Ethics Bowl by Midori Chen

On Saturday, Abigail, Frances, Mykel and I piled into the Schott-Rosenfield minivan and drove down to UC Santa Cruz, where the annual National High School Ethics Bowl was being held.

This is only the second year since its inception, but competition was intense. Schools from across the Bay Area sent one or two teams— Bentley, Kirby, Hillsdale. Competing teams were given fifteen cases to prepare for before hand, each with its own ethical dilemma to consider. The day of the competition, two teams went head-to-head, giving a five-minute presentation, a three-minute response to the rival team’s rebuttal, then ending in a ten-minute section for judges’ questions. We were scored on presentation, depth of argument, and cordialness to our opposing teams.

There was talk of starting an Ethics Bowl team in SOTA since the end of last year. Jerry Pannone, SOTA’s previous Orchestra director, led the charge in November; we had two months to prepare. SOTA managed to put out three teams, so three graduate students at SF State coached us in the cases regarding argument and presentation. The team of CW Seniors (we actually didn’t plan it? It just ended up that way? Maybe?) got Matthew (or Professor Howery, in his classes), aaaand…

We got to semifinals! I’m typing with a stupid grin on my face. We won against three out of four teams and went to semifinals!

So philosophy has this reputation of being all, “So what is the meaning of life?” with bitter old men and wine, and there were concerns going into this that Ethics Bowl would be like that. It’s not that at all, thank the powers that be. We take very real, very contemporary situations (Frankenburger, Indian Child Welfare Act, One Child Policy, Trayvon Martin, just to name a few) and determine the essential ethical conflict, then decide on a stance to take. I’ve found that often times, I would discuss a situation and immediately have a gut feeling about it being right or wrong— the case that comes to mind is “Political Sex Scandals,” in which the question is whether or not it’s moral to reinstate a politician who conducted sexual indiscretions back into office. My gut feeling told me No, that’s just bad. However, Matt then told us to redefine the question, specifically where “sexual indiscretions” mean “a breaking of a sexual contract between the politician and his or her partner(s).” Given that the politician does not misuse public funds or violate another person’s autonomy/cause them harm, the question becomes a little bit harder. Ultimately, it was an argument that Mykel gave in favor of “Yes, we should reinstate the politician, if his/her previous track record proves his/her competence” that solidly changed my mind— that it was the duty of the voters to be rational and get over that gut feeling if the politician produces good results. This is just one case in which my ethical intuition (as it were) became more fleshed-out.

Competition day was intense. I’ve never done anything like debate before, so I was shaking, and I had a stomachache, and I was dizzy, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears… It started out somewhat dreadful. As the day went on, though, my confidence in and love for my team grew more and more— gosh they’re so cool. Bee-Gail had this stately, austere way about her (as she often does), Frances was precise and eloquent, and Mickel was a boss on articulating snap responses. My favorite moment was when Matt was, I guess, so happy with one of our responses (I think it’s when Frances shot down someone’s attempt to draw a Hitler analogy) that he put on his shades in the middle of the relatively dim competition room. In that moment, I could feel my confidence sky-rocket.

Conclusion of this story: ethics is a ton of fun. Our team wants to begin building next year’s team now, as to better prepare them (as we found out, meeting once a week for eight weeks was not enough time). Also we just want to keep debating ethics. An interesting topic to possibly have in Creative Writing— questions such as the ethics of writing fiction (misrepresentation of reality?), or even a character exploration exercise in developing how they respond to the ethical dilemmas proposed in our cases. I’m already writing one for a character in my thesis. Matt is super cool— our team talked for hours during celebratory dinner on Tuesday night, and we’d love to share his brain and person with the rest of CW. (He’s even a cat person. Wow.)

2 thoughts on “Ethics Bowl by Midori Chen

  1. Matt Howery says:

    You guys were all amazing to work with! I couldn’t have been prouder at how far you came in such a short amount of time.

    It was either sunglasses or start a slow-clap. Mykel’s response was instantaneous and brilliant.

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