For the TOK essay the IB sets six Prescribed Titles, or PTs. These writing prompts can often have a koan-like feel to them. For instance, one PT this year asks the students to contemplate whether it is accurate to say there is a “world of difference” between facts and the truth. Typically one or two of the PTs are more popular than the others with the students, and this year was no exception. For this exam session many decided to tackle a PT which asked them “How can we distinguish between a good and a bad interpretation?” and tasked them with discussing this in relation to art and one other area of knowledge.
One of the challenges of every TOK Essay PT, and indeed many assessments in the DP in general, is to properly discern what exactly is required to fully and accurately address the requirements of the task. This prompt is not asking how we decide good from bad art, as some students erroneously thought, but rather it strikes at the idea of who is best placed to make valid interpretations of a piece of art. While in many fields of study one opinion is not nearly as valid as another, is this also the case in art? Does the interpretation need to match with the intention of the artist? Are all interpretations equally valid, if they can be justified? Is training required to give a good interpretation? Are experts ever guilty of making bad interpretations? Can a good interpretation be put down to luck at times?
One of the most difficult concepts for the beginning TOK student is that in this class, unlike any other, we are not driven to answer these questions, but rather to explore than from a variety of viewpoints, and if possible, to designate one as being more accurate, more dependable, more defensible, than an alternate position. As such learning to differentiate between mere information and meaningful knowledge is the goal of TOK and one of the more important skills DP students carry forward with them after they graduate from NISC.