Ethics Bowl 2021

Should ex-convicts be obliged to reveal their criminal past to someone on a first date? Are we financially responsible for medical bills if someone catches Covid from us in a restaurant? These were some of the controversial questions posed at the North Carolina Ethics Bowl which took place via the Zoom platform on December 5th 2020.  

In October 2020 I was asked to be a judge in one of the many regional High School Ethics bowl heats by Alex Richardson organiser of the NHSEB (National High School Ethics Bowl). He invited me so that I could observe, participate and prepare to launch an Irish version of the event in 2021. Whilst I had read through the materials and watched a few YouTube clips about the bowl nothing could have prepared me for the professionalism and slick preparedness of these High School students from schools all over North Carolina. Most were completely unruffled and even amused by my probing questions about their cases’ short moral dilemmas reflective of the modern world. Unlike traditional school debates, where speed and the ability to argue both sides of an issue are advantages, Ethics Bowl competitions involve a back-and-forth between teams and with their judges, where each can ask questions and respond. The discussion is more considered, respectful and more philosophical in tone but still has a competitive edge.  

What I learned from attending is that Ethics Bowl is a really unique opportunity for students to reflect on their personal value system and hear others whose values may or may not match their own. It’s not just about arguing an arbitrary side of a debate or using dextrous oracy to pummel the opposition.  Students actually have to decide: What do I think? Should I believe this? And how can I justify this? Preparation is key and students that were well prepared on the day fared very well in the judging. One student competently admonished my attempts at strawman questioning by pointing out quite correctly and respectfully that I was employing a logical fallacy. Full marks for that astute bowler! 

The first ever Irish version of the Ethics bowl will be held in May 2021. If you are an Ethical Education teacher and would like to be involved please contact: Pam O’Leary, Cork  Educate Together Secondary School on:  

Pam O’Leary is a Guidance Counsellor, TY Coordinator and Ethics Teacher for Cork Educate Together Secondary School.