I saw it in HMV and picked it up. I took it home and watched it that night, and the story caught me in the first ten minutes. I watched it again the next day and it caught me even more. The way a man could turn around his situation like he did was outstanding.

Well what have I learnt? It's only a film, what can it tell us? It tells us that when a situation becomes as worse as it can possibly be, we can always turn it around. It tells us that if we keep our family and loved ones close, that we can always pull through. It tells us that any individual can make a difference in the world. And it does it all in just under 2 hours. So when the teachers say that staring at a screen does nothing for you, they're wrong and in a big way.

How can this help you? Watch it and find out. Remember that it was a true story, this man actually exists. He did get evicted out of his apartment and a motel and he did sleep in a subway toilet for a night. But he got a job with a stockbroker firm, founded his own firm and then went on to sell it to become a multi-millionaire. If you ever think your problems are piling up and you don't know what to do. just watch this film. Get some inspiration.

I wouldn't actually call this an inspiration; I would call it a reminder. It reminds me that however down I may feel; however hard a situation may become, with the help and support of the people you love, your family and friends, you can always overcome any obstacle put in front of you, just like Chris Gardner did. And if that isn't a form of inspiration, I don't know what is."

So, is our student simply a young, naive innocent who doesn't get that he's being manipulated into believing in that strange phenomenon, 'The great American Dream'? Is life really reducible to the simple formula: Hope + Hard Work = Fame, Fortune and Glory?

Or are our student's comments, when stripped of his rhetorical flair for speechmaking, a sincere statement of the lessons of life he has learned after watching the movie?

Friday, July 17, 2009


Ethics and Education

This is an excellent topic to reflect on: should everyone who comes into contact with children as part of their work have a Criminal Records check?

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) require such people to have a check on whether they've had any past convictions, especially related to any bad behaviour against children. It is called 'The Vetting and Barring Scheme' and has been set up in the aftermath of the 2002 Soham murders committed by former school caretaker Ian Huntley and its main aim is to filter out potential child abusers from the workplace. This October, all of the 11.3 million people across the education, care and health industries who work with children must register – for a £64 fee – on a national database, if they haven't already done so...

However, some very famous authors, like Philip Pullmann and Quentin Blake, who very often make visits to schools to inspire children to read and write, are outraged that they should have to do this.

Scan through the Guardian article about Pullman's response (he's definitely against) and compare it to the article about the new children's laureate Anthony Browne's thoughts (who's very much for).

Here's another article by the BBC covering the same issue.

What do you think?

Friday, July 10, 2009


Human Sciences and The Arts

Another splendid blog-entry from Stephen Law's site which asks: What have you learned from literature?

A superb question to explore. Law questions the nature of the 'truth' in literature, both fiction or non-fiction. What, if anything, does a novel or biography tell us about human nature or the human condition? At best, literature obfuscates reality, creating an illusion that life is like a story-line with a neat beginning, middle and end. At worst, literature is another medium for clever writers to spin lies, deceit or propaganda and promote dangerous beliefs. In short, the psychological 'insight' into life, the universe and everything that literature promotes is a myth...

In defence of literature, we might counter by arguing that literature should be read simply for entertainment and not to discover some essential truths about human behaviour. We read, because it's a fun way to pass the time or because it helps us to escape from the dreariness of our day to day life or because it's just another thing to do when we're bored. Well alright then, let's not get carried away by the idea that literature is trying to tell us some hidden truths about life.

However, might we not ask the same question about other forms of entertainment media, such as T.V. dramas or soaps, films, theatre plays and music? Do these not purport to give us an insight into ourselves and our world too? We wonder what an episode of 'Coronation Street' tells us about the human condition!

You might argue that you only watch these to switch off from the world - you know, it's fun to watch an episode of 'Big Brother' while you're eating your take-away Chinese. In that case, think about these questions:

why do we choose the entertainment we do in the first place? Why are we attracted to particular types of entertainment like 'Big Brother', murder mystery books or horror films? And what does fiction, whichever form it appears in, actually do for us?

Any suggestions...?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

TOK Websites

This is an excellent site for articles on different Areas of Knowledge and would make a great resource for essay preparation and also to generate a topic for your presentations. We're not sure whether the website has been updated since June 2008. If not, then be advised to scan the various pages and make the most of the material before the website is taken off the internet.

Some examples of the articles collated on the site are are as follows:

'Science Cannot Provide all the Answers'

'Scientology on Trial'

'Do all languages have a common ancestor?'

'How does homeopathy work?'

Go and have a look and use the resources efficiently, making sure that you get the full bibliographic information so that you can reference it appropriately.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The Arts

Following on from the previous 'Arts' entry, look at this example of how one art form interweaves with another. In 2001, the American artist Mark W. McGinnis read Tagore's Gitanjali and was inspired to create a painting for each of the verses in the book. You can view a selection of paintings on McGinnis's website (click the painting above) and can also read what he has to say about his experience of discovering Tagore's poetry here:

McGinnis gives an insight into the nature of art in the statement that Tagore's poems "deeply and beautifully describe the human search for the eternal."

So we have two important criteria for what art strives to do (good art, that is), at least for this modern artist: represent 'beauty' and the 'search for the eternal'. I expect many of McGinnis's contemporaries would scoff at this old-fashioned return to traditional values. What do you think?

McGinnis goes on to explain what he intended to achieve with his paintings: "The paintings are not meant to be illustrations of the verses, but images inspired by the poetry and my understanding of the creative mind behind them."

So, McGinnis isn't trying to re-present the poems into another form; he isn't attempting to copy somehow the beauty of the poems into his paintings or to illustrate the hidden essence of the poems' eternal qualities. He is transforming the original poetry into something entirely new; the meaning of each poem takes on a different, yet related, existence in the art work; each painting expresses creatively the artist's experience of another creative mind at work. The creative process involves a kind of metamorphosis of the world through art.

Are we to take the artist's intentions into account when we judge the quality of his paintings? What does McGinnis's statement tell us about the artistic process or craft? What does a work of art gain or lose by being transformed into another form?

Another day to remember - July 6th 2009

Results day!

Congratulations to our leaving Year 13 students whose IB results have just been released.

From a group of 68 students who completed their TOK assessments, we achieved an A-C pass rate of 93% - unprecedented in the history of our school and beating the previous record of 92% in 2007. Here are the grade breakdowns:

Grade A: 6 students
Grade B: 18 students
Grade C: 39 students
Grade D: 5 students
Grade E: 0 students

Well done to you all and every best wish for the future. We hope that the rest of your individual results are equally impressive and gain you access into the University of your choice.

TOK Team.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


The Arts

Read this poem by a Nobel Prize winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore (1861 - 1941). It comes from a collection of poems entitled Gitanjali or 'Song Offerings'. The translation from the original Bengali is by the author himself . Click onto the image above to access an on-line version of the full text of the book, which has an interesting Introduction by the famous Irish poet, W. B. Yeats, who writes about the poems as follows: "A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image, as though we had ... heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream."

'Mind Without Fear'

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

What does the poem tell us about our day to day lives?

We use the metaphor 'the grass is greener on the other side' when we are dissatisfied with ourselves and our situations. On the surface, this poem seems to be reinforcing this idea - we should aim ourselves to a 'country' or place away from the 'narrow domestic walls' and 'dreary desert sand of habit' to a place 'Where the mind is led forward...Into that heaven of freedom.'

Read more closely and you will see, however, that you don't have to go far to reach the 'other side' - the poet is not advocating a mass exodus to a more exotic land of instant sunshine and happiness!

Rather, the poet is suggesting that we cultivate a particular attitude to life. This attitude is marked by a sense of fearlessness and dignified ease in which you can hold your head 'high'; it is signalled by an integrity in our language whereby we say what we mean with words rooted in 'truth'; it is underlined by mental discipline, that 'clear stream of reason' and a refinement of that self-awareness through which we 'awake' to ourselves and what we are worth.

The poem neatly encapsulates what our TOK studies are aiming for: to instil in ourselves a desire to think and speak for ourselves; to stand firm in what we believe; above all, to respect ourselves and to see what we are capable of.

Do you recognise the TOK vocabulary?

Which knowledge issues emerge from the poem?

Saturday, July 4, 2009



When you're asked to reflect on the nature of history or to draw examples from historical sources to support your arguments, you tend very quickly to point to the Second World War and the atrocities committed by those infamous dictators of the time, especially that very familiar one, Adolf Hitler.

Now, the Germans have pushed themselves through over sixty years of guilt for their recent past, quite rightly many may argue, and only recently has their most important news journal, Der Spiegel, stopped printing articles on the consequences of the last World War. In order to enhance your essays and presentations, however, try to think of other relevant examples to support your historical arguments or counter-arguments.

Take for example, the massacre at the Golden Temple, Amritsar in 1919, where British troops fired on the thousands of people who had gathered to commemorate the start of the Sikh New Year. The scene was filmed dramatically in Sir Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi:

Watching this clip makes you rethink your whole understanding of what terrorism means and the atrocities that are carried out in the struggle to assert so-called 'democracy' upon citizens.

This is not to minimise the impact of the Second World War, but to make ourselves more keenly aware of what is happening (and has happened) under our very noses. So make the most of your freedom and research into this area for yourselves.

Think about what the Russians did to the Afghanistanis; what the North Americans did to the indigenous Indian tribes and what the Australians did to the Aborigines...