Every time I visit a class here at Cheshire Academy, I walk away inspired. I leave the classroom feeling energized and hungry for more. The opportunities our students have to take courses like Theory of Knowledge (ToK) gives them a forum to openly debate and discuss complex theories and concepts. This course, like all IB program courses, requires that students use and hone critical thinking skills while drawing upon their individual experiences, educational and otherwise, to make connections to the world around them.
During class, I take notes of what students say, the debates they have, the parallels they draw to their other classes, and the thought-provoking statements and questions they offer. My notes could fill pages within this blog, but the ultimate take away from all of the IB program classes I have visited since last spring—sciences, English, visual arts and ToK—is that students are always challenged to go beyond the basics of education. They are pushed to question what they know, taught to ask why they know what they know, and asked to delve into how they know what they know about themselves and the world in which they live.
Want a glimpse into the most recent ToK class I visited? Let’s go ...“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
This one quote, one concept of language as a way of knowing, was enough to launch the classroom of juniors into non-stop discussion that could have easily extended beyond the 50-minute period. With minimal involvement from Mr. Chip Boyd, the teacher of this first year Theory of Knowledge IB course, the students pushed the depths of thinking and comprehension, connecting the conversations to other classes, disciplines and even complex theories.
Victoria Pascual Izquierdo drew a connection to the book, 1984, that her English class is reading, pointing out the limited number of words used reduced people’s ability to accurately describe something. Joey Levin quickly offered Shakespeare as an example of getting around this issue; when he didn’t know a word to use, he simply made one up. “Language changes over time,” added Bella Cusano. “You can add to it and take away from it.”
Moving on to the poem, Silence, author Edgar Lee Masters essentially says there are no words to describe his feelings, his pain, his experiences. Students discussed the ability to share emotions and experiences, delving into the notion of how you can compare experiences, or if you even need to compare. Are your experiences alone enough to help you relate to others. Do you even need language? “A lot of meaning can be conveyed by silence,” noted Cusano.
The conversation nicely dovetailed with a video of Noam Chomsky in which he talks about knowledge and language.
The video sparked more conversation about knowing oneself, human capabilities and how we are influenced by the world around us. Connections to other classes were made left and right, with examples and theories flying. We talked about physics and biology, the Big Bang Theory, and the idea that something could come from nothing. The conversation hit on religion, literature, and scientific theories.
This led to a discussion on interpretation, a crucial word within ToK studies. Mr. Boyd asked, “Which discipline of study has the least amount of interpretation?” The response came from several areas of the room at once, “math.” We touched on the meaning of empirical, and the notion that we trust, first and foremost, our own experiences to guide us in determining what is real based on observation, experiment and facts.
Up next was a viewing of a TED Talk by Keith Chen in which he examines the relationship between language and the propensity to save money.
Chen suggests that how we speak and relate to the future in terms of language could be a factor in how we subconsciously prepare for the future. His research focused on the difference between “future-less languages” in which the future is addressed in the same way as the present, and “futured languages” in which the future is addressed differently than the present.
Class ended shortly after the video, but the discussion continued. Even as students left for their next classes, they were talking about the study. Could it address other variables, such as an individual’s personal strengths in areas of mathematics? Mr. Boyd suggested students reach out to Chen to ask.
Let’s see what happens next …