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Kids Philosophy Slamcomes to Lanesboro


Sun, Jan 7th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, January 8, 2001

When John Davis created The Great American Think-Off in 1993, a philosophy essay contest for the everyday person, he wondered how the concept could be targeted specifically for kids.

The Great American Think-Off was started in 1993 in New York Mills, Minnesota where Davis was the Director of the Regional Cultural Center. The Think-Off was designed to make philosophy accessible to the everyday person in a fun sports type format. The contest asks contestants to answer a philosophical question in a 750 word essay. This year’s question is “Should assisted suicide be legal?”

The Think-Off has attracted national media attention, including The Today Show, CNN, NPR, USA Today and the New York Times. In 1998, C-SPAN covered the Think-Off live. The winner is designated “America’s Greatest Thinker”.

This past summer Davis became the Executive Director of Cornucopia Art Center in Lanesboro, and brought his idea for a kid’s philosophy contest with him.

After several months of planning, Davis and Cornucopia have launched The Kids Philosophy Slam, a contest designed to make philosophy fun and accessible for kids and teens around the country.

This year The Kids Philosophy Slam will tackle the big question: “Which is More Powerful, Love or Hate?

“My grandfather taught philosophy to kids - 6th, 7th and 8th graders - which got me wondering how we could get today’s kids thinking,” Davis said. “By targeting schools we hope that teachers will use the Slam to integrate philosophy with other subjects.”

There are three categories of entries for the Slam. Grades 1-4 are encouraged to use a range of creative ways to address the topic of “Love or Hate”.

“They can draw a picture or use a combination of words and pictures to tell their story,” Davis said. “Entries in this category will be judged more on creativity.”

Entries from grades 5-8 will be required to write a 500 word essay and grades 9-12 a 700 word essay.

“With middle school kids were looking for personal experiences and feelings,” Davis said. “While with the older kids were looking for concepts, issues and the use of logic.”

Davis said that they want the focus of the philosophy contest to be on children’s own life experiences.

“We’re not really interested in ‘Well, Hitler was bad therefore...’ ,” Davis explained. “We want the kids to draw from their own experiences and observations in their lifetime.”

Davis hopes that teachers will encourage their classes to enter the Slam as an assignment. In fact, Davis has heard from teachers in Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin already.

“One principal in Wisconsin is determined to have his school named “The most philosophical school in America”, a title that will be given to the school with the most entries.

Because this is the first year, Davis is unsure how many entries to expect.

“I’m thinking somewhere over 1,000,” Davis said, “ but we have no way of knowing.” One volunteer has created a website for the Slam at www.philosophyslam.org so entries can be submitted online. Another volunteer is working over the Internet getting the word about the Slam out to schools.

When the suggestion that the Slam might be inundated with entries, Davis just smiles and replies, “That would be a great problem to have.”

Over $2000 in prizes will be awarded to the winners. Finalists will be announced in April with Lanesboro hosting The Kids Philosophy Slam on May 19. The postmark deadline for entries is March 5, 2000. Entries can be sent to Kids Philosophy Slam, P.O. Box 406, Lanesboro, MN 559. For more information call 507-467-0107 or online at www.philosophyslam.org.

John Torgrimson

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