Published Dec. 13, 2023
BY DANIELA FOLEY
Where can we, as a society, draw the line between ethical and unethical? Is it when video game characters are treated with cruelty or when Nazis are punched?
Carmel High School’s Ethics Bowl competition team, an academic club focused on philosophy and debating what is and is not ethical, has been preparing since September for their first in-person competition since before the pandemic, the Northern California Regionals High School Ethics Bowl, which takes place Jan. 13.
“Ethics Bowl is about productive and thoughtful conversation rooted in logic,” says Marc Stafford, the founder and previous adviser of the club. “It is not about winning a debate, it is about having honest, thoughtful conversations and proposing reason and evidence-based solutions to real world problems. I strongly believe that that is exactly what a social studies education is all about, so as a social studies teacher it is a dream to get to help students do this as an extracurricular activity.”
From 16 different cases, ranging on topics from interpersonal relationships to whether animals should be allowed in court, the team will be debating together how ethical a single given case is in front of a panel of judges and an opposing team using different philosophical frameworks. After presenting their standpoint on one of the given cases, the team of 10 will be questioned by judges and the opposing team. Ultimately, scoring is based on the substance and efficiency of their argument along with insightful questions for the opposing team.
Though the Carmel team accomplished second place in the regional online competition last year, no one on the team has attended an in-person competition prior to this year. The team is eager to gain experience debating in front of a live panel of judges and opposing teams.
“Whenever you are trying to have a debate online, you lose that interpersonal communication factor that I think is really valuable to any discussion, so I am excited for it in person,” says Minna Trokel, junior vice president of the team.
Led by senior president Riley Mabry, CHS Ethics Bowl focuses on one of the 16 cases per week in preparation for competition. Using philosophical frameworks that help structure the team’s general consensus, the team drafts an argument which will each be assigned to one person to focus on for competition day.
“We don’t view our conversations as super intense since a lot of us are already interested in the discussion, so writing our arguments comes naturally,” explains Mabry.
In a competition with 32 other strong teams, proving arguments in a unique way is what can separate certain teams from others. The Carmel High Ethics Bowl team uses evidence from other views and frameworks to disprove opposing opinions and prove why they are actually correct.
“These discussions are ones that our leaders and our politicians are having every single day, so to have high school students debating about the same issue…it’s good to have them involved and form their own opinions,” says current stand-in advisor Joe McCarty, a social sciences teacher at Carmel High School. (While Stafford was the adviser of the club until last year, his year long sabbatical led to McCarty filling in for him this year.) “It makes them more informed citizens and more active in being participants in our democracy or our society and more informed voters.”
The team will be traveling to Santa Cruz on Jan. 13 for their competition.