IB alumna Kristen Leer shares how the TOK course has helped her become a lifelong learner, and has inspired her future prospects
“Theory of knowledge (TOK) takes something like a simple box and teaches IB Diploma Programme (DP) students to open it up, break it apart, rebuild it, analyse and toss it around to find out everything about it outside of the presentation of the box itself”, explains Kristen Leer, who studied the DP at Ronald Wilson Reagan International Baccalaureate College Preparatory High School in, Wisconsin, USA.
“TOK and my teacher taught me to always question everything, which I still struggle with. But by questioning and analysing everything you do, you build your portfolio of knowledge, which can help you throughout life. It can also help you discover yourself a bit more too”.
What? When? How?
TOK provides an opportunity for DP students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know. It is this critical thinking that makes the DP unique, says Kristen.
“It helps us reconstruct our thinking to questions that may not have crossed our mind, or might make us uncomfortable. However, by talking about these uncomfortable issues we learn to discuss and debate, and learn from others, which are skills that are highly needed. Allowing different ideas to be discussed can help us understand better and become more open-minded”.
For example, Kristen will always remember a lesson which featured a documentary on the impact of music on Alzheimer’s. Students were asked to take notes of anything that surprised them while they were watching. Afterwards the class discussed the problems and challenges raised from different sides and tried to understand the views of everyone involved.
“It’s clear that music can help Alzheimer’s patients and, at first, we didn’t understand why changes in care weren’t being implemented. But as we stepped into the shoes of the patients, family and doctors we were able to become more open-minded and question everything. We also answered what would we do in situations like these and how people can make a positive impact”, says Kristen.
In true IB fashion, Kristen is a risk-taker, and it was the rigorous nature of the DP that encouraged her to pursue the programme. “I felt that if I was able to at least try to fulfill the requirements and expectations of the programme. I would feel better prepared for any other challenges that I would face in the near future”.
Since finishing high school, Kristen attended college and will be graduating in 2018 with a major in psychology, a minor in classics and an honors diploma. She hopes to then pursue a PhD in psychology.
“To help me with this goal, I am involved with the ABCD BrainLab on campus, am a behavioural technician for autistic children, and just got approved for my senior thesis, which will investigate the evolution of schizophrenia in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Additionally, I am presenting my research at a couple of conferences next spring”.
The DP filled Kristen with the confidence that she can do anything she wants to as long as she works hard, has determination and, most importantly, passion.
“I was passionate about wanting to expand my education and access a worldly view. The DP helped me reinforce this”.
Kristen aims to have a big impact in the world in 10 years’ time.
“I will travel to global and national conferences to talk about the importance of mental health, especially to third world countries”, she says. “I want to have published at least one novel and continue with my academic research, which will be published in academic journals. I want to help others that don’t have the help they deserve”.
Do you have a story about inspiring IB alumni? Get in touch with your story and we’ll try and share it as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, during which we want to celebrate our IB community around the world.