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Kids Philosophy Slam

Fri, May 4th, 2001
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Event draws entries from around the worldBy Nancy OvercottMonday, May 7, 2001

"This could be an amazing event," says John Davis, creator of the Kids Philosophy Slam, for which 4,300 kids in grades 1-12 from all across this country and as far away as Turkey and Malaysia responded to the question, "Which is more powerful, love or hate?" Kids in grades 1- 4 had the option of presenting their ideas in pictures or a combination of pictures and words, while the older kids expressed their ideas in essays of 700 words or less. Youngsters in special classes contributed entries to the Special Kids Philosophy Slam.

The entries are judged on originality and creativity, strength of argument and clarity, expression of personal experience, spelling, and grammar.

Prizes will go to the winners and runners-up for each grade level from 1-7. The top two Special Philosophy Slam entrants will also receive prizes and the school that sent the most entries will receive the title of "The most philosophical school in America."

On April 9, judges announced the four teen semi-finalists (see page 7), each of whom will receive a $500 savings bond, two nights lodging for their parents and themselves, and a travel stipend for transportation to Lanesboro.

On the morning of May 12, from 9:00 to 12:00, a free art show at Cornucopia will feature entries of paintings and drawings by kids from grades 1-4. On the same day at 2:00 p.m. the four teen semi-finalists will debate their positions in front of a live audience at the Lanesboro Community Center. Call 507-467-2446 for reservations and tickets--$8 for adults, $4 for kids. High school students are especially encouraged to attend.

Those attending the debates will have a chance to ask the finalists their own philosophical questions about love and hate and cast votes for the grand champion, who will earn the title of "The most philosophical student in America." Essays of the four finalists are now available at Questions may be submitted via e-mail, regular mail, by dropping them off at Cornucopia, or on special cards on the day of the debates. The best questions will receive Kids Philosophy Slam sportswear donated by Dodger Industries of Fayetteville, NC. The top student question will receive a $100 savings bond.

Davis credits the wide-ranging capabilities of the Internet, Associated Press coverage, and the TV show "Good Morning Colorado" for the exceptional response to this event. Mary Eischen, Cornucopia's Education Director spread the word to area schools.

The idea behind the Kids Philosophy Slam came from the Great American Think-Off, which Davis created in 1993 as a way to make philosophy accessible to the everyday person in a fun sports-type format. At that time, he lived in the small town of New York Mills, MN where he also founded the NY Mills Arts Retreat and Regional Cultural Center. The Think-Off received national TV and newspaper coverage.

In July 2000, Davis moved to Lanesboro to become the Executive Director of Cornucopia Art Center. Shortly thereafter, he created the Kids Philosophy Slam. Because the Great American Think-Off had received so many good entries from young people, Davis wanted to provide kids with their own forum in which they would not have to compete with adults.

The contest is designed to make philosophy fun and accessible for kids of all ages and abilities. It gives kids an opportunity to grapple with life's big questions and helps adults understand what kids are going through. Because of this event, teachers all over the country have challenged their students to discuss philosophy in the classroom and to look within themselves to discover their deepest feelings about love and hate.

Davis says the contest has brought the local community together. Area newspapers have provided press coverage; columnists have written about the power of love and hate; the Lanesboro City Council has officially proclaimed May 7-12 as "Philosophy Week;" and area towns have provided volunteers for judging and administrative work. Erik Erickson, Canton and John Wilson, Lanesboro have been especially generous with their time. Many excellent submissions came from local kids; one made it into the semi-finals, the top 50 of the entire nation.

Submissions ranged from paintings and drawings to poetry and prose, from reassuring essays on love to powerfully disturbing essays on hate. Some were light-hearted, some very serious. Some showed a lot of courage in dealing with difficult personal experiences. Many came from young children. "I think it's just as important to show the work of younger kids as older kids," says Davis. He describes one entry by a second grade girl from Philadelphia depicting the power of love through a picture of her with her cat.

Support by local, regional and national companies, individuals, and foundations has made the Kids Philosophy Slam possible. Sponsorships and financial support are still needed for this year's event and for the 2002 Slam.

For additional information, call 507-457-0197 or visit This site will include applications for communities that wish to host a future Kids Philosophy Slam.

By Nancy Overcott

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