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The Ethics Bowl

Elmwood and St. John's high schools tackled ethical dilemmas in a competitive arena as part of the fourth Regional High School Ethics Bowl.

MARL (Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties) and Manitoba Education hosted the Dec. 15 event, in collaboration with University of Manitoba Centre for Applied Ethics.

Compared to the combative structure of debating, students must work collaboratively in an Ethics Bowl matchup. They tackle questions with no easy answers.

"It's a unique experience as compared to a debate," said St. John's student Emily Shemluk. "It teaches you to be respectful and to raise people up instead bring people down."

A sample Ethics Bowl issue could be driverless cars. What moral principles should serve as their prime directive? If they prove superior (and safer) to human drivers, should humans continue to be allowed to operate vehicles?

Participants are judged according to the quality of a team's reasoning and how well team members:

  1. Organize and present their case.
  2. Attend to and analyze the morally relevant features of the case.
  3. Anticipate and pre-emptively respond to commentary and questions.

"It compels students to view issues in a 360 degree view," said St. John's teacher Russell Patterson.

Staff and students are trained in early October on what, why and how an Ethics Bowl works. During the training, each of the 16 teams is given 12 ethical cases to research. The students meet in December to compete against each other.

"It teaches students to accept the opinions of others and helps them to formulate their own opinions on a topic by hearing the flip side of an issue," said Elmwood teacher Cindy Johnson Gallego.

WSD Education for Sustainable Development Consultant Chantelle Cotton said the Ethics Bowl builds citizens who are knowledgeable and able to communicate with a rich understanding of their role as citizens to maintain a democratic and socially-just society. "Students are not looking at hypotheticals, they are looking at what they are hearing and reading in media and are being asked to talk about it with knowledge, passion and instinct. Being able to share ideas, add to ideas and listen to new ideas is a transferable skill that is needed in our fast paced and complicated world."

St. John's student Kaylie Harris agreed that students learned lifelong skills: "It raises your self-esteem and how to respectfully raise your voice."

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