Actually, it’s about ethics in competition for PCHS team
January 19, 2016
For Park City High School, it was the second time that proved to be the charm.
A year after PCHS had teams finish second and third in the regional Ethics Bowl, held annually at Utah Valley University, a team of three students won the event this year. The Ethics Bowl, which took place Jan. 9, invites schools from Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho to face off in "competitive conversations," in which two teams use philosophical reasoning to try to solve ethical dilemmas and best their counterparts.
"Ideally, it’s supposed to be a kind of back-and-forth conversation," said Matt Nagel, who teaches ethics at Park City High School and coached the team. "On the other hand, it is a competition, so you are ultimately trying to prove that your side has a better argument than the other side."
Nagel said the competition demands the ability to think quickly under pressure, speak well and cooperate with teammates — not to mention a robust knowledge of Western philosophy. His winning team, made up of students Boyana Martinova, William Doyle and Bryan Dewell, had it all. They are now set to compete in the national Ethics Bowl, which is scheduled to be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in April.
"These three did a really excellent job of sharing the burden of explaining the framework and their answers and collaborating before they would respond," Nagel said. "I was really happy about that."
The students had been preparing for months — Ethics Bowl participants who are also in Nagel’s ethics class flew through his entire syllabus by the end of December — and it was rewarding to see the hard work pay off when it mattered most.
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"We kind of just kept winning," Dewell said. "Then we found ourselves at the finals, and once I heard their first argument, I knew that we had won."
The competition posed a wide range of cases to the teams. One case asked whether it was ethical for a pair of deaf parents to want their child to be deaf, too, so they could communicate better with him or her. The final round’s scenario presented this quandary: The Louvre in Paris is on fire, and you can save either the Mona Lisa or an unconscious person — what do you do?
Doyle, Dewell and Martinova used social contract theory to argue that you should save the person. The opposing team said it was ethical to save only yourself. And it was that moment that Nagel and his team knew they had won.
For Doyle, delving into that dilemma was the highlight of the competition.
"A lot of people really hated that one but it got into a really interesting dialogue about what the meaning of art is versus the meaning of people and where we get those values," he said. "That was probably my favorite one."
Martinova, who has also competed in debate, said it was fun to learn the philosophy necessary to succeed in the Ethics Bowl. She’s looking forward to getting another shot to compete, at Nationals.
"I’ve always been trained to be interested in things like this," she said. "But I love getting a look at how other people think. It shows you how other people justify their actions, and I find that so fascinating."
To Nagel, it was gratifying to see three of his students embrace philosophy and use their knowledge of it to beat the other schools. He said it’s an important subject for students to learn.
"We have so much emphasis these days on STEM subjects, and I support that because it’s super important, but often that comes at the exclusion of literature, history, philosophy," he said. "I think those are things that ought to be informing (everything else). All of the new technology raises philosophical questions, so I’m very pleased to know there are young people who care about ethical questions, so when they go out in the world and are faced with these things, they’ve got more than just their common sense to go on."
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