Exploring how TOK manifests itself in the real world on a trip to Nuremberg

In March, Grade 11 went on a four day trip to Nuremberg. One of the main aims of the week was for the students to find out how Theory of Knowledge (TOK) manifests itself in the real world. TOK is a compulsory subject in the Diploma Programme (DP), focused on critical thinking skills, asking students to critically review the knowledge they gain in their other DP subjects and life in general. Clara (G 11) shares some of her impressions:

The Nazi Party Rally grounds

On these grounds, the Nazis staged their yearly party rallies with thousands of participants. When first entering the Colosseum-like unfinished central building, I was in awe. The enormity of it shocked me. The guide said that the Nazis built it this huge to convey to every participant that they are not important. This effect was felt during the whole tour and it is interesting to see how the Nazis used this psychological technique to make people support them, to make them feel small, but part of something important. 

Everything was so precisely planned. The marching grounds were built so that the road made a line pointing directly to the Imperial castle of Nuremberg. This way, the Nazis made a link between their “Third Reich” and the first Reich, the Holy Roman empire. The huge central building resembled the Italian Colosseum. These connections to history show how the Nazi’s tried to connect themselves to the heroes and celebrated figures of history to make themselves look more great. 

These rallies are an important part of history and link perfectly to the TOK theme of Knowledge and Politics. They show how propaganda is an effective tool. The way in which the national socialist party used knowledge to influence Germans was essential for them to rise to power. Furthermore, influencing people’s emotions and having the knowledge of how to do that, immensely helped the Nazis. I found it shocking how intelligently the Nazis used these techniques and it shows how knowledge can be misused. 

The Future Museum

Our next stop can be connected to the Knowledge and Technology unit. In the museum, many examples of modern technology were on display. It was amazing to see how they could change and positively impact our lives. For example, digital technologies can help us study the human body and therefore save more lives. However the exhibition also showed how knowledge can negatively affect us. The development of materials such as plastic, for example, was shown to lead to a lot of pollution and a nice interactive board displayed how hard it is to recycle all these things. 

The exhibition also conveyed another important message, which was to encourage people to accept new ideas and embrace new technologies. Often society is afraid of new knowledge and how it will change their lives. A good example of this would be the different vehicles shown, for example a car powered by solar panels or a bike with a house attached to it. These are examples of things invented to help us and put forward development without harming the environment. However, most of the prototypes are not in use because people are scared of the change. It takes a long time for the knowledge of the importance of these new ideas to reach everyone, showing the limitations of technology.

The Nuremberg Tribunals 

On the third day we went to Courtroom 600, where the Nuremberg trials were held after the Second World War to prove the guilt of the most influential Nazis. Learning about them was very interesting and enjoyable. The trial led to the definition of new crimes, such as crimes against humanity. The defendants found the addition of this new law unfair as the acts they were tried for were not illegal at the time they were doing them. This does seem unfair, however the Nazis committed crimes that were new as well, which therefore needed to be trialled with new laws. Never before have so many people been killed so systematically as in the Holocaust and it is therefore only fair to add more rules to prevent and punish these “new” actions. 

This historic event can be linked to the TOK concept of power. The trialled Nazis were seen to be more responsible because of the power they possessed. They had a huge impact on many people and can therefore be held responsible. This can be seen in the case of Julius Streicher, the publisher of “Der Stürmer”. This magazine spread anti-semitic propaganda and helped to rally the German population against Jewish people. He possessed a lot of power and responsibility and used it to spread hate. 

Furthermore,  we can see how individuals must question the laws and regulations of their state. The Germans just went along with the success of Hitler. The population was stuck in an echo chamber and kept hearing the same evil ideas towards the Jews and hence stopped questioning them. 

Our judgement of the Nazis has changed since then, because we possess more knowledge of all the things done by the Nazis. Furthermore, our morals have changed. Our knowledge of history makes us see more critically and influences the way in which we view people like the Nazis. However, horrible things like genocide still happen today, showing how even though we possess knowledge it will not prevent everyone to act a certain way. A modern example of this would be the Ukraine war, which to the outsider seems horrible and unnecessary showing how humans repeat mistakes despite our knowledge of history.

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