A Brief History of the International Conference on Thinking®
The Humanities faculties of the University of the South Pacific unanimously voted in 1979 to approve my suggestion to host an international, interdisciplinary conference to explore the research relating to teaching thinking skills, problem-solving skills. We also wanted to attract our university’s other two schools (the natural sciences and the social sciences) and concerned academics and educators around the world. The premise was that none of the great problems, such a loss of intelligence by under-educated children, belonged to any one discipline. This particular problem could be understood and “fixed” by multiple lenses, the lenses of education, psychology, sociology, philosophy, religion, even the aspects of the brain studied by physicists, biologists and anthropology. The “fix” would have to be informed by the architecture, the engineering of the environment in which the learning would take place.
The University Vice Chancellor, Dr. James Maraj, immediately authorized $2,000 for the project. I formed a planning committee, telephoned the world’s most prolific author on thinking, Dr. Edward de Bono of Malta and England who holds five doctorates from such universities as Malta, Oxford and Cambridge. Dr. De Bono immediately agreed to be the Keynote Speaker. Then I called the top international educational executive of the British Government, Mr. T.H.L Matthews, who immediately and enthusiastically and in an un-English-like fashion exclaimed, “Professor Maxwell, you are in luck. I just checked by budget yesterday and can afford to send three scholars/scientists. Who do you want?” The U.S.A.I.D Director in Suva, Fiji, arranged for the U.S. Government to sponsor a top mathematical educator from the University of Massachusetts, Professor Jack Lochhead. Finland agreed to send its top sports psychologist, Laura H. Jansson, etc. We were off to a brilliant start.
The planning and marketing took more than two years. The first International Conference on Thinking convened at the new conference facilities of the main campus of the University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, on January 4, 5, and 6, 1982. The excitement was palpable as this was the first such fully inter-disciplinary, international academic conference in the world, convened to consult on solutions to a specific problem, and in an extraordinarily beautiful South Pacific setting overlooking Laucala Bay.
Further enhancing the excitement was the international celebrity status of several of the participants who had flown exactly half way around the world, Edward de Bono, a Rhodes Scholar with five doctoral degrees and 65 books published; Don MacKay, one of Britain’s most published physicists and who had recently been chosen to head Britain’s first brain science research center; Margaret Boden, Britain’s top authority on artificial intelligence, and a former student of Harvard’s Jerome Bruner, America’s most famous cognitive psychologist at the time. (Professor Bruner wrote the Preface of the book summarizing the Conference)1 Richard Dawkins, the most famous modifier of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the author of “The Selfish Gene,” and who later occupied the Chair of Zoology at Oxford, rounded out the representatives sponsored by the British Council, then headed by T.H.L. Matthews.
The enchantment of the event was captured when exactly as the dinner bell rang for us to file into the Campus Bure (Ceremonial Hall) for the Farewell Dinner, a striking golden full moon rose over Laucala Bay, sending shivers down the spines of many participants.
The International Conference on Thinking II was on August 19 - 23 at Harvard University, attended by 847 persons with nearly 200 being turned away because of Harvard’s space limitations at the time. Highlighting the Conference were Edward de Bono, of course; the first Minister for the Development of Human Intelligence in the world, Professor Luis Alberto Machado of Venezuela; and Yale University’s foremost neurophysiologist, Professor Charles F. Stevens. The organizer of the Harvard Conference soiled the event by inviting one of his heroes, the most famous published racist at the time, Arthur Jensen of the University of California, Berkeley.
The third was at the University of Hawaii, with over 1100 participants. By now it was obvious that the “Deliberate effort to teach thinking skills,” started by Socrates and Aristotle had been reborn, thanks to Professor De Bono. The conferences were so successful that greed invaded our movement and a non-tenured faculty member at Harvard saw the conference as a stepping-stone to tenure, eminence and money. So he convinced most of the board that I formed at ICOT III, 1987, that the founder of these conferences, being Black, was not qualified to carry these Conferences forward. That person then convinced the hosts of most ICOTs since not to invite the founder.
Disaster fell upon ICOT XI in Phoenix in 2003 despite being awarded $50,000 by the City of Phoenix to market the Conference. A Russian-born person of unknown income and affiliation, Nick Zeniuk, had infiltrated earlier conferences and volunteered to attract to ICOT XI several of his high placed “friends” such as Peter Senge of MIT and General Michael Hayden, Director of the National Security Agency. About four weeks before the Conference was to open, Zeniuk sent emails to hundreds of registered participants that the Conference had been cancelled. He informed the 25 top Chinese scholars who were awaiting visas that they would be refused entry into the U.S. because of the SARS epidemic. This if course was another Russian lie. Mr. Zeniuk also somehow persuaded the three rectors from North African Islamic universities to withdraw from the Conference shortly after the opening ceremonies.
As the Conference with nearly 900 attendees was opened by the Rector of the oldest university in the world, Quaraouiyine University in Morocco, the major newspaper in Phoenix, The Arizona Republic, carried a planted front page story headlined, “The Wheels fall off” the Conference. At the same time, the Russian operative, Nick Zeniiuk, arranged for a “Management” conference to take place at the same time, but across town, to feature MIT’s Peter Senge and those who had signed up for the “Management Track” of ICOT XI.
Despite the sabotage, some balance was achieved. NHK Television of Japan sent a full crew to film the event which was later repeatedly broadcast across Japan. And, one of Hollywood’s most successful conductors, Russ Garcia who was famous for helping Charlie Chaplin win an Oscar by scoring “Smile” flew up from New Zealand to spend a month planning an enchanted evening of great music with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and several of his most accomplished musician friends. That musical evening at Phoenix Symphony Hall was boycotted by David Perkins and those Perkins has gathered around himself. Nevertheless most of the 850+ attendees from around the world, including the most famous scholar of the South Pacific cultures, Professor Ron Crocombe of the Cook Islands and The University of the South Pacific, praised the unique focus and quality of the Conference.
History demands and rewards objectivity: History will credit David Perkins for marketing these conferences so that attendance rose to over 3,000 in such places as Stockholm, Melbourne and Singapore.
The U.S. Government acknowledged William Maxwell’s ownership of the name, “International Conference on Thinking” by issuing to him Trade Mark Number 5,641,746, on January 01, 2019
Acknowledgement on the website and all programs
Above plus one representative at all subsequent conferences3
Acknowledgement and two representatives
Acknowledgement and four representatives
A seat on the Planning Committee
A proportionate share of profits.
University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji ICOT I, January, 1982