Ethics Bowl Provides Nevada High School Students Lessons in Respectful Discourse

NEVADA, Iowa — Wednesday, students at Nevada High School will compete in the regional finals of the Ethics Bowl. The Ethics Bowl is a competition designed to promote respectful and in-depth discussions on controversial issues among high school students. 

The Nevada team is made up of five students. A junior on the team, Benjamin Humpal-Pash said this competition has taught him a different way to use his enthusiasm surrounding tough topics. 

“If you’re really passionate about something, that is amazing because it shows that you care about it. And it shows that you will be able to talk about it and find ways to kind of fix it or find certain issues with it,” Humpal-Pash said. 

In each round of the competition, teams take turns analyzing cases about complex ethical dilemmas and responding to questions and comments from the other team and from a panel of judges. 

Competitors discuss 15 different issues. This year some of those include reopening businesses during a pandemic, defunding the police, and renaming buildings that might have controversial names. 

A professor at Iowa State who organizes the event, Kate Padgett Walsh, said the competition is a great way to break through the polarization we see in today’s society. 

“The whole goal is for them to develop new ideas, and so really listen to one another. A big part of how they’re judged is based on how well they listened to the other team, and then incorporate those ideas and respond to them and in a thoughtful manner,” Walsh said. 

The National Ethics Bowl organization said it differs from a usual debate competition in that students are not assigned opposing views. Instead, students defend whichever position they think is correct, provide each other with constructive criticism, and win by demonstrating that they have thought systematically about the cases and engaged respectfully with all participants. 

A National High School Ethics Bowl survey shows that this event teaches and promotes critical thinking, civil discourse, and an appreciation for multiple points of view. 

The coach of the Nevada team, Andy Creeman, said it’s teaching students to have productive conversations around real-life problems, which will be useful down the line. 

“I think solutions are more possible when you’re able to talk about things in a respectful and academic manner,”  Creeman said. “And I think that’s what we want out of our youth and to take that with them and in their next steps in their journey in life. ”

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