The idea behind the Kids Philosophy Slam came from John P. Davis, who created The Great American Think-Off in 1993. Mr. Davis lived at that time in the small town of New York Mills, Minnesota, where he had founded the New York Mills Arts Retreat and Regional Cultural Center. The Great American Think-Off was designed to make philosophy accessible to the everyday person in a fun, sports-type format. The Think-Off posed a philosophical question each year, and contestants would answer it in a 750-word essay. Four finalists were then selected to debate the question in front of a live audience, who voted on the winner. The Think-Off received national press, including The Today Show, CNN, NPR, USA Today and the New York Times. When Davis selected the question “Is honesty always the best policy?” in 1998, C-SPAN covered the Think-Off live, and New York Mills has twice been listed as one of the top 100 small art towns in America.
Two finalists for the Think-Off were teenagers, and the event attracted hundreds of entries from kids of all ages. John Davis wanted to expand on the idea and create a new forum just to showcase kids doing philosophy. Thus, the Kids Philosophy Slam was started.
In 2000, Davis moved to Lanesboro, a small town of 758 people in southeastern Minnesota, to become the Executive Director of Cornucopia Art Center. Lanesboro is now the official site of the Slam, and—like New York Mills—has twice been named among the top 100 small art towns in the country. The first Kids Philosophy Slam debate took place in Lanesboro in 2001 and was a tremendous success, with thousands of entries from across the nation and around the world. The Sixth Annual Kids Philosophy Slam debate will be held in Washington, D.C. in 2006.