What is expected?
Since this course is not to be run in exactly the same way as a lecture, or a lab, or a secondary school class, these notes may help to clarify what is expected of participants. The underlying notion is that you, along with everyone else (teacher and students), are responsible both as a learner and as a teacher. The emphasis is not on course content that the teacher must provide and the students must learn. Rather, there is a set of topics to be explored. They will be introduced by the instructor in a structured sequence. We all are responsible for content. The class’s objective will then be to develop skills of debate, argument, reason, and others necessary for dealing with the content. You will be tested on those skills rather than on any content you have learned. Theory of Knowledge is a reflective course (pondering about what and how you learn elsewhere) rather than an accumulative (learning more information) course.
Because disagreement is a key feature of the course, a certain level of etiquette is necessary to ensure mutual respect between students and between students and teacher. Of course, you must learn and practise judgment – to be human is to be judgmental – but while disagreeing with someone, there should be no signs of gloating over winning an argument, of considering someone to be foolish or inferior for having different information or another point of view. Mutual respect is a key ground rule for this course.
Many of the topics raised in class are deliberately controversial and open to question and debate. If your point of view differs from whatever is said in class, it is your responsibility to make sure that your point of view is heard by the class. Please do not whisper it to a neighbour or keep it to yourself. Class discussion should be heard and ‘hearable’ by all.
It is expected in class that there will be points of view that are mutually exclusive and contradictory. It is your responsibility to accept the principle of validity of other points of view. In this sense there is no “right answer” in this class. No one is permitted to tell you what or how to think. You are required, however, to allow alternative interpretations to be voiced and explained. Be observant of yourself in class; can you identify some covert communication that is negative feedback (e.g., scornful tone of voice, laughter) to those who offer alternatives?
Our disagreements must be encouraged within an atmosphere of trust. This requires that we be open and honest without being hostile. When you hear a new idea, or a new way of looking at things, please attempt to keep any scorn out of your voice when you seek to clarify that newly heard perspective. Behaviour consistent with an open (and not vacant) mind is an essential ground rule for conduct in a theory of Knowledge discussion.
Not Understanding is O.K.
If another student or the teacher says something in class, which you do not understand, it is your responsibility to ask that it be clarified. Expect, then, to be asked to clarify your statements, too. If you already knew what you were going to learn, you would already have learned it. We have to be able to have the courage to try to identify what we are speculating on. That ‘we’, may be those of us in a class, or the whole class.
You may change positions in class as new information, new perspectives, or new methods of analysing are introduced. As a matter of courtesy, however, please inform the rest of the class when you do. That often takes much courage, and should be applauded. Note that a point of view, which may appear wrong, silly, or misguided at first, may appear to acquire validity after you give it a chance and a fair hearing.
There are times when all of us, including the teacher, find it more appropriate to sit and listen. This must be respected. When there are silences in a class discussion, you need not feel discomfort, nor should you feel cheated that you are not being taught. Silences also teach. However, if you wish a silence to be filled remember that you, too, are a teacher in this class. Often it appears that there are two kinds of students in a classroom (a) those who do most of the talking and (b) those who do not talk. If you belong to the first, do not allow any suggestion that you should “feel guilty” for “dominating” the class hinder you from making your valuable contribution. Also, as a method of exploring new methods of learning, you may sometimes exercise your choice of sitting and listening to a classroom discussion. If you belong to the second group, those who listen, this is your opportunity to experience a participatory method of learning – one that is in contrast to the passive mode encouraged in modern society by theatre and television. If English is not your first language, and if a term or topic is mentioned in class that you need time to translate, consider it your duty to stop the discussion and request clarification.
You will be encouraged, even nagged, to reflect in a physical journal. This is essential and a central part of the course – it affects your report grades in the subject and, more importantly, informs your own writing and planning for the two assessment pieces.
Do not be afraid to debate a topic, no matter how your previous experience with debate might have gone. Your participation will help you to clarify what you hear and what you think. The educational purpose of the Theory of Knowledge is ‘reflective’. What you should bring to class is experience and knowledge from other classes. New ideas and perspectives may be introduced in class, not for you to learn as such, but in order to encourage alternative ways of approaching what you learn in you other classes. The purpose of class debate, then, is not to learn how to win a debating competition, but to stimulate reflection about knowing in you other classes.
Classes will be held in English. However, do not fear to ask for translation of a concept into another language. While the purpose of the course is reflective, the main method in the class is discussion. This is your forum for debate, questioning, polishing and delineating. That requires a continuing improvement in communication skills, both sending and receiving. An important ground rule is a willingness to participate in both.
There is nothing wrong with attempting to synthesize contradictory thoughts or points of view in class. Nor is there anything wrong with trying to compromise. We will not always be successful but the exercise is part of the purpose of the course.
Curiosity is to be respected in this class – especially yours, but that of others as well. Behaviour that indicates an honest curiosity is strongly encouraged in the Theory of Knowledge class.