High schoolers wrestled with some of the deepest questions of morality at the second annual National High School Ethics Bowl Friday and Saturday, at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Growing from a total of three high schools in North Carolina when it started in 2008, more than 2,000 students from more than 100 high schools participated in the High School Ethics Bowl this year from local and regional levels.
Students from 17 states and the District of Columbia competed in the national competition, having qualified for the event after winning their local and regional bowls.
The event featured topics that incited discussions on morality including the conditional use of medical drugs, ethics of historical fiction, media of mass murder, state-sponsored abortion and state secularism.
A moderator ran the event, while three judges, consisting of University faculty, UNC graduate students and other members of the UNC and ethics bowl communities, scored the teams. Scores were based on the inclusion of multiple viewpoints, the clarity of presentation and the discussion of morality.
“We assess how strong their argument is — have they evaluated the other side, since both sides are generally balanced,” said Richard Greene, Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Board Chair and judge at the event.
Teams were provided with the topic, and given a short period of time to discuss before one team gave the initial presentation in addressing the moral dilemma.
The responding team then had five minutes to provide commentary to explain other views on the initial presentation, and point out gaps in argumentation. The first team addressed the commentary and answered questions from the judges.
“I love having judges who care about the issue and get 10 minutes to ask questions,” said Sage Heuston, a competitor from The Waterford School in Utah.
Although similar to most high school debates, the judges’ questioning, the specificity of topics and team aspect differentiate the ethics bowl from any other competition.
In the debate ring, contrasting views are hashed out to convey that one opinion is more worthy of support compared to another. But in an ethical debate that strips away opposing sides, the victor might be determined by delivery and clarity of thought.
“I find the ethics bowl a change of pace from debate because it feels more relaxed and the topics are interesting. It’s nice to take a position without arguing to the extreme,” said Bill Shen, a student from Newton North High School in Massachusetts.
Shen thinks that by having discussions on morality and competing at the High School Ethics Bowl, students gain a better understanding and awareness of ethics and develop life-long skills.
“I learned skills in thinking on the spot, and teamwork in not contradicting my team, but just rolling with our arguments,” Shen said.
Greene echoed those sentiments.
“I think this event enhances moral reasoning skills, public speaking skills, critical thinking skills and a sense of teamwork,” he said.
After a day of arguing and answering deep and controversial questions, the high school students could only complain that they had to return to school.
“The worst part of the competition is that it was too short. I don’t want to go back to school, and I’ll miss all the people I met,” Shen said.
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