A Student’s Story: The Ethics Bowl Experience

I walked into my first Ethics Bowl meeting with a positive attitude, no knowledge of
ethics, and no idea of what was going to happen there. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in any of those things – it was the first year Ethics Bowl had been offered at our school, and no one was prepared, but I could sense the excitement in the room. We were ready to go, even if we weren’t quite qualified.

I wish I had been prepared, though: there was so much for us to learn in so short a time period. Each week we dove into another of our eleven regional cases, discussing and making notes as we scrambled to memorize ethical concepts and facts that supported our arguments.

One wonderful thing going for my team was our coaches. Their strength as educators is something I want to point out particularly, as our coaches were our supporters, our tutors, our friends, and our advisors throughout the ethics bowl process. It felt like being part of a family: our teachers sheperded us through the ethics bowl process, teaching the Portland State University students who helped coach us and the high schoolers alike, and the PSU students acted as older siblings for each team, always there for support and advice. This dynamic was something I found really important to my ethics bowl experience. If you don’t enjoy the coaches or the mood of the ethics bowl group, the entire experience will be much less fun.

Another bonus was the crowd of individuals drawn to our ethics bowl. I loved being surrounded by intellectual peers who were genuinely excited to talk about current issues and moral dilemmas. We learned together, across grade, gender, and socioeconomic boundaries, and I found it fascinating to watch people’s minds open to new perspectives. I could practically see our capacity for rational thought growing. There’s nothing more beautiful to me than about twenty people of all ages, fourteen year olds to forty year olds, gathering in a tiny room on a Sunday morning to sit around and talk about life. Sure, there were days when I didn’t really want to go – there’s always homework, and social events, and the ever-elusive prospect of sleep –

Aside from enthusiasm, there were several things that helped my team a lot in terms of preparation for competition. Argument maps were my best friend for those 4 months. There’s a wonderful software program called Rationale (https://www.rationaleonline.com/) that allows users to create color-coded, printable argument maps, and my team ended up creating a map with our updated reasoning for each case. Another great asset in our preparation process was our coaches’ emphasis on facts and values. The first thing we’d do with a new case was separate out value claims and factual evidence, a technique which allowed us to get a clear look at the biases and individual arguments presented in each case. The last part of our preparation came down to sheer effort and memorization: we spent a lot of time researching ethical concepts and factual support for our arguments, and made sure we were thoroughly familiar with each case. When it came to the actual competition, these three preparation techniques let us quickly remember the tenets of our reasoning, despite the nerves and frenzied scrambling that stemmed from the tournament environment. The competition was fun, once I relaxed and allowed myself to think normally (instead of frantically rushing). My best advice for any future ethics bowlers is to prepare thoroughly and spend as much time as you can, but to never panic about time or hurry to get through cases. Try some practice ethics bowl rounds with official timing, and make sure above everything that you’re learning and having fun. After all, that’s the real point of this competition, isn’t it?

Post by Zoe Clute, 11th grade student at Columbia River High

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