I’ve been publishing commentaries on the new IB Theory of Knowledge Teaching Guide: first, my own; then, from Canadian TOK teacher Brad Ovenell-Carter; next-up came an extended one by Richard van de Lagemaat, author of the most popular TOK textbook used around the world. The last one was by Chris Coey, my talented teaching colleague at Luther Burbank High School, shared his thoughts.

I’ve compiled them at The Best Commentaries On The New IB Theory Of Knowledge Teaching Guide.

Today, Prof. Crow, is writing on behalf of TOK Tutor. He’s a retired teacher specialising in TOK writing & presentation skills:

New TOK Curriculum – First exam 2015

The Knowledge Framework

The new curriculum has one very significant implication: TOK is about exploring how knowledge is BUILT or ENGINEERED.

This building happens on a PERSONAL level – we discover things about ourselves and our world all the time through our own individual ways and means.

But we do not do this in isolation.  There is a CONTEXT.  This comes from an edifice of data or source material we have to sift through (books; internet; verbal lore); a host of influences (parental, peer group, teachers, community leaders…) that shape what we know and the experts who build on the learning and knowledge of each other…

So knowledge is also built on a COLLABORATIVE level – we discover things by SHARING data, ideas, methods and technology.

So think of yourself as someone who is constantly building knowledge and never simply accepting someone else’s knowledge without question.  This attitude helps to refine and strengthen the foundations of your knowledge.

How the Knowledge Framework looks

Take any AOK – Ethics – and explore how knowledge is constructed within this field.

This is done by tracing the genesis of your ethical knowledge in FIVE different ways – the new Guide calls this a ‘knowledge framework’.

Links to personal knowledge:

  • · our sense of right and wrong tends to come from our parents (usually transmitted through their religion, if they have one)
  • · emotion and perception largely shapes how we know the difference between good and bad eg. Hand in the fire hurts; smoking is harmful
  • · we create and test moral boundaries by exposure to our parents’ experiences and making our own mistakes
  • · our ethical behaviour grows as we begin to see ourselves within a wider social network from family, friends, community to society and interact independently within each of these rule-based frameworks

Historical context/development:

  • · Evolutionary approach to Ethics (Reductionism)
  • · Religious approach to Ethics (Divine Command theories)
  • · Philosophical approaches to ethics (Consequentialist theories & virtue ethics)


  • · Ethics as an objective, rational framework to guide human behavior
  • · Ethics giving us an emotive purchase on the world
  • · Personal values vs cultural values and the idea of ‘relativism’
  • · Ethics that promote tolerance and celebrate difference
  • · Very hard to justify ethical judgments using factual evidence ‘is/ought’ problem)


  • · Uses abstract concepts to shape specific behaviours
  • · ‘relativism’, ‘absolutism’, ‘utilitarianism’, ‘deontological’


  • · Often very abstract ideas involved like ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘justice’
  • · Ethical frameworks used as guidance to best practice: eg. Medical ethics; Olympic Code; Declaration of Human Rights
  • · Convergence between Ethics and other AOKs like Religion or Science can lead to controversy: eg. Stem cell research
  • · Ethical judgments are never absolutely true or certain – that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about them rationally.