Select MMFS Upper School Students Place Third in the 2018 NYC High School Ethics Bowl!

February 13, 2018

Hi all,

I am thrilled to be writing to share the results of the Ethics Bowl tournament. I can’t begin to describe the wave of energy I’m riding right now, along with all of our students who participated!

I know not everyone is totally familiar with the Ethics Bowl, so I’ll first explain a bit about this event. The format of an ethics bowl tournament consists of three preliminary rounds in which all teams participate. In each round, two teams of four or five students are paired with a different school. Each team is asked to give a six-minute presentation on one of 11 ethical “case studies” that students have been analyzing throughout the fall. Some of this year’s topics included “What moral principles should govern the programming of driverless cars?”, “How should HR divisions of companies deal with sexual harassment allegations that don’t have proof?”, and “What responsibilities, if any, do we owe to our nation?” No one knows which of the 11 cases will be picked in a given round, and there are absolutely no outside materials or notes allowed. The whole presentation is conducted from memory and/or improvisation, with only two minutes given for the team to review and prepare their remarks, without help from a coach. Two minutes to prepare for a six-minute presentation! After each presentation, the opposing team offers a “commentary,” and the presenting team responds. Finally, the presenting team enters a 10-minute Q&A session with the three judges for that round, who range from current teachers, to graduate students, to tenured professors of education or philosophy. Once that is done, the roles are reversed, the opposing team presents, and the same format is followed. Teams are scored for each of these portions, along with a bonus score for “respectful dialogue.” Following the preliminary rounds, the four teams with the highest total points advance to the semi-final/final rounds, which follow the same format as the preliminary rounds.

MMFS sent nine students, split into two teams. Both of our teams did amazing work. Our first team stayed positive and constructive throughout the matches. They listened actively to other teams’ presentations, offered insightful commentary, embraced new ideas that were presented, and asked thoughtful questions. This team won the first of their three matches and was SO EXCITED! This left them with an enthusiasm that lasted throughout the day. Unfortunately, they lost both their second and third preliminary matches, despite a very close effort in the third round. Still, they remained confident and proud of the work they did.

Our second team was absolutely incredible. They were composed, passionate, collaborative, and profoundly creative in their work, consistently identifying new ways of looking at issues and following their lines of argument as far as they could. They shared ‘air-time’ with each other so well. This team won ALL three of their preliminary matches, and their cumulative score was third highest in the whole tournament. Out of 22 teams, they were THIRD. This qualified them for the semi-finals!

The students held their own in this semi-final match, but ultimately lost to a worthy opponent. It was a high-energy match, yet very cordial and ultimately a fantastic note on which to end.

I’m so immensely proud of these students. They truly brought their best selves today. Watching them think and speak, you could tell that their Quaker education has served them well. Many teams came into these matches with memorized formulae for their arguments. Our students knew that this approach would not work for them, and took their own route. They thought deeply about the problems throughout the past few months, identified creative nuances, and formed strong arguments while remaining open-minded. They recalled these organically, rather than systematically, and kept a steady tone of curiosity and respect that felt very inspired by the environment we create in Silence and in our classes.

~ John Keenan, Upper School Teacher

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