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35th World Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform

Conference Session Descriptions 

July 25-30, 2015

Preconference July 25-26, 2015


This year's conference focal session descriptions are listed below. Click on each title in the overview section to be taken to the descriptions further down on the page. Choose the focal sessions you plan to attend when you register for the conference.  

Saturday and Sunday (July 25-26, 2015) 
(choose one of the following in-depth two-day sessions)


DAY ONE  Monday (July 27)  
(choose one of the following sessions, which runs all day following the morning key-note address) 


DAY TWO Tuesday morning (July 28) 
(Everyone is Invited) 

Bertrand Russell Scholars Program

Russell Scholar: Dr. Daniel Ellsberg

Lecture and Conversation

All conference delegates are encouraged to actively participate in this session

See the Bertrand Russell Scholars Program


Day Two Early Afternoon – Roundtable Discussions

(to be held approx 1:30 - 2:30)

DAY TWO Tuesday afternoon (July 28) 
(choose one of the following sessions for the afternoon) 

DAY THREE Wednesday morning & early afternoon (July 29) 

Concurrent sessionsTBA

If you would like to send a proposal for a concurrent session, please contact The Foundation for Critical Thinking at

Concurrent sessions are one hour in length. Most sessions are conducted by faculty and administrators who have been working with critical thinking concepts and principles for several years by bringing critical thinking into individual classrooms or across the curriculum.


DAY FOUR Thursday morning & early afternoon (July 23)

Bringing Critical Thinking into the Heart of Teaching and LearningDr. Linda Elder

Bringing critical thinking into instruction entails understanding the concepts and principles within critical thinking and then applying those concepts throughout the curriculum. It means developing powerful strategies that emerge when we begin to understand critical thinking. In this session we will focus on strategies for engaging the intellect at potentially all levels of instruction. These strategies are powerful and useful, because each is a way to engage students in actively thinking about what they are trying to learn. Each represents a shift of responsibility for learning from teacher to student. Through these strategies students learn to discipline their thinking as they reason their way through content. They learn the importance of using the principles of critical thinking in reasoning through problems and issues in every subject and discipline.

This session will lay the foundation for all conference sessions and is therefore highly recommended for new conference attendees. It will introduce you to some of the most basic understandings in critical thinking – namely, how to analyze thinking, how to assess it, and how to develop and foster intellectual virtues or dispositions. 

One conceptual set we will focus on is the elements of reasoning, or parts of thinking. These elements or parts of reasoning are those essential dimensions of reasoning that are present whenever and wherever reasoning occurs, independent of whether we are reasoning well or poorly. Working together, these elements shape reasoning and provide a general logic to the use of thought. They are presupposed in every subject, discipline, and domain of human thought.

A second conceptual set we will focus on is that of universal intellectual standards. One of the fundamentals of critical thinking is the ability to assess reasoning. To be skilled at assessment requires that we consistently take apart thinking and examine its parts with respect to standards of quality. We do this using criteria based on clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logicalness, and significance. Critical thinkers recognize that whenever they are reasoning, they reason to some purpose (element of reasoning). Implicit goals are bulit into their thought processes. But their reasoning is improved when they are clear (intellectual standard) about that purpose or goal. Similarly, to reason well, they need to know that - consciously or unconciously - they are using relevant (intellectual standard: relevance) information (element of reasoning) in their thinking. Furthermore, their reasoning improves if and when they make sure that the information that they are using is accurate (intellectual standard: accuracy). 

A third essential conceptual set in critical thinking is intellectual virtues or traits. Critical thinking does not entail merely intellectual skills. Rather, it is a way of orienting oneself in the world. It is a way of approaching problems that differs significantly from that which is typical in human life. People may have critical thinking skills and abilities, and yet still be unable to enter viewpoints with which they disagree. They may have critical thinking abilities, and yet still be unable to analyze the belifes that guide their behavior. They may have critical thinking abilities, and yet be unable to distinguish between what they know and what they don't know, to persevere through difficult problems and issues, to think fairmindedly, or to stand alone against the crowd. Thus, in developing as a thinker and fostering critical thinking abilities in others, it is important to develop intellectual viirtues - virtues of fairmindedness, intellectual humility, intellectual preserverance, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual autonomy, intellectual integrity, and confidence in reason. 

Finally, we will illuminate two intrinsic barriers to critical thinking development - egocentric and sociocentric thought. These natural pathological tendencies will be briefly introduced and explored. 

In short, we introduce, in this preconference session, the foundations of fairminded critical thinking; throughout the two days we will introduce and explore critical thinking theory while applying this theory to teaching and learning. 

Critical Writing – How to Write a Paper Using the Principles of Critical Thinking… Dr. Gerald Nosich

Skilled writing presupposes skilled reflection while writing. Unlike the impressionistic mind, the reflective mind seeks meaning, monitors what it writes, and draws a clear distinction between its thinking and the thinking of its audience. The reflective mind, being purposeful, adjusts writing to specific goals. Being integrated, it interrelates ideas it is writing about with ideas it already commands. Being critical, it assesses what it writes for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness. Being open to new ways of thinking, it values new ideas and learns from what it writes. It engages in research whenever it is needed, and it reflects on the quality and interpretation of that research. The reflective mind improves its thinking by thinking (reflectively) about it. Likewise, it improves its writing by thinking (reflectively) about writing. It moves back and forth between writing and thinking about how it is writing. It moves forward a bit, and then loops back upon itself to check on its own operations. It rises above itself and exercises oversight. This applies to the reflective mind while writing - or while reading, listening or making decisions. This session focuses on bringing the tools of critical thinking to the writing process, and offers suggestions for fostering substantive writing in instruction.

Living the Examined Life Through Daily Practice in Critical Thinking: 30 Weeks to Better Thinking and Better LivingDr. Paul Bankes and Dr. Brian Barnes

There is nothing we do as humans that does not involve thinking. Our thinking tells us what to believe, what to reject, what is important, what is unimportant, what is true, what is false, who are our friends, who are our enemies, how we should spend our time, what jobs we should pursue, where we should live, who we should marry, how we should parent. Everything we know, believe, want, fear, and hope for, our thinking tells us.  

It follows, then, that the quality of our thinking is the primary determinant of the quality of our lives. It has implications for how we go about doing literally everything we do. The quality of your work is determined by the quality of your thinking as you reason through the problems you face as you work. The quality of your relationships is determined by the thinking you do about and in those relationships. 

Therefore, learning to think at the highest level of quality, or to think critically, is too important to leave to chance. Critical thinking is the disciplined art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you are capable of in any set of circumstances. Through developed critical capacities, you can take command of the thinking that commands you. In this preconference session, we will use the book:  30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living (by Elder and Paul) as a launching pad for taking command of the thinking that is guiding everything we do, and all the ways in which we experience life.

DAY ONE  (choose one) 

Incorporating Critical Thinking Assessment into the Fabric of Teaching and Learning Every DayDr. Linda Elder

The purpose of assessment in instruction is improvement. The purpose of assessing instruction for critical thinking is improving the teaching of discipline-based thinking (historical, biological, sociological, mathematical thinking…). It is to improve students’ abilities to think their way through content, using disciplined reasoning.

However, there is often a crucial missing link between what we teach and how we assess what we teach. In instruction we tend to think of our primary purpose as “teaching the content.” Temporally we tend to dedicate the first part of the course to “teaching the first part of the content.” We then at some point “assess” what students have “learned” in our courses (often with a “test” which covers the “content” the students have presumably learned during this first period of the course).   This same pattern is frequently repeated several times in a course, so that instructors come to believe they have thoroughly “covered” their content, as long as student perform at a “sufficient” level on their tests.

But to internalize powerful ideas embedded in content entails assessing one’s learning while one is engaged in learning. Learning and the assessment of learning are intimately integrated in the mind of the disciplined reasoner. Put another way, learning and accurate assessment of that which has been learned are intertwined in the skilled reasoner.  Students come to take responsibility for their learning when they understand the intimate relationship between appropriate assessment of thought and the internalization of content. It is this for which we are aiming when we bring critical thinking and assessment to the core of teaching and learning. This session will focus on methods for systematically integrating assessment through critical thinking into the teaching and learning process.

Helping Students Come to Understand Content as a Mode of ThinkingDr. Gerald Nosich

A key insight into content (and into thinking) is that all content represents a distinctive mode of thinking. Math becomes intelligible as one learns to think mathematically. Biology becomes intelligible as one learns to think biologically. History becomes intelligible as one learns to think historically. This is true because all subjects are: generated by thinking, organized by thinking, analyzed by thinking, synthesized by thinking, expressed by thinking, evaluated by thinking, restructured by thinking, maintained by thinking, transformed by thinking, LEARNED by thinking, UNDERSTOOD by thinking, APPLIED by thinking. If you try to take the thinking out of content, you have nothing, literally nothing, remaining. Learning to think within a unique system of meanings is the key to learning any content whatsoever. This session explores the intimate, indeed the inseparable, relationship between content and thinking. 


To What Extent do the Common Core Standards Foster Critical Thinking, World Justice, and Freedom of Thought?...Dr. Paul Bankes

The majority of states in the U.S. have adopted the Common Core Standards. Many, if not most, of these standards presuppose critical thinking to some degree. But to what extent do Common Core Standards foster substantive, fairminded criticality in schools? To what extent do these standards foster intellectual virtues or traits of mind – such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, confidence in reason, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual courage, and intellectual civility? To what extent do the Core standards cultivate freedom of thought?  To what extent do these standards encourage students to think beyond their own (usually parochial) worldview -to consider how others across the world might conceptualize world issues and problems. To what extent do Common Core Standards enlighten students as to the importance of working toward world justice and egalitarianism? How can we use the platform of common core standards to foster substantive critical thinking? These are among the questions that will be explored in this session. Be prepared for lively intellectual discussion.


FOR RETURNING REGISTRANTS: Transformative thinkers throughout history who have cultivated and advanced the concept of freedom of thoughtDr. Brian Barnes

Throughout history, the concept of freedom of thought has been developed through the thinking of many important scholars and intellectuals. In this session, we will read in the works of several such thinkers, and explore their contributions to a substantive conception of critical thinking. We will include readings from the works of Bertrand Russell, John Stuart Mill, John Bury, Paulo Friere, Emma Goldman, and Erich Fromm. Near the end of the session, participants will have an opportunity to suggest their own candidate(s) as scholars who have made one or more important contributions to a rich concept of fairminded critical thinking.

DAY TWO — MORNING (everyone is invited)  

All conference delegates are invited to participate in …

The Bertrand Russell Distinguished Scholars Lecture and Conversation

This important dimension of the conference highlights the work and thinking of distinguished scholars throughout history who have contributed significantly to the conception, and advancement, of fairminded critical societies. Russell scholars may come from any subject, field, or discipline, or from any domain of human thought. 
This year's scholar is Dr. Daniel Ellsberg. All conference participants are invited to participate in the Russell program. Only conference registrants will be admitted.

Dr. Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931. After graduating from Harvard in 1952 with a B.A. in Economics, he studied for a year at King’s College, Cambridge University, on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Between 1954 and 1957, Ellsberg spent three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as rifle platoon leader, operations officer, and rifle company commander.

In 1959, Ellsberg became a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, and consultant to the Defense Department and the White House, specializing in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. In 1961 he drafted the guidance from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the operational plans for general nuclear war. He was a member of two of the three working groups reporting to the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOM) during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Ellsberg joined the Defense Department in 1964 as Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs) John McNaughton, working on the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He transferred to the State Department in 1965 to serve two years at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, evaluating pacification in the field.

On return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, Ellsberg worked on the top secret McNamara study of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000 page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in 1971 he gave it to the New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. His trial, on twelve felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years, was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him, which led to the convictions of several White House aides and figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon.

Ellsberg is the author of three books: Papers on the War (1971), Risk, Ambiguity and Decision (2001), and Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002). In December 2006 he was awarded the 2006 Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” in Stockholm, Sweden, “. .  for putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to inspiring others to follow his example.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, Ellsberg has been a lecturer, writer, and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era, wrongful U.S. interventions and the urgent need for patriotic whistleblowing. He is a Senior Fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

DAY TWO — AFTERNOON (choose one)

Helping Students Deal with Bad Habits of Mind that Impede Their Learning and Their Development as ThinkersDr. Brian Barnes

 Students do not come to us as blank slates. They come to us with an established, but still developing, worldview. This worldview has unfortunately emerged from a largely impoverished world culture that tends not to highlight problems in thinking, nor to offer substantive approaches to those problems. Most students have no sense that within each of us are self-defeating attitudes and behavior, nor that many of these attitudes and behaviors are habitual. Most students have little understanding of how their bad habits of thought affect their learning, and hence their long-term futures. It is therefore important for students to deeply explore and probe the habits of mind that impede their learning. For instance, it is important for students to see that they, like all people, are often intellectually arrogant, and that this tendency gets in the way of their learning. It is important for students to see that they, like all people, often fail to persevere through difficulties when learning complex ideas - and that this tendency also gets in the way of their learning. It is important, in short, for students to understand the general problems in thinking experienced by all humans that lead to self-defeating attitudes and behavior. Students can then use these understandings to uncover their own particular, dysfunctional patterns of thought. This session will focus on helping students understand the bad habits of thought common to all humans, so they can begin to see how their own habitual attitudes and behaviors serve as formidable barriers to self development and self realization. 

The Inherent Fallibility of Human Memory and Some Core Implications for Teaching and LearningDr. Elizabeth Loftus and Dr. Linda Elder

 Through the groundbreaking research of Elizabeth Loftus (beginning more than three decades ago), and other researchers who have followed in Loftus’ path, we have come to better appreciate the intrinsic fallibility and pervasive malleability of human memory. Loftus’ research has played a pivotal role in redefining how lawyers, judges and juries across the world view eyewitness testimony.

But how does fallibility in human memory affect teaching and learning? How can we take into account the key insights illuminated in Loftus’ work as we design instruction - to minimize the problem of false memories in student thought? How can the tools of critical thinking help us avoid the cultivation of false memories? Where do false memories “come from,” or in other words, what are some of the ways in which false memories are formed in human thought? How do false memories “serve’ the thinking of students? How do false memories serve the thinking of faculty? Of administrators? How are memories altered within departments and institutions over time? How do false memories influence our historical thinking as humans? How do false memories influence our work in the professions? These are some of the key questions at the heart of this session, which begins with an overview of Loftus’s research on the fallibility of memory, and then moves to implications for instruction.

Employing Socratic Questioning as a Means to Cultivating the Intellect and Freeing the MindDr. Gerald Nosich

Socratic questioning is disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we don't know, and to follow out logical implications of thought. The key to distinguishing Socratic questioning from questioning per se is that Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, and deep, and usually focuses on foundational concepts, principles, theories, issues, or problems. 

Teachers, students, or indeed anyone interested in probing thinking at a deep level can and should construct Socratic questions and engage in Socratic dialogue. When we use Socratic questioning in teaching, our purpose may be to probe student thinking, to determine the extent of their knowledge on a given topic, issue or subject, to model Socratic questioning for them, or to help them analyze a concept or line of reasoning. In the final analysis, we want students to learn the discipline of Socratic questioning, so that they begin to use it in reasoning through complex issues, in understanding and assessing the thinking of others, and in following-out the implications of what they, and others think.

 The art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with critical thinking because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought. Both critical thinking and Socratic questioning share a common end. Critical thinking provides the conceptual tools for understanding how the mind functions (in its pursuit of meaning and truth); and Socratic questioning employs those tools in framing questions essential to the pursuit of meaning and truth.

 This session will focus on the mechanics of Socratic dialogue, on the conceptual tools critical thinking brings to Socratic dialogue, and on the importance of questioning in cultivating the disciplined mind. The session will be highly interactive as participants practice Socratic question using the foundations of critical thinking.

For Administrators: Fostering a Substantive Conception of Critical Thinking Throughout Teaching and LearningDr. Paul Bankes

Critical thinking, deeply understood, provides a rich set of concepts that enable us to think our way through any subject or discipline, through any problem or issue. With a substantive concept of critical thinking clearly in mind, we begin to see the pressing need for a staff development program that fosters critical thinking within and across the curriculum. As we come to understand a substantive concept of critical thinking, we are able to follow-out its implications in designing a professional development program. By means of it, we begin to see important implications for every part of the institution –redesigning policies, providing administrative support for critical thinking, rethinking the mission, coordinating and providing faculty workshops in critical thinking, redefining faculty as learners as well as teachers, assessing students, faculty, and the institution as a whole in terms of critical thinking abilities and traits. We realize that robust critical thinking should be the guiding force for all of our educational efforts. This session presents a professional development model that can provide the vehicle for deep change across the curriculum, across the institution. 



Concurrent sessions - TBA

If you would like to send a proposal for a concurrent session, please contact The Foundation for Critical Thinking


Concurrent sessions are one hour in length. Most sessions are conducted by faculty and administrators who have been working with critical thinking concepts and principles for several years by bringing critical thinking into individual classrooms or across the curriculum. 

DAY FOUR — MORNING (choose one) 

Teaching Students to Pursue Transformative Concepts within Academic DisciplinesGerald Nosich

Concepts are ideas we use in thinking. They enable us to group things in our experience into different categories, classes, or divisions. They are the basis of the labels we give things in our minds. They represent the mental map (and meanings) we construct of the world, the map that tells us the way the world is. Through our concepts we define situations, events, relationships, and all other objects of our experience. All our decisions depend on how we conceptualize things, and all subjects or disciplines are defined by their foundational concepts. For instance, a fundamental concept in ecology is ecosystem, defined as a group of living things dependent on one another and living in a particular habitat. Ecologists study how differing ecosystems function and how they interrelate with other ecosystems. They are concerned with ecological succession - the natural pattern of change occurring within every ecosystem when natural processes are undisturbed. This pattern includes the birth, development, death, and then replacement of natural communities. Ecologists have grouped communities into larger units called biomes, regions throughout the world classified according to physical features, including temperature, rainfall and type of vegetation. Ecologists use all of these seminal concepts as they reason through ecological problems. Other key concepts for ecologists include imbalances, energy, nutrients, population growth, diversity, habitat, competition, predation, parasitism, adaptation, coevolution, succession and climax communities and conservation. 

When students master foundational concepts at a deep level, they are able to use them to understand and function better within the world. Can you identify the fundamental concepts in your discipline? Can you explain their role in thinking within your discipline? How can you help students take command of these concepts? Can you exemplify how the core ideas in the discipline are important in life? These are some of the questions to be explored in this session.

The Philosophy of Richard Paul and Some Core Implications for Teaching and LearningDr. Paul Bankes and Dr. Brian Barnes

Richard Paul is widely considered to be a seminal thinker in the field of Critical Thinking Studies. In this session we will consider some of Paul’s important contributions to the substantive conception of critical thinking that has been cultivated in the past 40 years or more. We will view and discuss video footage of Paul articulating the theory of critical thinking and how to foster it throughout instruction. We will read and discuss excerpts from Paul’s anthology: Critical Thinking: What Everyone Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World, a text which laid the groundwork for what has come to be known as the Paulian Approach to Critical Thinking, or the Paul-Elder Framework.


Creating Lifelong Critical Thinkers:  Integrating the Paulian Critical Thinking Approach Into a General Education ProgramAmanda Hiner, Winthrop University

“Many college and university professors say they have little time to focus on the students’ thinking because of the need to cover content. These professors fail to see that thinking is the only means by which the mind digests content. They fail to see that undigested content is content unlearnt or mislearnt. They fail to see that all content is embedded in ideas, that ideas have logical connections, that logical connections must be thought through to be grasped… Furthermore, though this problem is ancient, the negative consequences are daily becoming more and more significant. The nature of professional and everyday life increasingly demands critical thinking. Indeed the cost of generating a growing mass of uncritical thinkers as workers and citizens is staggering… Intellectually undisciplined, narrow-minded thinking will not solve increasingly complex, multidimensional problems, let alone provide the basis for democratic decision-making.” 

Richard Paul, in an Open Letter to Educators (1990)


Writing in 1990, Richard Paul recognized and alerted educators of an alarming trend in higher education:  more and more college graduates enter a complex, rapidly-changing workforce woefully ill-equipped to face and overcome intellectual, social, economic, and political challenges. Many college graduates lack skills in critical thinking, analysis, and written communication, and recent research suggests that these intellectual deficits result in lower rates of employment and professional advancement.  Despite the inclusion of the words “critical thinking” in university mission statements, the typical higher education pedagogical model still focuses heavily on “content” instruction in specific disciplines and fails to recognize the crucial role of critical thinking in substantive learning and in application of course content across disciplines and in the workplace.

eIn 2003, with sensetivity to the fact that employers increasingly noted a lack of "soft skills" and critical thinking in recent college graduates, faculty members at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, began a process of re-conceptualizing and restructuring our General Education core courses to provide students with a common set of intellectually rigorous courses intentionally focused on critical thinking, critical reading, and critical writing. After careful research and assessment of many critical thinking models, Winthrop faculty members elected to teach the Paulian model of critical thinking developed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder, and promoted and taught by Dr. Gerald Nosich and other Paulian Scholars. This initiative to place the Paul-Elder approach to critical thinking at the heart of Winthrop's General Education Program has had a profoundly transformative effect on our university, changing the way students research and write; the way professors teach; and the way critical thinking concepts are integrated into multiple programs, approaches, and courses within and outside the General Education Program.

This focal session will address the far-reaching implications and consequences of our deliberate inclusion of Paulian Critical Thinking in Winthrop University’s General Education Program, including rethinking the mission of the General Education Core, coordinating and providing supportive training and workshops for faculty members, redesigning curricula and writing assignments, and assessing students in critical thinking and critical writing.  The session will provide both a broad pedagogical context based on research by Paul and Elder, and practical strategies and examples of how to integrate critical thinking into writing assignments and classroom activities.


Understanding the Inherent Barriers to Freedom of Thought and the Emancipated Mind….Dr. Linda Elder

The human mind is at once rational and irrational, reasonable and unreasonable. We naturally see the world from a narrow egocentric perspective. We are also highly vulnerable to influence from group traditions, mores, taboos and customs. We are naturally selfish, self-deceiving, prejudiced, biased. We naturally distort reality to fit our vision of it. We naturally distort information to keep from seeing what we would rather avoid. We naturally seek more for ourselves and our group than is rightfully ours. We naturally act without due regard to the rights and needs of others. In other words, humans are naturally egocentric and sociocentric, while having the capacity for criticality and reasonability.

Human egocentric and sociocentric tendencies serve as powerful barriers to freedom of thought and the emancipated mind. To develop as reasonable persons, to free ourselves from the dysfunctional tendencies in thought pervasive throughout human societies, requires that we understand these pathological tendencies and how they impede our development as free persons, as liberal minded citizens, as persons capably of contributing to a more rational world. It this session we will explore egocentric and sociocentric thought as intrinsic mental phenomena that get in the way of our development, and of the cultivation critical societies. We will also briefly explore strategies for overcoming these tendencies.