Stevens Event Promotes Ethical Debate

7/12/2012

This summer, the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens hosted the High School Ethics Bowl, welcoming competitors from both New Jersey and New York. The event challenged high school students to think and discuss today’s ethical issues in a competitive setting. Students participated in several rounds of debate about current and often controversial topics. 

“Thinking about ethical issues deepens students’ understanding of the complexity of the problems that modern society continues to raise,” said Michael Steinmann, associate professor of Philosophy at Stevens. 

The first Ethics Bowl, developed in 1993 by Dr. Robert Ladenson of the Illinois Institute of Technology, was solely intra-collegiate. But as popularity grew, it eventually drew teams from multiple universities, with students striving to give the most logical and well-structured answers to questions about previously identified cases.

Stevens adopted ideas from the original ethics bowl to create an event exclusively for high school sophomores and juniors, and has since held five Ethics Bowls on campus.

This year’s event – the fifth at Stevens – included 28 teams from 14 high schools. Each school had anywhere from one to four teams participating. The schools competing were: Bethpage High School, Bronx High School of Science, Clarkstown High School, Doane Academy, Irvington High School, Middlesex County Academy of Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences, Moorestown Friends School, New Milford School, Oyster Bay East Norwich High School, Perth Amboy High School, Piscataway High School, Ridge High School, Union High School and Watchung Hills Regional High School.

Prior to the event, each team received background information on four cases from which all questions would be derived. This year’s topics included pre-implantation diagnostics, new pipelines for tar sands, privacy on the internet and computer sweatshops. 

The Ethics Bowl began with welcoming remarks and then launched into two rounds of debate. The goal of each round was for the students to provide the most innovative and ethically sensitive solution to the assigned topic. Judges were faculty members from the College of Arts and Letters as well as Stevens students. 

After several vigorous rounds of debate, Team 1 of Bronx High School of Science captured first place. Second place was awarded to Team 2 of Moorestown Friends School, and third place was shared between Ridge High School’s Team 2 and Bethpage High School’s Team 4.

Regardless of how they placed, Steinmann hopes all participating students came away from the experience with three new skills – a deeper understanding of social developments, an increased sense of personal responsibility, and a capacity to engage in democratic debate. 

“Their learning is learning by doing, and the education they receive ultimately is self-education that results from their eagerness to excel in this collective activity,” said Steinmann.