1st Annual Rhode Island Regional High School Ethics Bowl

Sunday, February 5, 2017

8:00am - 4:30pm

Brown University

Smith-Buonanno Hall
Providence, RI 02912

Smith-Buonanno Hall is located in the quad between Brown Street; Meeting Street; and Bowen Street on Brown University's campus at 95 Cushing Street in Providence, RI.

Many thanks to the judges and moderators, as well as the planning commitee members from Brown University, Moses Brown School, 360 High School, and Central High School.

Kudos to all 48 high schoolers from across Rhode Island who made this inaugural event a huge success. The semi-finals included match ups between Moses Brown Team 1 and Evolutions High School, as well as Moses Brown Team 2 and Lincoln School. Moses Brown Team 1 and Lincoln School faced off in the championship match. Congratulations to Lincoln School for winning the 1st Annual Rhode Island Regional High School Ethics Bowl.



Gara B. Field, PhD
Director of Global Education
401.831.7350 ext. 294


Here is a tentative schedule for the day:
8:00 – 8:45am: Brown Admissions Tour students/families
8:05– 8:45am – Training for judges/moderators and Breakfast*
9:00 – 9:15am – Introduction & overview
9:30 – 10:30am – Round 1
10:45 – 11:45am – Round 2
12:00 – 1:00pm – Round 3
1:00 – 1:30pm – LUNCH*
1:45 – 2:45pm – Semi-finals
3:00 – 4:00pm – Finals
4:00 – 4:30pm – Closing Ceremony

*Breakfast and Lunch will be provided.

Thank you to Starbucks, Seven Stars Bakery, Whole Foods, and Au Bon Pain for generously donating food and refreshments. 




A team must meet the following criteria to qualify for, and to participate in, the National High School Ethics Bowl and to count as a qualifying team in their regional competition:
  • A team must be composed of at least three high school students. NHSEB teams will be capped at seven students (all of whom participated on a qualifying team at a regional bowl – see below), but keep in mind that only five students can be seated on a team in any one match.
  • A team must represent an accredited and certified school that offers classes for grades 9, 10, 11, and/or 12 in the United States and must have the official endorsement of the school administration to participate in NHSEB.
  • Students participating in a dual enrollment program qualify to join or create a high school ethics bowl team.
  • Homeschool exception: Regional organizers may, at their discretion, allow a team or teams of homeschool students to participate. Regional organizers should attempt to verify age and encourage homeschool students to form a team from multiple families. Participants may not be otherwise enrolled in another accredited high school.
  • All teams must have a coach or advisor vetted and approved by school administration. If a team does not have an adult coach or advisor approved by the school’s administration, the team cannot compete at the Regional or National bowl.
    o Homeschool exception: the coach or advisor of a homeschool team will be vetted and approved by the NHSEB Executive Committee.
    The student composition of the team is allowed to change from the regional bowl to the National
    • The high school is represented at the Nationals; not individual teams.
    • If a school enters multiple teams into a regional competition, those teams can combine to form a new team for the Nationals with up to seven members. All members from both teams need to be registered and must have competed in the same regional competition in order to create one team for the Nationals.
    • A team may substitute members from round to round if a team has more than five registered members; substitution cannot occur not during a match.
    • If members of a winning team cannot compete at the Nationals, the result of which the team has fewer than three members and the high school has no additional teams, the coach/advisor should contact the NHSEB Executive Committee to request permission to add members to the team.
All members of the team must be enrolled at the participating high school during the semesters that both the regional competition and Nationals take place. No graduates may participate.
Teams must pay the NHSEB registration fee prior to the competing at a regional competition.
Teams members (students, coaches, and official chaperones) are expected to follow all federal, state, and local laws while traveling to/from and attending either their regional competition or the Nationals. Illegal activity and/or disruptive behavior (including, but not limited to, intoxication, violence, verbal abuse, or harassment) may result in the removal of the participant(s) and disqualification of the team.


High school ethics bowl is not Speech & Debate, and this is an important distinction. In ethics bowl, teams are not required to pick opposing sides, nor is the goal to “win” the argument by belittling the other team or its position. Ethics Bowl is, at heart, a collaborative discussion during which the first team presents its analysis of a question about the ethical dilemma at the core of the case being discussed, offering support for its position but also considering the validity of other positions.

The goal is to demonstrate breadth and depth of thinking about difficult and important ethical situations. In fact, teams are rewarded for the degree to which they eschew adversarial positioning and instead adopt a more collegial, collaborative stance.
  • In other words, teams are strongly encouraged to think of themselves as being on the same side rather than as opponents. That is, both teams are working together trying to solve a difficult problem—while impressing the judges with thoughtful, considered analysis and support. Listening to the other team with an aim to affirm, gently correct, supplement, or build on their argument is a prudent approach.
  • Because an ethics bowl encourages collaboration, team members are encouraged to remain seated rather than stand during a match.
    Teams are not penalized or rewarded depending on whether one person speaks or everyone contributes. We understand that each team has its own process:
    • Some divide up the cases so that individuals are responsible for a certain number of cases; as a result, one person would present. Other teams ask that each member of the team become responsible for a different aspect of all the cases; as a result, all team members would speak.
    • Either of these strategies or variations is feasible and scoring is neutral on this issue. However, judges do not know which approach a team will take unless they are informed. Therefore, to dispel any preconceptions that a judge may harbor, we urge that a team outline its presentation when it begins—that is, the team should explain who will be discussing which aspect(s) of the case and why. This way, a judge will know what kind of presentation to expect.
At the Nationals, judges know that they should neither penalize nor reward a team for using either approach: both are welcome.
Successful analyses will include a clear and detailed understanding of the facts of a case. Since cases are often highly complex, researching the topic or incident involved may be helpful. Although teams may use outside research to prepare for a match, they should not assume that merely presenting factual information will impress the judges. Teams need to propose valid, sound, persuasive arguments that are buttressed by fact to score well. If a team introduces a specific fact not contained in the case, the team should cite the source (e.g. “according to a 2011 article in National Geographic...”).

When researching cases, teams should think of this as an opportunity to gather and assess arguments supporting a wide range of points of view rather than to seek only those sources that support opinions the team already holds. As team members analyze the range of arguments, they should strive to get inside the heads of those who have different beliefs and concerns than the ones with which they are familiar. What motivates people to have certain beliefs? What are their values? A team should also ask, “Why is this case hard?” If it doesn’t seem hard, it is a good sign a team is not probing deeply enough. The cases are supposed to challenge worldviews. Asking questions like these will help a team solidify its own position.

During the Presentation period, a team should make sure it briefly introduces the case and identifies the central moral question. A team must clearly and systematically address the case question asked by the moderator. After presenting a position, a team should explain how others might have different points of view. Empathize with this position even if your team disagrees.
During the Commentary, a team’s role is to help the other team perfect its presentation, NOT to present its own position on the case. When team members comment, they should think of themselves as thoughtful, critical listeners. Their goal is to point out the flaws in the presentation, to comment on its strengths, note what has been omitted or needs further development; all this is in the interest of making the presentation of the case stronger.

Although teams are allowed to and should pose questions during Commentary, the first team is under no obligation to answer any or all questions raised by the second team (or vice versa). The presenting team, however, should be able to answer the most crucial or morally pressing question or two (in the event that there are more than two questions).
  • Teams are expected to ask insightful questions that target the primary position, key implications, or unaddressed central issues.
  • When scoring Commentary, judges will consider the questions raised by the opposing team and whether the questions addressed truly substantive issues—both in relation to the presentation and the moderator’s case question.
A “question shower” or “spit-fire questioning,” during which a team rapidly asks many questions in an attempt to overwhelm or dominate the other team, is inconsistent with the aims of NHSEB, and will not merit a high score. On occasion, team members may discover that they want to modify or perhaps change an aspect of their initial position as a result of the second team’s commentary. Some judges may think this indicates that the team did not fully think through its initial position. However, because the ethics bowl is about ethical inquiry, and because these are high school students, and changing one’s mind can be considered a sign of fluid rather than crystallized intelligence—a hallmark of higher-order thinking—changing or modifying a position is not necessarily negative.

Judging the quality of a team’s analysis is subjective and difficult. It is easy for teams to fault or blame judges if they lose a match. To fully understand how each judge reaches their decisions, please read the guidelines for judges (Section V-B). Judges come from diverse backgrounds: some are philosophers or professional ethicists; others come from a range of professional fields such as business, education, medicine, journalism; and some are fans of ethics bowls. Part of the task of a successful team is to communicate reasoning effectively to judges who have different viewpoints and life experiences.

Because of judges’ diverse backgrounds, it is not essential for teams to reference specific ethicists or ethical theories: doing so is not a requirement of a good answer, nor is it indicative of a poor answer. The argument matters; it is not necessary to name the philosopher associated with the argument. Keep in mind that a team is speaking to a broad audience: many judges have no formal background in philosophy or ethics, and may not understand your reference to “Kantianism.” A good strategy is to explain ethical reasoning in terms everyone can understand.

If a team member does refer to “deontology,” for example, make sure the reference is accurate. A judge may question a team about that specific theory during the judges’ question & answer portion of the match.
**In short, remember that philosophical name-dropping is not a substitute for presenting a sound argument.** 


7 schools will compete in the 2017 RI Regional High School Ethics Bowl:

360 High School, Providence

Central High School, Providence

Evolutions High School, Providence

Paul Cuffee Charter School, Providence

Highlander Charter School, Warren

Lincoln School, Providence

Moses Brown School (2 teams), Providence

Ethics Bowl Judges
-Brown Philosophy graduate student
-RI Foundation Senior Vice President
-Gordon School Middle School Division Head
-Gordon School Director of Diversity & Wellness
-COO RI Nurses Institute Middle College Charter
-City of Providence - Director of Administration
-City of Providence - Chief of Staff to Mayor  Elorza
-City Year Service Director
-Brown University Philosophy graduate student
-Brown University Philosophy  graduate student
-Brown University Philosophy graduate student
-Brown University Philosophy graduate student
-Director of Development Rekindling the Dream
-UNH Vice President Global Citizens Club
-URI Professor of Literacy
-RI Office of Innovation Director of Education

Ethics Bowl Moderators 

Susan Brady - URI Professor of Psychology

Steve Larbi - Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket Director of Teen Programs

Christine Metcalf-Lopes - RIDE Chief of Staff

Maeve Murray - Highlander Institute Project Manager

Krystafer Redden - Education Policy Fellow for Governor Raimondo

Jenn Stoudt - PPSD Research, Planning & Accountability

Ethics Bowl Planning Commitee Members

David Estlund - Professor of Philosophy, Brown University

Gara Field - Director of Global Education, Moses Brown School

Galen Hamann-McNemar - Director of Quaker Education, Moses Brown

Ali Imholt - Student Support Counselor, 360 High School

Emma Kirby - Philosophy Administrative Assistant, Brown University

Edwine Paul - Impact Manager, City Year Providence

2016-17 Cases

2016 - 17 Regional High School Ethics Bowl cases - https://nhseb.unc.edu/files/2012/04/2016-17-Regional-Case-Set.pdf

SAMPLE CASES from 2016 - 17 case set:

1.) Virtual and augmented reality
Video games involving virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) components are advancing both in terms of the supporting technology and in popularity.1 2 VR involves a fully immersive experience, wherein the user puts on a headset and may look and move around in the fully virtual world. Meanwhile, AR involves the projection of virtual elements onto non-virtual images or videos, allowing for an “enhanced” experience of these images or videos. While we are at the beginning stages of these technologies, it is not difficult to see where they may lead. VR and AR will only become more sophisticated, more immersive, and more common. People will be able to use them to play games, travel, visit family, walk through museums, read translated signs, and engage in a number of other activities that used to require much more time, energy, and money in the real world. These new technologies raise a question: What is the value of “real” experience?
On one hand, we might worry that replacing real experiences with virtual or augmented experiences involves a loss of value. There is something meaningful and important about engaging with the world as it is, for better or worse, that we miss out on when we engage in virtual or augmented environments instead. We might even worry that a life lived in a video game is no life at all. No matter how convincing the simulation, experiences generated by programming are no more than illusions.
On the other hand, the feelings of excitement, entertainment, and togetherness that virtual or augmented experiences can create are as real as any other emotion. One might compare the virtual world of a video game to the imagined world of a novel or the constructed world of a film. The feelings evoked therein are intense, and valuable. Through fictional constructions, people might experience things they never otherwise would, like climbing Mt. Everest or flying through the air like a superhero. The happiness generated by such experiences surely outweighs any loss in authenticity.

Study Questions
(1) Does a real experience have more value than a virtual or augmented experience if they feel the same? Why or why not?
(2) Are there any other benefits that come along with navigating the real world that might not apply to navigating virtual or augmented environments, and vice versa?
(3) Is there a morally relevant difference between virtual and augmented experience? Why or why not? 

3.) Working while sick
Nearly 43 million private sector workers in the US hold jobs that do not offer paid sick leave. The majority of these workers are employed in the service sector, where interactions with customers form a key part of their jobs. Kate, a server at a fast food restaurant called Blake’s Burgers, is one of these workers. In the past, her bosses encouraged her to take the day off when she was sick, because coming in would put the health of her coworkers and customers at risk. Recently, however, the company cut her hours, and Kate could no longer afford to take a day off without pay.
A few months after the company cut her hours, Kate caught the flu and was unsure what to do. If she stayed home, she would lose the pay that she desperately needed, and run the risk of losing her job. She had been working for Blake’s Burgers for many years, and she thought it was unfair that she could be fired for taking an action that would ultimately help the business.
On the other hand, going to work would pose a number of threats. Since Kate was likely contagious, she could get her coworkers sick, thereby confronting them with the same dilemma she faced now. Because her job involves handling food, she could also get her customers sick. Not only would this harm those customers, but it could have a negative effect on the business as a whole. After all, if people became sick from eating at Blake’s Burgers, they would be more likely to avoid the establishment in the future, urge their friends to do the same, and ultimately harm the company’s business.
On a national scale, the impact of Kate’s dilemma is huge: The Center for American Progress estimates that unhealthy workers cost employers some $160 billion a year in lost productivity.

Study Questions:
(1) Is Kate morally permitted to work while sick, given that she needs the money and needs to keep her job? Why or why not?
(2) What, if anything, would change if Kate was a single mother whose children depend on her making money and keeping her job as well?
(3) What, if anything, would change if Kate interacted with coworkers but not customers at work? 

5.) Family and politics
Rachel is a passionate supporter of one of the two main political parties in the U.S. Unfortunately for Rachel, the majority of her immediate and extended family support the opposing political party. Furthermore, her family is part of an extremist branch of that party. Rachel believes the extremist branch holds views that will prove detrimental to the safety and wellbeing of U.S. citizens. She truly believes that a government in the hands of her political party would better the lives of millions of Americans. She already donates money to her political party, publicly shows her support, and volunteers for political campaigns, where she goes door to door trying to persuade others of the value of her political perspective.
At her annual family reunion, Rachel finds herself alone with her brother Sam’s children. Her niece Kate is 5 years old and her nephew Alex is 10 years old. Sam is a staunch supporter of the extremist branch of the opposing political party. Rachel believes that Sam’s political views are deeply harmful. Rachel also believes that, while Sam does not usually discuss politics with his children, he is still raising them in a way that will make them more likely to accept his views later in life. As Rachel spends more time with Kate and Alex, she wants to talk to them about her own views. However, she knows Sam would be upset if she did so. Rachel carefully considers how she should proceed in this delicate situation.
On the one hand, Rachel knows that Sam would be furious if he found out. He would say that as Alex and Kate’s parent, he should have more control over their political education than his sister should. Rachel should have to ask for his permission before sharing her political beliefs with his children. He would also say that Rachel should respect his parental wishes, and that, in any case, any attempt to discuss politics with young children would be taking advantage of them. Sam believes that such information should be withheld from Kate and Alex until they are old enough to think rationally about the opinions they hear. Granted, Sam will likely have an influence on what views his children eventually adopt, but he would say that part of his role as a parent is to exercise that influence responsibly, and to control whether and to what degree other adults have the same influence.
On the other hand, Rachel believes that discussing politics with her niece and nephew would simply be a continuation of her work to make the world a better place. From her perspective, these issues are so important that it is morally wrong not to do everything she can to raise awareness about them. Granted, Rachel realizes that promoting her political views around young children, and especially around young children in her extended family, could be viewed as her taking advantage of them, and could have damaging consequences for family relationships. But she also believes that Kate and Alex will be bombarded with one-sided political information for the rest of their childhood, and that the risk of her brother being upset with her is much less significant at the end of the day than the risk of two more people growing up in the world with harmful political values.

Study Questions:
(1) At what age does it become appropriate to speak with children about political issues, and why?
(2) How much of a say should a parent have about whether or not other people speak to their children about political issues, and why?
(3) When our duty to maintain healthy family relationships seems to conflict with our duty to advocate for issues that we think matter a great deal, how should we resolve that conflict in practice? 

All 2016 - 17 Regional High School Ethics Bowl cases maye be found here: