Let’s Get Ethical!- Mercy Students Participate in the Regional Ethics Bowl
February 19, 2019
On Saturday, February 2, the University of Baltimore held the Maryland High School Ethics Bowl. Contrary to a debate competiton, the High School Ethics Bowl is a unique opportunity for high schoolers to think deeply about pressing social issues and to work collaboratively and cordially to identify the underlying ethical issue, opposing viewpoint, and a potential resolution to the issue- all in a timely manner. The bowl consists of three sessions over the course of four hours. Each session is composed of four parts:
- one team’s six minute presentation of the ethical issue and a proposed resolution
- the other team’s three minute commentary to the presentation team
- the presentation team’s response to the commentary
- and the presentation team’s response to a ten minute round of judges’ questions
Teams are judged based on the organization and clarity of the presentation of their ideas, their commentary on the other team’s presentation, their decorum, and the logic and clarity of their response to the judges’ questions. Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Gerstell Academy, Liberty High School, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel High School, and Sparrows Point High School competed against us in this year’s bowl.
This was the first competition for Mercy’s newly formed ethics team, moderated by Ms. Fierro and Mr. Davis. This year’s team consisted of Arryn Berroya ‘22, Alice Chen ‘22, Soba Diaoune ‘20, Nia Handy ‘20, co-captain Olivia Hatcher ‘21, Hannah Sitther ‘22, and myself, captain Heather Shanty ‘20. Tryouts for the team were this past November as many other eager students, including myself, took a risk to try out for a brand new team we knew little to nothing about. During tryouts, we were given a case— whether the smoking age should be raised to 21 — and were to work as a group to come up with a solution. Once the team was selected in December, hour long practices began every Friday after school. To begin, we discussed the basis of ethics as we boiled it down to three fundamental points:
1. The underlying ethical issue- how we are to function in society as human beings and what obligations we have towards others. In deciphering a case’s ethical issue, one of our coaches, Mr. Davis, encouraged us to go back to the simplicity of kindergarten and remember what was deemed fair and unfair.
2. The intention behind an action
3. A situation’s conditions- the context or the who, what, when, where, why, and how
In order to give us a greater breadth of knowledge, we went over ethical terminology and theories such as Socrates’ character-based theory (Areatic Ethics), Aristotle’s virtue-based theory (Virtue Ethics), Kant’s action-based theory (Deontological Ethics), and Mill’s consequence-based theory (Consequentialist Ethics). Keeping these in mind along with the primary purpose of ethics— to promote the good of all of society— we were ready to dive into a set of ten of the official fifteen Regional Ethics Bowl cases. Among these were topical issues such as gun control, animal conservation, and buying fake followers on social media. We discussed the ethical implications of each case— what it meant for something to truly be fair and how we can ensure this equity — and conducted several mock ethics bowls in which we were split into two teams and practiced the routine of presentation, commentary, response, and answering of judges’ questions. After two months of preparation, the Ethics Bowl was finally upon us.
On that chilly Saturday morning at 8 A.M., we were greeted with name tags, complimentary breakfast, beaming smiles. Though our nerves as Ethics Bowl neophytes in a room full of seasoned professionals were almost palpable, we were slowly put at ease as another team came to us to compliment our uniforms.
At 9:30 A.M., our first session of the day against Baltimore Polytechnic Institute began. After winning the starting coin toss, Poly chose to do the first presentation for a case entitled, “Fake Followers.” The case discussed both companies and individuals buying followers and likes to either promote their brand or themselves. In their argument, Poly brought up the fraud and cheating of the issue, the mistrust that purchasing fake followers creates between a user and their audience, and the broader effect that fake followers can have in swaying public opinion. In our commentary, we discussed who should bear the responsibility for fake followers and what effect this issue has on those who generate fake followers— underpaid workers on “click farms,” subjected to sweatshop-like conditions. Through this, Poly was able to figure out what social media companies could do to solve this problem. When it was our turn to present, we were given a case entitled “Love Drugs.” This case discussed substances that produce false feelings of love when these feelings have died out. In our presentation, we talked about the significance of authenticity in human relationships and how love drugs take away natural connection that makes us so special as humans. We also discussed potential abuses of this drug in relationships. At 10:30 A.M., the first session had ended, Poly had won, and it was time to move onto the next session.
The second session of the day was against Gerstell Academy Team B. They were given a case called “De-extinction,” which introduced the idea of bringing back previously extinct species. In their presentation, Gerstell talked about how the value of an organism cannot be dictated based on its value solely to us, but should rather be dictated based on its importance to the balance of the ecosystem. They made an interesting point that if we were responsible for the extinction of a species, it is simply fair for us to be responsible for also bringing it back. Our presentation case this session was called “Unauthorized Dumping.” This case presented a scenario in which a boy had cheated on his girlfriend, the girlfriend had taken her boyfriend back after his pleading, and the boyfriend had chosen to break up with her. Though this case was on a smaller scale than the others of the day, we argued that the boyfriend had unfairly wronged his girlfriend by abusing her forgiving nature and indelibly severing the foundation of trust a relationship should be built on. Though we had lost this session, we walked into the next one more motivated than ever.
The last match and perhaps, the most passionate one of our day, was against Gerstell Academy Team A. Gerstell was given a case called “Data Violence,” which talked about the racism and transphobia perpetrated by software that incorrectly identifies minorities in an offensive manner. Gerstell discussed that the problem of this “data violence” is not an instance of people overreacting and political correctness going too far as some may think, but rather, a serious issue of bigotry in software. In our commentary, we brought up diversity hiring as a potential solution to improving algorithms. We were able to come to a consensus on this as a solution to the problem and that software companies should be held accountable for the widespread harm of their users. Our final presentation case of the day was entitled “Gun Control.” We argued that at the core of the gun control debate is public safety vs. the right to self defense. We argued that thinking in such a black-and-white way is detrimental to the peace of society and that the two can actually coexist. In this way, we were able to emphasize the importance of public safety due to recent tragedies, while proposing other weaponry that isn’t as massively destructive in place of guns to preserve people’s right of self defense.
At 1:00 P.M., the final session had ended, and we were treated to lunch while awaiting the final results. We took pictures and were given matching green sweatshirts to commemorate the day. After a couple minutes of anticipation, Gerstell Academy Team B was announced as the winner. Though there were winners of the bowl, this experience did not feel like a competition of any sort. During the judges’ conference, we and our opposing team smiled at each other and mouthed a simple “Good job!” to one another. At the end of every session, we shook hands and congratulated each other, reaffirming the comradery of the event. In my daily life, it is not often that I sit down with my friends and discuss pressing social issues and their ethical implications. It was truly incredible to be able to freely, openly, and respectfully discuss important issues in our world with people our age. We were even told by adults at the event how inspiring it was to see younger people taking it upon themselves to educate themselves, express concern, and take an active role in bettering our society. This experience allowed me to look at things from a different perspective and to more closely examine and question the equity in societal institutions already in place. Through interacting with the other teams at this bowl, I was reminded that we are the future. I have hope that we can institute change in society and that openly discussing issues is only the first step.
Mercy’s Ethics Team will return for the 2020 Maryland Ethics Bowl stronger and better than ever! To see a full High School Ethics Bowl, visit: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=830Oye9AgRg