Last weekend, a team of TMA seniors composed of Sydni Foshee, Sakina Musa, Cer’cia Wallace, and Keneon Williams traveled to American University to compete in their first-ever Ethics Bowl. They competed alongside students from 12 high performing regional schools, including Washington Latin PCHS, School Without Walls, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, McKinley Technology High School, Edmund Burke School, and Woodstream Christian Academy.
The DC Ethics Bowl, hosted by American University’s Philosophy and Religion department and its School of Education, Teaching, and Health, is one of the 23 regional bowls that take place before a national tournament held at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The overall goal of the regional Ethics Bowl competitions is to promote ethical awareness nationwide and develop young minds by fostering among high school students a deeper understanding and appreciation of interesting ethical and philosophical issues. Sandra Cai Chen, the Bishop Hamilton Ethicist in Resident at American University, says “It is our hope that everyone who participates in the Ethics Bowl learns the importance of thinking the challenging ethical and political issues of our time and, above all, of doing so through informed, civil dialogue.”
The TMA seniors who competed in the January 31st Ethics Bowl are all members of the school’s award-winning Debate Team, and adept at taking a stand and advocating for an issue. However, the Ethics Bowl differs from regular debate tournaments in that students are not expected to take a hard stance on a topic, and are not assigned sides for which to advocate. Instead, they are given a pool of about 15 cases – scenarios that present an ethical dilemma – to examine. In each round of the Ethics Bowl, students split into teams and discuss two cases, giving speeches on the ethical implications of the cases, justifying their claims using ethical theory, while also responding to the objections made by the other team and answering questions posed by the judges. Example scenarios from this Ethics Bowl include military restrictions on hairstyles that disproportionately affect African Americans, use of anti-depressants on animals, and UK’s use of cameras to lock gas pumps for uninsured drivers. TMA’s team won 2 out of 3 rounds, beating private school teams who have been attending the competition for years, and received recognition and praise on their articulate speaking skills and strong topic analysis from the event coordinators and judges.
Special Education Teacher and Debate Coach Aileen George coordinated TMA’s involvement in the Ethics Bowl because of her “interest in giving students every opportunity to experience different types of public speaking events that challenge them to use their talent.” Cer’cia Wallace, a senior on the Debate Team, agrees: she elected to participate in the Ethics Bowl because “it sounded like an exciting deviation from regular debate tournaments.” Ms. George also notes that the Ethics Bowl presented “a unique opportunity to allow students to use analytical skills and be thoughtful about ethical theory, not just research or statistics that they are often asked to use in normal debate tournaments.” For Cer’cia, this meant a chance to “explore concepts elucidated by Kant or virtue ethics that I had learned in a philosophy class at UDC, and to look at how these concepts should be applied to our own lives.”